Monday, January 23, 2017

After The Rain

"Have you heard my Mona Lisa?
Have you heard who you are?
You're a new morning
You're a new morning."
 - New Morning, by Alpha Rev

After weeks of rain, the morning broke bright and clear. Mount Cayambe was visible for the first time in ages: when the grey clouds filled the sky, one had no idea the snow-covered peak even existed.

It was a Sunday morning, and I walked to Casa Gabriel carrying a cake with which to surprise the boys as an after-lunch treat. We went to church, ate, and during the cloudless afternoon they played soccer and I watched from a small wooden bleacher. From the sidelines, I longed to lay in the grass and soak in the sun's warm rays. Yet knowing how easily those rays can burn, I sat with my back to the sun, hunched slightly to keep my face in the shade. After awhile, the heat became intense, feeling as though I had my back to a crackling fireplace, like the one at my parent's house. I recalled sitting there at home with my back to the heat, the warmth spreading to every part of me, until gradually the heat was so strong it made my skin itch. I learned long ago, however, that if I gave in and scratched I'd leave long red marks down my back. Better to turn and cool off without irritating the sensitive skin. So I went and sat in the shade, the sun being a heat source which doesn't require the adding of logs and the stoking of orange embers into leaping flames. I could leave and come back for as long as the sun was in the sky, which I did, while the boys too played soccer until they needed a break, collapsing in the cool grass shaded by a large hedge.

It's been raining so much I've feared that the plants on my terrace may drown in their pots, the roots gradually rotting when they can no longer absorb any more water. On day two of sunshine I emptied them of excess water and sat them in full view of the sun; the roses, lavender, geraniums, succulents, bamboo, and others which I bought from my friend Rachel when she moved back to the US. She has a green thumb to be sure, whereas I just hope to keep everything alive. I've found that I enjoy taking a Saturday morning to trim the dead heads and remove the weeds. A little cement garden in the midst of a city resting on the side of a mountain.

Monday, January 16, 2017


"Stand on the shores of a site unseen
The substance of this dwells in me
Cause my natural eyes only go skin deep
But the eyes of my heart anchor the sea"
 - Beyond the Blue, by Josh Garrels

I went swimming with some of the Casa Gabriel guys: Carlos, David, Joel, Moises, and Luis. When we left the house it was raining slightly, a light mist from the grey sky. I wore a loose white tank top over jean shorts whose cuffs I'd rolled down to make them longer. People don't often wear shorts here in South America, to my everlasting bafflement, and a woman in shorts is likely to receive more attention than usual from men who need no encouragement whatsoever to whistle and catcall. Yet flanked by my guys, who are gentlemanly and protective (they often grab my wrist or put a hand on my shoulder when it's time for us to cross a busy intersection, running to avoid the next car or bus since there's no such thing as jay walking or Ped Xing signs here), I knew the walk to the public pool would be fine.

When we arrived, David handed me a swim cap.
"It's a requirement, everyone must wear one," he told me, surprised that I wasn't used to this being the case. I fitted the cap snugly over my short hair, thinking that it was the first time I had ever worn one.

The pool was fairly full. It was an indoor Olympic-sized pool, though there was no deep or shallow end, but was about five-feet deep throughout. I sat down and slowly unwrapped my towel while scanning the lanes for any of the guys. A head in a red swim cap bobbed to the surface and I recognized Moises. He beckoned to me so I walked to he edge and slid into the water. I swam a couple of warm-up laps as the rest of the boys emerged from the changing room. One by one I asked when which strokes they knew. David and Moises were fairly advanced. Joel could swim strongly though messily, so we worked on his form. Carlos and Luis could doggie paddle and not much more. None of them were familiar with the side stroke so we practiced that quite a bit, it being a good stroke for allowing the swimmer to keep their head above water the entire time and thus helpful when rescuing someone. We practiced rescue and safety next, one of us pretending - in the shoulder-height water - to drown, while another took hold of them and swam them both to safety. We practiced flips, and swimming along the floor of the pool, and had a competition to see who could swim the farthest before coming up for air. Moises won, I came in second. We played and practiced, becoming exhausted yet loving it. Swimming is one of those things I can say without bragging that I'm pretty good at. I've been swimming since I was a little girl, not just in a pool but in the lake which was a five-minute drive from my childhood home. I love being in the water. Swimming out in the ocean past the breakers - all water, waves, and sun - is a joy which makes me feel so alive. There's a confidence in diving deep, swimming hard, and coming up for air after holding your breath longer than you thought possible. In the water, my limbs and lungs do not betray me.

Standing in the pool, catching my breath and explaining the butterfly stroke to one of the guys, I put my hands on my waist. In the water, my flesh felt far softer and more pliable than normal. Even my hip bones, solid as ever, gave my fingertips the odd impression that they could loosen gently from their sockets, my whole body becoming disjointed, leaving me to float off in a way both frightening and blissful in a peaceful helplessness. (Maybe you've never thought anything like this before, but maybe you have and simply haven't put it to words.) Another reason I love the water; when you float, surrendered, sometimes you can feel like something else.

We swam for nearly two hours. Tired and happy, the guys and I walked home, stopping by the park to get food from a street vendor and talking about when we'd next do it all again. In dreams that night I was diving and swimming and floating away. I hope they were too.