It was a Saturday night and I sat at una fiesta, at a party, I sat separated from my friends with a strange man I had met that morning as part of our caravan from school. He was more drunk than I should have been comfortable being alone with and I had a little too much than I had planned as well. He sat in silence for a while before looking deep into my eyes with an expression of the clouds that never rain but look like they should, and while I unfortunately expected his hands to reach for my body, his
voice instead reached for my heart. He opened his mouth and said in beautiful drunken Spanish “don’t fall in love with anyone.” “Don’t fall in love with anyone,” he said, “because time will tear you two apart, you are beautiful and I am in love with a girl in France, I spent the whole summer holding her hands, but when time ran out I had to let go in more ways than one.”
“But you still love her,” I said more than I asked,
“Of course”, he said as if I should have known, “of course. But to allow her the time she is due I had to make the choice that made me sad and drunk here with you.”
He smiled painfully and took my hand in his, “it happened so softly, she was here, in a place I’ve been my whole life, and before I knew it she was more home than this place has ever been. It happened so softly”
He adamantly asked me again, he made me promise, he made me hook my pinkies with his and swear off ever becoming vulnerable, and while part of me gripped his pinky like iron, I knew this promise was more for him than for me. I knew he needed to know he was not alone in his loneliness. And he wasn’t.
Later that night after our fiesta got kicked out of the hostel we were staying in, we wandered the streets of Mindo, a rainy town hell bent on saving it’s paradise while still making money off of tourism. We stumbled upon a circle of humans who looked like they hadn’t showered in weeks and watched as their hands beat into drums the pattern of their desires. There were fifteen or so people playing the drums with small children scattered about hitting with sticks what they could reach. The whole group was led by a man with one arm, and the half of the drum beats that he couldn’t make with just one appendage, he filled in with his pungent voice, piercing the lowness of the drums with a call that could inspire even the deaf.
Most of my friends were stupid drunk and I was not but the way I danced to the music of those street people probably made them think I was the drunkest of all. One of my friends approached me and said “let’s go, this is boring, this music sounds too much like Africa” and it took all I had in me not to thunder back at him “don’t you know that Africa gave birth to music, don’t you know that entire continent was singing before the rest of the world even came out of the womb!” but I kept my mouth closed because Machismo is dangerous territory to play with when you are surrounded by intoxicated men in foreign streets.
My group left and went to a bar and I followed like a puppy searching for some sort of home, but I knew I would be forgotten and when I was, I snuck back to the music; I wanted to see through the end of this ritual. Even after all the spectators were gone, the drum circle kept on drumming and I sat on a bench in the dark and pretended that I could ever understand what it is to have my heart beat with 15 sets of hands unified as one. I was surrounded by walls of graffiti that begged things like “no se olvide de amar el volcán” (don’t forget to love the volcano) and “No se puede respirar el petroleo” (you can’t breathe oil), and wondered if the drummers were broken because the planet they loved was disintegrating in the hands of their own species. When they were done, they all stood and clasped hands and shouted in to the void of humidity words that my still gringa ears could not make out. But the look on their faces, the look on their faces made me know that even though their words came from their mouths; it was their hearts that were screaming. And then just like that, they dissipated, some holding hands, some holding babies, and one on a unicycle.
I returned to the new friends that try with me to believe we are family and began dancing to reggaeton with a stranger from Mindo. He was older, not old, but older and his hips reminded me of Patrick Swayze telling the whole world “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!”
The rest of the evening was long walks and laughter and whispers of mortality and when it came to the end for me, I lay awake beneath a canopy of mosquitos on the top bunk of a hostel room, listening to the sound of a color that I did not yet understand. I marveled at how every time I thought I had a good grasp on the spectrum of the world, some new place showed up and reminded me that I am just one girl who is searching for the truth in instability.
The next night, I sat curled in my bed reading about the structure of the atom when I felt the structure of the earth beneath me rip apart. It was brief and it was violent and it was my first semblance of an earthquake. I moved slowly until I heard the desperation in my host sister’s voice as she told me “venga ahora! Es necesario estar afuera de casa!” I followed the fear in her voice and as we stood outside in the rain nearly expecting the world to disappear she told me stories of the way God shakes His fist over Ecuador even though nobody knows for sure what sin was committed. And as my every word of reassurance did nothing to calm her down, I understood for the first time in my life what it meant to make a dormant landscape out to be The Deity, because on the one day he wakes up and exercises the power of that role, it is far better to have feared him for centuries and have faith he will save you, than fear him for just one day and end up as the sacrifice.I understood what it meant to always have one eye skeptically glued to the horizon.
When we finally went back inside, I thought of the people drumming the night before. I thought of how they wore dirt like a crown and how so much of the rest of the world wore crowns made of burning dollar bills. I thought of how I don’t even have a crown at all. I thought of how I have trouble loving those who haven’t
talked long and hard with death. I thought of the man with the one arm and how he beat just as strong as the next person. I thought of the waterfalls we had collapsed under earlier on Saturday and how hooking arms with someone else made the water less cold. I thought of the Ecuadorian Patrick Swayze and I thought of how good at dancing his father must have been. I thought about a lot of things, of God and how He is supposed to be unchanging and yet He let’s his world literally fall to pieces. I thought in Spanish and English and realized that I don’t know either language but that I do know how to make eye contact with someone who is lonely and tell them to not give up the fight.
Now, I sit in my bed feeling the gunfire I thought I had left behind in the hospital a week ago work it’s way back into my veins. Perhaps I too have a dormant volcano lying latent beneath my skin. I can feel the bacterial lava almost as strong as the angry lava of the Midwest reminding us that one more pipeline will be one too many pipelines, and I remember that there is smog here that my beloved home state has nightmares of and I realize that my body was not cut out to breathe air turned to ash by technological ‘advances’.
I am tired of thinking. I am tired of thinking but it’s all I can do here when I cannot speak. So I will continue thinking and praying and hopefully I will become like the volcano beneath the skin of Ecuador; something worth remembering even when I am dormant.