The air is a mixture, at once sweet and smoky. In some places, fresh and clean gusts conjur images of freshly cut grass, breezes coming in from the water, carrying with them crystal blue droplets. In others, recently extinguished fires linger in smoke, lazily drifting over the grass, hazy white over damp green.
Little tan feet smack along the asphalt, puddles splashing around bare legs, pants rolled up to the knee. School boys with their miniature red shorts splash and tromp through the puddles gathering beside the road on their way home from school. Their once neatly pressed white shirts are speckled with mud and murky water and the tails hang loose and playfully crumpled. Bicycles whiz by, giggles echo off the corrugated tin walls. A girl stands half-under a pink umbrella, her hair stuck to her face and neck in dripping sections of black.
All is quiet, save the rain. First it pounds, knocking incessantly on tin roofs, splattering windows, begging to be let in. Then it relents, softly drumming everything under the sky. Water slides off rippled roofs in tiny little water falls and creates a wall of water, the world beyond looking for all like a watercolor painting.
The rain is my favorite kind of weather in Gorontalo. Noise and chaos become tranquility as everything stops for awhile. People stay inside, bumping music suddenly quiets, crowded streets become empty. As soon as it starts to rain, I throw open my doors and windows, light the “Holiday Magic” candle my mom sent me for Christmas, and sit on my couch. Sometimes I read, but more often than not, I just sit, staring out into the pounding haze, listening to the quiet, reveling in the cool breeze drifting in past my face. Rain is different in Gorontalo, different than at home. At home, if it rains, people put up their hoods, grab an umbrella, stick close to store fronts under the protective awnings. Maybe they opt for a movie instead of beers on the patio, or stick to sweat pants instead of jeans. But for the most part, rain doesn’t really make much of a difference in their plans–“rain or shine” is a common expression, after all. If you said that in Gorontalo, you’d get blank, or more likely, shocked, expressions. Example: I once tried to have a little get-together at my house for students on a Friday night. I enticed them with free food and promised selfies. About 20 students were supposed to come, and they all told me at school that day they’d be there. The plan was for about 7 o’clock, after isa (the last prayer time). At about 6, it started to rain. Oh no, I thought. But I kept hope, usually the rain only lasts 30 minutes or so. When it was still going strong at 6:30, I threw in the towel and put on my pajamas. This might seem a little preemptive. I hadn’t even heard from any students saying they weren’t coming. But I knew. At about 7:15, 7:20, I got a couple texts all reading about the same: “Miss, I am sorry, it is rain!” Aka “It’s raining, there is NO WAY I am venturing out tonight.”
While it sometimes strikes me as odd or annoying how screeching of a halt life comes to in the rain, I’ve grown to really like it. It’s like nature telling us all to take a break. It’s Mother Nature reaching down a hand, squeezing our shoulder, and saying, “You’ve been so stressed and busy, why don’t you take a nap? Maybe a night in tonight? Here, sit down for a minute and drink some tea.” I love that in Gorontalo, practically nothing is so pressing that you have to get soaked and miserable to get there. (Keep in mind, most people ride motor bikes, and from personal experience I can attest to the less than desirable circumstances of traveling via motor in a monsoon.) In America, even a casual coffee date would mandate that you drag yourself through puddles and mud to make it. But here, everyone realizes that if you can’t have coffee today, there is always tomorrow, or next week. What’s the rush? So you have to change your plans, so what? What’s so bad about staying home with your family?
It’s a small thing, but to me, it conveys one of my favorite aspects of the culture here. The general relaxed way of life. Not relaxed as in “Pass the doobie, hang loose brother, live on your mother’s couch til you’re 30.” But relaxed as in people realize what is truly important, and what is not. It’s not worth getting in a tizzy because your party had to be cancelled, or you couldn’t make it to the printer or grocery store when you wanted. As long as the people you love are happy and healthy, everything else will get figured out sooner or later.
Rain or shine, it’ll always work out fine.