The heat has been oppressive the last few days. It's like a blanket, as my fellow volunteer Emma described it. A big heavy blanket that clings to your skin, weighs down on you head, makes it hard to breath. You start sweating as early as 7 a.m. and lie in bed at night without sheets to the sound of the fan pushing warm air around. The water in the big bucket in our shower feels warm after a day of sitting in the super heated air.
The only thing that brings relief is the rain. It's rained about four times now since the start of the dry season in late February. The heat and heavy humidity are worst just before the rain. This week the pressure built and built unable to find release. In school I felt sapped of energy and just as cranky as the kids. The fans are too loud to have on during class so we bake under the tin roofs of the classrooms, continually wiping the sweat off our faces.
Finally last night we began to see the tell-tale signs of coming rain. The general haziness of the sky had collected itself into a broad grey sheet. The wind picked up and began to set the papaya tree in front of the comedor waving. The kids stood in their lines in front of the comedor for prayer, but were allowed to run off quickly before eating to move their laundry indoors from the laundry lines. Almost all of the young boys and teenagers broke from their lines, whooping and running towards their dorms, caught in the exuberance of the promise of rain and the break of routine. They ran towards and past me as I watched behind the roof of the comedor the wind pick up a cascade of dry leaves and heave them into the air in front of an ever-darkening, billowing sky.
As we finished dinner, the drops started on the roof. Rain here is always loud, filling the rooms with its echo on the metal roofs. The prayer was scarcely audible over the din. When it was over, the kids poured outside, the teenagers standing coolly watching the rain from under the overhanging roof, the little ones screaming and running out into the water. Before long a soccer game had begun, of course, the littlest ones running around the older ones' feet and darting back again under the cover of the roof.
Two of the teenagers leaned jauntily against one of the dorms as the rain fell, watching the general hilarity in the yard in front of the comedor, the pequeños especially relishing the mud, rolling around on the ground, soaking themselves to the skin. "It's as if they've never seen rain before," one remarked disdainfully to the other.
I sat watching the rain come down, loving the feel of the cool wind and the cold rain that blew onto my face. Little Levin, my Levin, came and sat down beside me. "Let's tell stories," he suggested. So we did. He went first, a story about a group of good lions unjustly killed, but in the end somehow they had all come back to life again. He knows I like happy endings. I told one I recycled from a book I had read in the library. In front and around us, the yelling and playing of the other kids made the air noisy. Nearby on the porch where we were sitting were groups of jovenes, teenagers, laughing and talking. But I felt like it was just the two of us, sitting there, enjoying the coolness of the air, the smell of the rain, the freshness of the water and the rapt attention of each other.
I don't often realize how much moments like these mean to me until later when I can't stop thinking about them. There is such richness to my life here. Part of that richness is the sadness of knowing how soon my time will come to an end. C.S. Lewis defined joy as inseparable from a kind of sadness. Joy is all at once a great happiness mixed with the great sorrow of knowing it cannot be grasped or held in place, that it cannot be totally fulfilled here and now. It has a necessary element of loss and longing.
When I say these moments are full of joy for me, I mean it in that sense. The beautiful moments I sometimes share with the kids - of their vulnerability, of my learning to love them, of mutual trust - fill me with joy, a joy that always implies the sadness of the brokenness of their pasts, of their families, of the country they will grow up in and one day need to survive in on their own; the more selfish sadness of my own impermanence.
But joy is joy. Like rain that falls like tears bringing release and relief.