By Patricia Espinosa-Artiles
I arrived in the United States in December 2004 after residing for 30 years in the Caribbean. When you live in the Caribbean you get a fast and steady training on all things related to tropical storms, cyclones, hurricanes, and other such massive water events. Thunderstorms, downpours, floods: these become part of your everyday life and many aspects of your life pivot around the inclement weather. If you are planning a party, for example, you always think about the possibility of rain; if you are making repairs in your home, you always worry and plan for unexpected rain showers. You must avoid at all costs that construction materials become saturated with rain and therefore ruined. In Cuba, when the rain season starts, it is rare for anyone to leave the house without an umbrella or some other kind of improvised covering.
I was barely living in Tucson some six months when I found myself at a friend’s house one Saturday evening in July. I had gone to a dinner party at the invitation of my life-partner. I was meeting new people, talking, eating. All of a sudden, all activity came to a screeching halt. I saw some of the dinner guests running outside; some were raising their voices in excitement. I didn’t understand what was happening. With my limited English on the one hand and people’s high-pitch, cheerful expressions on the other, I felt utterly disoriented. Then somebody told me the reason for the commotion: “the monsoon has arrived!” The explanation left me in the dark. “What in the world is a “monsoon,” I wondered. My companion was also highly animated by the event; as soon as I was able to make my way to her I asked what was a “monsoon.” She explained that these are the highly expected rains that arrive each summer and that we were witnessing the very first downpour of the short-lived rainy season in the desert. People were especially excited because this one was even bringing down some hail. My life-partner said: “you must come outside and see this! You really don’t want to miss this experience!” But all I could see was rain —buckets of rain pouring down not unlike the ones that I had so intimately known and “experienced” all of my life in the Caribbean. I made a mental note about my new environment and my new friends and quietly retreated back to the kitchen thinking: “people in Tucson are a bit over dramatic; hard to believe all the fuss they are making over some rain and hail.”
Flash forward almost five years after that first monsoon experience. When the first rain came down in summer 2009, I was working at my job at a University science lab. Through the lab’s window, I began to notice the sky turning a dark shade of grey; a distinct, intoxicating smell began rising from the earth. In the distance, I could see lighting gesturing strange greeting signs across the desert sky. Without thinking twice about it, I dropped my lab coat, ran to the door, and full of excitement stood outside watching in absolute awe the first drops of rain come down. I extended my hand, let my arms get wet with the rain. I grabbed my phone and called my life-partner so she wouldn’t miss the first rain of the season. When I went back inside, I sat at my computer and wrote a quick message to a friend in California telling her what an incredible experience it is to live through the first monsoon rain in the desert. Then I remember my first monsoon and realized that something had changed in me. Here I was, now, making a big fuss and feeling deeply moved by the weather. “Maybe,” I thought, “people in Tucson are still over dramatic, or maybe I am the one who now understands things differently.”