Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rain, rain, go away....

Rainy season has arrived in full force in Nicaragua. The six month-long season began in May and has been making my life pretty miserable. The rain has been falling so intensely that I feel like Nicaragua is being water-boarded. This year’s hurricane season is supposed to be unusually active and a few tropical storms have already been in the area. Today we’re enjoying a rare break of hot sun and the air is thick with humidity. My backyard is saturated with water – every step brings a squish or a splash of mud up onto my ankles. Rain fell for about ten days straight when Hurricane Agatha was hitting nearby in Guatemala and Honduras. School was cancelled, people didn’t go to work, and the electricity went off and on all day long. A sink hole was even created in the middle of Guatemala City (see photo below):
During the ten days of downpour, people huddled in their homes and ran from building to building, cowering under umbrellas. Children were still sent out to buy tortillas and cheese at the nearest store, and they scampered through the puddles wearing slippery flip-flops. The ground, like an over-saturated sponge, stopped soaking up the water after a couple days and soon the water just skidded off the surface. The problem in Nicaragua is that there is nowhere for the runoff to go. Streets flood with thick, muddy water; the rudimentary “ditch” system (aka the water runs out wherever you dig a ditch in the mud in front of your house) is unable to handle the volume. Rivers swell and overflow, taking boulders, branches and roots with them – carrying them meters downriver. (below: an overflowing river and a flooded well).

My house (which my landlady advised me has the tendency to flood during hard rains) did not flood too much, mainly due to my excellent ditch-digging abilities, if I do say so myself. Before the rains came I put on my thick, black rain boots and devoted an afternoon to digging out the water’s runoff path so it could run more freely, carting buckets full of mud down the street to dump in an empty lot. Needless to say it was a hard day and made me wish my Dad was around to help me. There are quite a few things that I periodically have to do around my house: kill spiders, replace light bulbs, cut tree branches, re-hammer nails, etc. that I wish I had a “man” around to help me with. I usually suck it up, or go to my neighbors and put on the dumb-blonde act, hoping Don Silvio will come rescue me from manual labor.

After those ten days of intense rain, the first day of sun felt like a breath of fresh air. Windows were opened, days’ worth of laundry was hung up, and people finally ventured out of their houses to assess the damage. Some newly paved roads to villages had been overtaken by overflowing rivers and covered in mud and rocks. Newly planted bean and corn plants had been drowned or washed away – the complete opposite of what happened last year when we faced a drought. Some adobe homes had collapsed, or been filled with mud. I saw wells that had been covered in mud, and people were struggling to dig them out. The national news reported that several people had perished in the rains: they had been washed away in rivers or their homes had collapsed on them.

Another Peace Corps volunteer whose community is nearby mine recently had trouble getting back to her town by bus. The rains had swelled a large river they had to cross, creating strong rapids that stormed over the cement blocks that normally served as a bridge. Ten buses and a couple hundred people were stranded on either side of the river waiting for it to go down. My friend weighed the decision whether or not she would cross –she had never seen water that high and was genuinely scared. When a bus finally did make the first attempt, the water went up to the windows. It was a miracle it didn’t get swept sideways, but she decided against crossing and came back to my site to stay the night and wait it out. A good decision, I would say (below see a photo of the river and the "bridge" with buses waiting to cross, and a video of the first bus crossing).

Although I grew up in a temperate rainforest in Southeast Alaska, this rain is different. There is no escape: no warm, watertight house to run into, no gutter system, no ocean for the rain to wash away in. My town is in a valley and I feel like the rain is slowly filling it up, day by day. Well, July marks the half-way point in the rainy season. Hopefully we’re over the worst. In the meantime, I go everywhere with my trusty umbrella.

1 comment:

Jean said...

WOW, and I thought Oregon was rainy.
Be careful not to float away. Just remember what the moisture in the air does for your skin. You will probably look 5 years younger when you come home.

Aunt Jean