Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Art of Disaster

We had to investigate the damage from Ida. The first spot we visited was where the bridge to the town was wiped out. When Elmer explained to me on the phone about the bridge before we arrived, I didn't really think that much of it, outside of an annoyance and inconvenience for the town. I had seen the bridge before, and it was that huge and I didn't remember the river as being very wide at that point. But upon seeing the spot where the bridge once stood, I was utterly speechless.

In a matter of 4 hours. Four hours only. The rains came in torrential force and made the river swell up over 30 feet higher than it's normal level. Trees along side were up-rooted and swept downstream. These are trees that have a trunk circumference of up to 15 feet around the base. (No I didn't have my tape measure with me.) A house was completely buried by debris from the trees and oddly the entrance was left open so you could still walk up to where it once was a home and a store. The river had been widened from approximately 15 yards to my (likely inaccurate) guess-timate of 100 yards, not including the land that sloped up away from the river that killed all the bushes and plants above it. All in a matter of 4 hours. Then sunny skies and there will be no more rain likely until May. Crazy.

While we were there at the river, people swam and played and laughed (and littered) as if it were the way it had always been. Except for the men with chainsaws. This bridge, while effecting the town as a major inconvenience was a big problem, was low on priority for repair for a third world country who is already worried about helping the actual towns and their people that were wiped out.  But this did not stop the men who wanted this wood. Oh how I wish I still had these pictures. On the spot, the men were cutting up the wood, not to begin rebuilding and removing, but to utilize the resource that was laying right in front of them. Vertical cuts in the huge trunks of these trees were made to remove on site wood planks. It was truly ingenious and amazing.

What was also amazing was how much trash, litter and human debris had already been left at the site of this devastation in the first seven days following the "wipe-out". I was unfortunately saddened on a regular basis when I saw how little the people cared about trash on their beautiful land. It's just not something that is being taught as important. Potable water is sold in bags, as opposed to water bottles as American are accustomed to.  While in some respects it seems like a very good alternative to bottles. As unlike in the US it is almost required to buy drinking water. (Well at least for our family's internal organs that aren't accustomed to the nature of the water there). These bags are a great way to have easy access water at a very low cost (less that $0.10/ 500ml).
But all these bags often don't make it to any trash can. And everything, everything comes in plastic. (Plastic is forever).

One evening we went down to Rio Titiguapa to look at the damage done near another part of the river than we had seen previously the week before. It was getting near sunset and I thought I'd try some new settings on my camera which I'm not so good at working. While the kids played by the river, I managed to erase the previous 500 pictures I had already taken. Me needing a moment over this, is putting it mildly.

But the kids and some of their cousins played by the river and Tia Patty, Elmer's sister, went to ask the driver of the ferry if we could ride along with them for free across the river while he took a car and some other passengers to the other side of the river, about a 20 minute ride in each direction.

Sure, no problem.

OK, perfect case where you should not instill the don't ask don't tell policy. As I'm still in my huff, and we are pulling away from the river's edge, I look over at the truck not 2 feet away from me on the ferry, and then to 15-20 people on the other side of the ferry. There is a coffin in the back of the truck, and everyone else is mourning. OK, good for perspective. I only lost a few pictures these folks lost a life. Unfortunately we realized too late that we should not have been with them on the boat and their privacy should have been respected.

As we pull away from the edge, the sun is setting. The mountains are completely surrounding us. The sky is beautiful, the air is crisp and warm, the water is turning golden and sight is phenomenal. Pure white birds float across the water finding their roosting tree for the night. And in the distance you can see one tree that stands out among the others, and it is pure white from the birds that call it home for the evening. And the cranes that are fishing flying low over the water and hunting for their dinner. Gorgeous, I tell you. An oasis. (Just like it says on the water bag.)

And then 2 minutes later the sun sets and it is pitch dark. (The sun sets amazingly fast the closer to the equator you get.) But the boat pulls up to the dirt road down the river. The truck drives off the boat and down the road and the people get off the boat and wait at the edge of darkness. At this point we (all our family free-loaders) think that we about to turn around and head back. There is darkness around and Tia Alicia has made pupusas for us that will be waiting at home for us.  Here's the catch. The boat driver promised the truck that it would wait for it to pick up and deliver these folks and then eventually come back onto the boat to go to the side it came from. That, in my humble opinion, would have been a nice piece of information to know about before we left at sunset.

Now how many times have I said in this past year "If it were just Elmer and I, it would be no big deal..." As there really were no lights at all. The moon was about a half full, but really glowed in the night to silhouette the mountains and reflect on the water. We looked for constellations, saw shooting stars. Sang some songs, played some games. The frogs were croaking and singing, fireflies lit up the forest edge. And then there were the muffled (and not so muffled) sobs of scared children lost in the dark on some strange river in some foreign country in some place they had never seen with nature they could care less about and words being spoken that they didn't understand.  It was 2 hours before Elmer could convince the boat driver to please take us back to the other side. We didn't know if there would ever be a truck coming down that dirt road again. So we pulled out and made our way back to the "port" we came from. And as the laws of the universe would have it, just as we had safely pulled out from the spot we had been waiting at, we could see the lights of the truck making it's way down the road back to the river. We didn't turn back, and that was that.

I told the kids it was simply the "Art of Adventure" and we had to make the best of it. Tigo replied it was more like the "Art of Disaster."  He may be right.

At least we can look back and laugh. Sort of.

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