Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rainy Season

When my great-grandpa was in his eighties, his second wife died. My grandma, finally free of this wicked stepmother who kept her and her children away from her father—it’s a long story—swooped in and stole him away, bringing him to the Philippines, where my mom’s family lived at the time. A former park ranger in the deserts of southern Utah, he was understandably confused by the rainy season. He panicked every time it rained, rushed around the house, shouting at his grandchildren to get to work! Put buckets on the roof! We've gotta save this water! Don't just let all this water go to waste!

I feel like him sometimes. The rain here is different, so sudden and heavy that it stuns me into silence: standing in front of a class of eleventh graders, writing on the whiteboard, uncapped marker in hand, I stare out the window at the downpour, half unbelieving it’s real. How could the sky hold that much water?

In America, I told the other teachers, when it rains, it drizzles. At most, it’s just a steady pitter-pat, or drip-drip-drop. The skies are cloudy and grey all day long. We sing to the rain, I added, telling it to go away, and we invent special activities for “rainy days,” knowing we’ll be housebound for a while.

In Indonesia, when it rains, it pours: buckets, bathtubs, lakes of water tumble from the sky, in rushes and volumes without a steady rhythm, pounding so heavily I cannot hear the voice of the person standing two feet away from me. This happens several times a day this time of year, and the Indonesians know what to do: far from getting the buckets out, everyone flees the rain, ducking into the nearest store, or hiding under an awning somewhere to wait it out.

And then, just as quickly as the rain came, it goes again. Just when I start cursing myself for not bringing an umbrella, wondering how best to keep my shoes dry while walking through ankle-deep puddles, I glance outside again and bam! the rain stops! It’s like God turns on a faucet and then, finished brushing his teeth, responsibly switches it off, sure to check for any stray drips. God, like my great-grandfather, doesn’t want to waste water.

Even stranger still, the sun comes out again, almost immediately. The streets flood, but that’s no matter: everyone rolls their pants up to their ankles and ventures out from under store awnings, ready to resume normal life. The air smells fresh, heavy, and alive, the smell of moist dirt and growing plants; it’s one of my favorite scents in the world. I cap my marker and turn back the class. “All right,” I say, smiling. “Who knows what monsoon means?”


Petra'sMadre said...

I enjoyed being reminded of your Board days. And I also enjoyed being reminded of the joy of dashing out into those warm downpours for a wonderful rain dance when we were children in the tropics.

Steven said...

Although I'm sure it's not quite as severe, it does rain like that in the eastern US sometimes, especially in Florida. FYI.