June 21, 2008

Big Muddy

It has been raining for the last several days - torrential at times, scattered at others creating an all-pervasive gloom over Mthatha since Tuesday morning. This is not the first time this has happened here but I don’t think I’ve ever noted just how much that affects people in Itipini.

Our roof in the clinic leaks pretty dramatically (we’re getting it fixed) so that’s one problem. The cloudy skies make it so dark in the clinic it can be difficult to see until your eyes adjust. Several times this week I’ve thought, “Let’s just flip on the lights” until I remember we don’t have electricity. It’s also colder inside than it is outside, which means I just want to keep hunched over in a corner.

For people who live in Itipini, I imagine rain must just be about one of the least anticipated events (aside from sunset and winter). Everything in those shacks leaks - the roof, the walls, and I’m sure even water figures out how to get through the dirt floors. When I’ve been inside some shacks this week, there are pots and pans and anything else that can be used to catch rain all over the place. But there are always more holes than pots to catch it.

But the major issue created by the rain is the mud. It is everywhere and gets everywhere. The mile-long road into Itipini becomes one big mud puddle and several inches of water rush over the bridge you have to cross from town. The paths between shacks become several-inch -deep mud slip-n-slides. I’ve seen several people this week slide and fall in the mud. When I pick up a child, I find myself with a big muddy footprint on my shirt. We have to really thoroughly clean the clinic at the end of the day to get it all out. On the other hand, I’ve learned that fishtailing the car in a few inches of mud is as much fun as in a few inches of snow.

In this regard, I have at least two advantages over most people in Itipini. First off, I bought myself a pair of rubber boots (called gumboots here or “amagumbootsi!” by the eager pre-schooler who saw Jenny and I modeling ours this week) when I first showed up for precisely situations such as this. That compares to many people here who either walk around barefoot (dirty and cold!) or in sandals or something equally insufficient. Second, I have a car and can drive through that mile-long mud puddle and over the bridge and not get wet or dirty.

On Friday, I turned the weather into a bit of an evangelism opportunity and began leading mildly ironic prayers in Xhosa thanking God for the rain but asking politely for a little sun now. All that time in Xhosa services on Sunday has really improved my religious vocabulary. My prayers earned disinterested chuckles but each time I led one the clouds seemed to thin a bit and the sky to brighten before darkening again. Clearly we should have been following Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing.” Then maybe I could dry my laundry.

It’s worth noting that winter is traditionally the dry season around here but in the last several years there have been more and more storms like what we’ve had this week. My co-worker Dorothy has said several times this week, “Rain...in the winter!” in a shocked and confused voice.


Linden said...

So obviously your car is still up and running...it's hard for me to imagine it traveling through all that mud successfully, though. I'd place money on you exhausting the poor vehicle by the time you leave!