Into The Rain (i)

With the recent rash of storms we’ve been having here in Canada, I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic about the storms I’ve faced with my family. There’s something comforting about knowing that you are not alone, whether the storm is actually raging outside or deep within.

My family and I lived in a dirt house. Yes, it was actually made of dirt. It must have been built-in the early 1900s thereabouts. I can’t really say, all I know is I’ve known that house for twenty years of my life. My father was born in it and so were his siblings. Of course, as time passed a room was added, a new kitchen was added, all made of wood. For a time the newness of these additions would make me feel as if we were catching up with all the others who had graduated to huge concrete houses with indoor plumbing and air conditioning. Eventually our renovations would become broken and worn like the rest of the house and the awe would dissipate. But it remained strong.

Trinidad isn’t exactly famous for being hit by hurricanes (knock on wood), thanks to the three mountain ranges that run almost parallel to one another. But there have been storms, not with the ferocity of a hurricane but enough to completely destroy a structure made of sticks, twigs, grass and mud and rip out the patched galvanised iron sheets that made up the roof over our heads. But it always held as if faithful and loyal to its occupants.

I always looked forward to rain at night. The sound of fat raindrops drumming on the roof was better than any lullaby or a favourite song played on the radio. Coupled with the soft drip, drip of water from the numerous holes in the roof into buckets, basins and bowls which were strategically placed around the house to avoid having to wake up to a cold and damp floor, nature’s symphony had a somnolent effect and I was always an avid fan.

When I wasn’t sleeping I would stand outside in the open gallery in the darkness, with only a small light in the bedroom behind me. The grooves in the galvanised iron sheets created little rivulets of water which ran like quicksilver before my eyes, transforming into water again as they splashed into the puddles in front of the house.

But of all these things, I loved the tall coconut trees the most. They grew in abundance in that small village where I lived. In the yard of everyone’s home, there were at least three coconut palm trees and when it stormed, they danced. In the wildness of the rain and thunder and lightning, they swayed from side to side, sometimes almost bending to the ground, their branches like arms waving and grasping at the air charged with energy, paying homage their maker, succumbing to its power.

I would stand in that gallery hypnotised by this performance and it was only the flash of lightning which tore across the inky sky that would send me scuttling back to my blanket in my bedroom. I could still peep through the curtains though, but it wasn’t the same as standing right there, barely inside and barely outside, almost a part of it all.

Eventually I would allow myself to sleep. Cocooned in my blanket beneath my mosquito net, I was safe. The ravine that flowed not too far from where I lived would certainly burst its banks, but the sandbags were already in place and we were far enough from it to escape the wrath of the orange red deluge.

The light of morning always came, but it was the wildness of these dark and stormy nights that I relished.


Into The Rain (ii)

Rainy season always sauntered in, like a pompous guest, intent on showing off. The heat of the dry season would take its sweet time, also like a guest, but one that sticks around to suck the life out of you. The ground was cracked and it didn’t help at all on those days when the water company shut off that which we needed the most for maintenance purposes. Luckily for many of us who knew their ways, we could always count on the covered barrels of rain water for our own personal maintenance. They were not for drinking though, we had learned enough to recognise that the drop in water pressure in the taps meant that we would be going several hours without potable water and so we would fill up every basin or bucket that we could lay our hands on.

The first rains of the rainy season were a tease. Each shower would come in torrents for a few minutes and stop – just like that. I relished these moments. There was a scent that wafted from the earth into the air. Many people I knew didn’t like it. But I did. It smelt like regeneration; the beginning of life and I was taken back, in my imagination, to the first rains that ever fell on earth, when nature was all that there was. I could almost hear her sigh with relief and I did the same.

The rains brought with it beauty and abundance. Within days of the first downpour, the red ixoras* and hibiscus burst into bloom like blood from a fresh wound and where there are flowers, there most certainly will be birds – and bees of course.

There were quite a few downsides though. While water is life giving and sustaining, too much of it can be …well… deadly. Torrential rainfall brought floods and the human race has a sort of affinity for fast flowing water, I could never understand that. There were tragedies. Many of them were the results of obstinacy and to some small degree, stupidity. Fast flowing, dirty water, filled with debris and filth is no one’s friend.

Paper boat sailing was a favourite of mine and my sisters. We’d make paper boats and sail them in the large puddles in the road. We dared not go close to the drains because they were death traps too and we were warned that not even death could prevent us from getting a good beating for disobeying. But my sisters and I, we disobeyed to some degree. It was not proper for young girls to be gallivanting barefoot around the village in the mud and water, especially when we were soaked. Both my parents worked and we always estimated the time they were expected to come round the corner. We had it down to a science.

Still that didn’t prevent us from getting a telling off. First of all there were the neighbours who disapproved of such un-ladylike behaviour. Secondly, there were the tell tale clothes that were washed and hung dripping on the clothes line and finally, there was the silence of the sisterhood. We always looked far too innocent to be guilty – our greatest undoing. But all in all it was just harmless fun. Not that my parents saw it that way and now that I am older, I can understand. Sounds clichéd doesn’t it? The whole with age comes wisdom?

The things I hated the most whenever it rained continuously for days were the rain flies. EWWWWWW!!!! Such disgusting things they were. These ….bugs, insects, whatever you want to call them were just that, bugs and insects. They were actually termites that lived in the trunks of the coconut trees. But these ones grew wings. Big, black, shiny wings and they fluttered about making my blood crawl.

As I mentioned before, our bathroom was an open air one, literally. It was outside. Just a small structure built with corrugated iron and wood around a concrete platform. What made it worse was that it was right under the coconut tree. I would be screaming and shrieking as they descended upon me. I developed a rhythm – soap, rinse, shriek , flail about – soap, rinse, shriek, flail about. I used to continue like this until, thoroughly traumatised I half slipped and half ran into the house, my rubber slippers (I realised they were called flip-flops when I moved to Canada), flying off my feet and my towel just barely covering my naked behind. I would then demand that my hair and skin be examined for any rain flies that may have gotten stuck on my wet and still slightly soapy skin.

Other than that occasional trauma, I loved the rainy season. It was always cooler. Everything was more vibrant. Life would come alive – if that makes any sense. And that’s something I could live with.

*Ixoras – segmented flowers. It’s a favourite with hummingbirds, bees, wasps and me. You can actually sit down with a cluster and one by one suck the nectar out of it. You can click on the link provided below to see what they look like. I have no pictures of my own. Our ixora plants were cut down due to mealy bugs.


Into The Rain (iii)

Hurricane Brett – I think that was the only hurricane like hurricane I’ve ever experienced. Why I say this is because it was the only one that dared to come close to Trinidad. It was August 1993 and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) had declared a day off as Hurricane Brett was speeding towards my tiny boot shaped island. It was excitement and mayhem rolled into one. In true Trini style everyone, at the last-minute, rushed to get non perishables and containers to fill up on clean water. There was sure to be flooding so drinking water would most likely be contaminated. Hardware stores were running out of rope and planks of wood to be used to board up doors and windows and tie down roofs. There were traffic jams everywhere as everyone tried to get home at the same time.

Now normally my family and I are one of the most paranoid families in our village. Strange to say that on that particular day, with a hurricane barrelling towards us, we chose to go and see Jurassic Park, the first movie. I don’t know why we picked that day. But I’m glad we did as I wouldn’t have this memory today.

Those of you who have seen Jurassic Park, you know that the first attack of the T-Rex came during a storm right? So I don’t have to tell you why this was so fitting for that day. The movie was over and my sisters and I were all hyper-excited. With mum rushing us along (it was almost five o’clock and the storm was supposed to hit that night), we managed to stop into a supermarket along the main road in Tunapuna and pick up some sardines, crackers, cheese, snacks, candles, batteries for torch lights, matches, flour and rice. This was our version of disaster preparedness. This was as good as it got. We didn’t have to worry about getting home as my dad, approximating the time the movie would be done was already staking out the area – driving up and down the street in the vicinity of the cinema. He must have spotted us as he parked in front of the Monarch Cinema despite a heavy police presence cracking down on illegal parking or ‘park and dash’ culprits.

When we got home, the house was already prepared. Barrels were filled, loose objects were moved from the yard and there was a rope, as thick as my arm strung diagonally from a lath in the roof across the kitchen to a thick post in the corner. Yeah, that should do it. If the rest of the house blew away, we could still stay in the kitchen.

Before night fell, Hurricane Brett was downgraded to a tropical storm. That wasn’t too bad. But nothing prepared me for the assault my imagination laid on me. It became quiet, eerie. Not even the dogs were barking and the sky was black. I was safe under my blanket, surrounded by the mosquito net. Mum was still awake and she kept peeping through the windows as if she expected someone to show up. Every time she did that my heart would stop and my muscles would tense.

It came with a ‘voom’ and a ‘boom’, like a T-Rex stalking its prey and immediately that scene from the movie replayed in my mind with alarming clarity. There was a small bucket that my father had tied to the tree. Don’t ask me why, I don’t even know. I guess he forgot to remove it. Each time that sound came closer, I held my breath. The bucket banged against the tree and then it stopped. Mum dove under the covers and I heard her say, “It sounds like the dinosaur is coming.”

I hoped she didn’t turn on the lights. Lights would only draw their attention to us. The water began to drip from the little holes in the ceiling. Dammit, I had forgotten to put out the bowls and the basins to catch the water. We would have a flood. But I dared not get up or even remind my mother that our sieve like roof would have us wading through the house in the morning.

“To hell with it.” I thought. “I’m not going outside. Let it flood.”

By some miracle, I slept. My dreams were filled with images of sharp, blood stained teeth and the smug faces of velociraptors. When I woke up, expecting there to be debris and devastation all over the place. There was nothing.

The basins and bowls were out and they were half filled with water. Mum was mopping the floor where the water had splashed. The rain fell steadily. No roofs had blown off and there was no flood. It turned out that Tropical Storm Brett changed his mind. He bypassed us and headed for Venezuela where, because they were unprepared, lives were lost and thousands of people had to leave the comfort of their own homes and flee for safety.

That was close. Too close to home. Trinidad was lucky – again. God and our mountain ranges were on our side. Hopefully, there will be no more close calls – and no dinosaurs……ever.

Into The Rain (iv)

When it rained heavily, our yard, because of bad drainage, would always flood. It was worse when it rained for many days. I say flood because two inches of water could be considered a flood since our house was built flat on the ground and not on a raised foundation.

I remember this one time, it was particularly stormy. As usual both my parents were at work and my sisters and I were on holidays. The rain was coming down with a vengeance, pounding grooves into the sodden earth and creating miniature canals. The yard already had three inches of water and it was about to flow into the house.

Armed with a spade, a shovel and a hoe, my sisters and I decided to dig our own drains so that the water could flow easily. What can I say? It was fun. And as you can tell from my previous posts, it didn’t take much to make us happy. Mud, rain and no one to supervise created a situation that was the equivalent to paradise.

Our watchful neighbours had grown tired of our un-ladylike ways, this was nothing new. Besides, there was no need to report us, the evidence would be in the yard. They were right. My father was the first to get home. We could hear the sound of his car as it neared the house. By that time we were already in bed with our books. Our clothes were washed and hanging on the lines.

My father parked the car in the shed, but he didn’t come in. When I looked out the window, he was standing in front of the house surveying our handiwork. We knew that stance well. He wasn’t too happy. But we didn’t care. No water got into the house.

When mum got home he turned his anger to her, complaining loudly that we messed up the yard. We were the picture of innocence. What did we do wrong? Honestly, you can’t please parents. It couldn’t be that bad for him to be so ticked off.

Once he had gone into the kitchen, my sisters and I crept outside. The drains that we thought we had made looked more like a shallow moat at the front of the house. King Arthur would have been proud. We giggled to ourselves. The gouges in the earth looked like raised scars. Once dad had finished his dinner, he went outside. Throwing us a disgusted look for creating more work for him, he proceeded to undo all the damage we had done.

Well, at least we got him to make a proper drain. It was a lesson well taught.


Into The Rain (v)

I think I’ve mentioned this before, playing in the rain has got to be one of the most satisfying things to do whether you’re young or old. Growing up in Trinidad it was not uncommon to see children playing cricket or football in the rain. Nor was it strange to see people walking through blinding rain to get where they wanted to go. It was never cold. Water brings out that gay abandon in people. After all, before we began looking the way we do now, we crawled out of water millions of years ago. Our bodies consist of nearly 70% of water – depending on size and body mass of course. My point is we are drawn to it as a moth is drawn to a dancing flame. There is no better way to enjoy water in its natural from than straight from the heavens, aquaphobe or no.

I have cousins who live in Gasparillo. It’s a small town and for those of us who lived in cities around Port of Spain, Gasparillo would be considered ‘south’. In fact anywhere beyond the city of Chaguanas was considered as south by the rest of us. Gasparillo was very hilly and my cousins lived on a hill – quite a steep one too that one needed to lean forward on the way up and lean backwards on the way down to prevent from toppling over in the opposite direction.

When morning dawned and the dew was still wet and like diamonds on the grass, the sun rose over those dewy hills and poured gold over them, a signal to the living to come to life. In the rainy season everything would be lush and green. Flowers showed off their brilliance and vied with the trees and the grass for admiration. After a very hot day, usually around midday, the rain would come down like bullets from the heavens, pummelling everything with wet, warm drops of water. I would lie down on the slope and just let myself become one with it all; the warm rain, the earth and the heat emanating from it as if Mother Nature herself was breathing a sigh of relief. I marvelled at the simple wonder that is nature.

The ground would soon disintegrate into a mixture of mud and grass as we slipped and stumbled in our attempts to make enough runs to beat the other team in a game of cricket – in the pelting rain. Electrical wires that ran above our heads would be lined with pigeons or keskidees and they too would be enjoying the rain, their chests puffed out, their beaks busy with the business of grooming.

If we were lucky the sun would come out as well and in the distance a rainbow would appear. I liked it better when there was a double rainbow. In my entire life I’ve only ever seen two of these; a young vibrant rainbow being cradled by a lighter almost faded one.

Days like the one I just described came only for a time. Things change, people change and we must move on. But these are the days I remember mainly because they were at a time when being a child was all that mattered.