“I can’t do this any longer” my son said in the darkness. “My bed’s just too wet now. I can’t find anywhere left that’s dry to sleep on.”
I was already awake – as was my wife. We’d woken up to the most almighty bang that had (literally) made her leap into my arms. Would have been nice had I not also been petrified. Minutes later, my lad had appeared.
He stood there, about four in the morning, with the winds swirling all around the house and the windows flashing with light every few seconds. He looked like some demonic creature out of a horror movie – he was just missing the Hollywood obligatory red eyes. But it wasn’t the supernatural that was causing all this.
The storms had come.
He wasn’t wearing much – none of us were – it’s just too hot at the moment with temperatures at 40 degrees even at night to be able to wear more than a T-shirt in bed; but what little he had on was sodden. For a moment I thought that he’d had a toilet accident. Then I thought how odd that would be. Neither of our kids had ever gone through bed-wetting issues. My son is nine and though it is possible for this issue to begin then, it wasn’t likely.
Then it dawned on me – the roof was leaking.
I got up and shot to his room. The veranda leading to his room was like something out of a disaster movie. Things were scattered everywhere. There are no glass windows (we try to keep heat out not in) – just mosquito netting so the full force of the storm was blowing the curtains to near horizontal even though they were heavy with rainwater. The chair I sit on when I want to read on a day off, was soaking wet and the whole floor was a pool of water. That didn’t matter – it would all dry by the next day. But my son’s room was full of electrical things – laptops, monitors, electric guitar and so on. All the stuff he’s into at the moment – and water and electricity don’t mix.
I stepped into his room and my feet sloshed in water. It was pitch black except for moments of lightning that lit up the room through the curtain but gave no hint of what was happening. It was not so much dripping I could hear as pouring. I took one step further and was drenched instantly in cold water from above. Tentatively, I put my hand on the wall, found the switches and went to turn the light on. This could go very badly, I thought. If the roof was waterlogged where all the electrical wires are and I was standing in water, this could be a short trip to the hospital – or worse. But I had to see what was going on. The wall felt dry and I made a decision – I turned the switch.
Thankfully there was no explosion except for that which continued outside and had woken us up in the first place. I could now see the damage.
The water was mainly coming through the quarter of the ceiling nearest the door and it was coming through holes and cracks in several places. Unfortunately, the bed had been partly under this. My son must have been woken up immediately as the water was falling on his pillow but, being a dutiful son who knows we don’t like being disturbed in the night (and has known instinctively since he was born that bedtime is for sleep) he had tried to continue sleeping – finding different places on the bed that were dry until there were no places left. Bless him – he’s a good lad.
Incredibly, none of his precious stuff had been under the dripping roof, just a couple of extension leads sitting on a box had been soaked. They would dry out eventually. I moved the box out of the way of the pouring water then did the same with the bed. A rug had been part-soaked so I hung that up elsewhere to dry and otherwise it looked like all had survived. I found some buckets and put them under the various leaks and then went back to bed. My son had already got out of wet clothes and was cuddled up next to his mum. I got back into bed and tried to sleep through the mayhem outside.
A few years ago, something like this would have been a terrible disaster in our home in the UK. Things would have been ‘ruined’ and we would have been annoyed and upset. Instead, now, we just got on with it. The roof would need repairing but otherwise this was like any other storm where a flurry of activity would be needed to unplug things that could be damaged and move any fabric things that had not already got soaked. We knew we would wake up to a sitting room with water all over the floor – the windows there never keep the rain out – and the shoes in the front veranda would be sodden and squelchy when we went to work. Quite normal for this time of year.
At the same time, we are fighting off three different types of ants which come pouring in through every window and crack in the roof, regularly kill cockroaches the size of your thumb and cope with mosquitoes, beetles, frogs, and rats (not often, thankfully) all trying to seek shelter in our home. Spiders we don’t even worry about these days – though the occasional snake does cause a stir if it is big enough. How do we manage it? I sometimes wonder.
We manage because it is much worse for those who don’t live in the relative luxury we enjoy – those outside the gates of LAMB. Our ayahs turned up for work that morning as though nothing had happened even though we knew they would have had to save someone’s roof from blowing off somewhere and repairs to the damage caused by the rain to the mud walls of their homes would be needed before they began to crumble in the heat – this all on top of their normal backbreaking daily work. But this is nothing new. Earlier in the week we had visited our ayah’s village and I’d seen a mass army of red ants (each nearly the size of your thumbnail) all over the clothes on the washing line, the trees, the furniture and food. They would drop off the tree branches and on to the back of your neck where you would have to fish them out fast or risk a nasty nip. At least the storms brought a brief respite from that.
We can enjoy the incredible storms from our concrete bari and they are incredible. The lightning fills the entire horizon, the rain comes down like marbles and the thunder roars like nothing on earth. It is truly beautiful.
But outside the gates it can be a matter of life and death. Complete villages in Bangladesh can be washed away when the local rivers flood their banks; we’ve had friends in tears several times when the storms we ooh’d and ah’d at the night before had ripped off their thin aluminium roof and exposed all their food and belongings; people storing the harvest newly gathered from their fields battle to save it all becoming water-logged and rotten – not even edible, let alone able to sell it.
And worst of all, the majestic, frightening and beautiful lightning kills people in this water-based country. There is little you can do if nature has decided it will be you. Even staying in your house is not going to keep you safe. In our first year here, lightning entered a home and killed the entire family of a teenage girl leaving her the only survivor with no protection from more distant family members who saw an opportunity to claim her father’s property. In the end, she was married off so that her property would become her husband’s. It was the only way to save her life and give her the protection she needed. I felt guilty that on that night I had been standing out in the refreshing rain with my family admiring the wonderful fireworks display from heaven, not realising it was re-writing a young girl’s life story.
Storms are not the only killer. A young boy was bitten by a snake on his way to school but had been advised that he would be alright by the local village wise man. This is not as daft as it might sound to Western ears; after all, snake bites are not uncommon here and are often fairly harmless. It was when the poison had gone all around this poor lad’s body causing it to swell and his organs began to fail that they brought him to LAMB. It was too late by then. The anti-venom here could have saved him.
Nature is very beautiful, but it is also a beast. There is nothing caring about it. The seasons come and go; the weather does what it will with no regard to what we need or our safety and gives much needed water to one man’s crops whilst destroying another’s life next door. I don’t know who first thought of nature as a ‘mother’ but I bet it wasn’t an Asian. That is a romantic thought only a Westerner has the luxury of thinking.