I went to bed to a raucous chorus of crickets and cicadas. This morning, there’s a whole new sound – roaring water. We had a massive thunderstorm blow through last night. Today, my office is in a tree. It’s funny how big of a role geography plays in the ways storms affect things. We’ve had several since I started working here. They’ve made a muddy mess, but haven’t caused any real damage, which is lucky, since my thatch-roofed abode with the aluminum solar panel on top is a fire hazard from hell. Last night’s was different. Last night’s almost swept the entire camp away.
Had the storm blown in from any other direction, we would’ve gotten a proper soaking, but not much else. Because it came in from the north, which is contrary to the direction the storms usually come from, much of the camp was exposed to the extremely high winds as well as the soaking rains. Everything that wasn’t properly secured (which is most of the camp) suffered serious damage, from permanently mangled tent poles to irreparably torn canvas tents to an airborne office.
Because the storm system was quite severe upriver, we were literally ambushed by floodwaters that originated many, many miles from where we are. In fact, had we gotten no rain at all, we still would’ve gone from dry river bed, to a fully flowing Niagara deal. Several water systems converge just slightly upriver from where we’re based. Any water that fell there rushed downriver towards us and eventually pooled in the narrow channel right outside my door. The waters filled the riverbed and rose about 20 feet in only a few hours. Now I truly understand the potency and unpredictability of flash floods.
The image you see above is not a giant deflated balloon, but in fact my prior place of employment. I still have a job, it’s just I no longer have an office in which to do said job. Then again, it wasn’t much of an office to begin with, so maybe this destruction is for the best. Okay, not maybe. It is DEFINITELY for the best.
This is what happens when you work in a tent that isn’t properly secured…
That pathetic, drooping mess in the photo used to be an 8×10 foot canvas tent, sheltered from the blistering Limpopo heat by marula and jackalberry trees. Small animals, birds, and insects regularly dropped by for some watercooler chat. It was a nice, casual environment. I was about 30 feet from the kitchen, about three feet from the lecture hall, and a short tumble down a riverbank to the dry riverbed below. After last night, though, it isn’t a dry riverbed anymore. In fact, it’s an actual flowing river now, complete with rip currents and small rapids. It’s amazing that you can fall asleep to sand and wake up to water. And it’s scary how destructive that water can be.
It took about 15 people to get my office down from where it was hanging in the tree. Everyone in camp spent the day resetting up tents, cleaning, and rebuilding. There was mud everywhere, including in my office laptop. Again, another blessing, since that little dinosaur of technology was well past its use-by date. Since my employers have no interest in bringing the camp up to the 21st century, but somehow expect me to work within the parameters of 21st century technology, I had to rely on luck to get the useless piece of history replaced. Of course, this now leaves me with NO technology at all, but honestly, that isn’t all that far off from where I was a day ago. At least now I have what will be considered a viable excuse as to why I can’t do my work. Without a computer, no one can tell me it’s my fault that the battery needs to be replaced, or that the internet doesn’t work (and yes, this stuff actually gets blamed on me, not on the lack of a working battery or almost nonexistent signal out here). Of course, it also means I have no computer, plain and simple. Luckily for me, I have a personal laptop that managed to avoid total destruction. My employers don’t know that, though, and I’m not planning on telling them. Sometimes I really feel you need to savor the moment and practice acts of self-preservation. This is one of those times when what they don’t know won’t hurt them, and will keep me sane.
I would like to add that the current flock of students did a tremendous job of putting the Humpty Dumpty camp back together again. Everyone did his or her part, no matter how unpleasant, and we did eventually get the office out of the tree. Of course, like the bedtime character, there was no way we were putting it back together again.
Now, until we get a new tent to replace my mutilated one, my office consists of a plastic chair, a notebook on my lap, and an unobstructed view of the new river. Really, it could be a lot worse. No rush on that office, guys, no rush at all. Of course, as they say, this is Africa. I’m pretty sure there would be no rush anyway. And that’s fine with me.
Song of the day – as to be expected, ‘Africa’, by Toto. Because today I am blessing the rains….
All rights reserved. ©2011 Jennifer Vitanzo