Saturday, August 25, 2007

Still Standing, Dean-oh . . .

I glanced down at my fingernails as I flicked the mosquito from my ankle. The thin line of black grit confirmed the fact that we'd been without running water, neither hot nor cold, for two days.

Some parts of your body just don't get clean when you pour a bucket of water over your head.

The National Hurricane Center website had me whipped into a frenzied cocktail of dread and anticipation, stirred with a shot of excitement, on the rocks, for two days. Would we be flattened like a bald tire that struck a pot-hole on Spur Tree? Would we be able to see the seashore through leaf-less trees from Norman Manley Boulevard? And just how long would the 15 litres of bottled water keep us happy?

Fifteen litres of chardonnay may have been a more prescient plan of action.

We'd packed our belongings back into our luggage, many things in two or three layers of plastic lada bags or my month's supply of ziplocs, and moved to higher ground. That sounds like a torturous trek but really meant moving ourselves 30 yards to a second-story room in a cottage with a concrete roof. Our current cottage had a heavy corrugated metal roof, much heftier than the ubiquitous zinc of your standard board house, but nonetheless more vulnerable than concrete. So we moved 90 feet closer to the sea, but with a roof that could withstand a fallen mango tree.

And we piled into the one-room cottage, 4 of us sprawled out on to the two twin beds pushed together. We left the cottage door open as long as we dared -- well past 10pm, as the trees began to swirl in the darkness and the occasional branch flew across the arc of the verandah which was lit by candles. Er, uh, "kangles." We'd stockpiled drinking water, purchased excessive packages of crackers, jars of peanut butter and a few pounds of rice and dried beans, not to mention a brand-new coal pot and requisite 4-foot tall sack of coal to see us through the horror.

The horror that never came.

Our room grew warm and stuffy as the night wore on. No fan, let alone A/C, and we kept the shuttered windows closed as the wind grew more turbulent and we silently steamed ourselves to sleep. But only a 10-year old could find sleep without dreams, without worry. The rest of us tossed and turned, elbowing one another through the night, waiting for the howling thunder of hurricane winds.

It soon became clear that the loudest thunder we were going to hear was that of the groaning generator for the hotel next door. The Italian tourists at "Fun Holiday" would not be forced to experience Hurricane Dean in the dark. All things considered, I would have preferred the growl of a hurricane; it was like sleeping with a lawn mower circling your pillow.

When daylight finally arrived, we realized we'd actually fallen asleep at some point, that the tree frogs' gleep-gleeping had gradually yielded to the birds' chirp-chirping and that a storm surge had not washed us all out to sea. We pulled open the door to our cottage to take a look outside. Much like Dorothy slowly easing open the black-and-white door of her Kansas farm house, we hoped for a technicolor landscape left intact and not a wasteland of barren trees.

And they were all indeed still standing.

A smattering of mangoes and almonds littered the leafy ground, branches of assorted fruit trees and bamboo stalks lay streaked across the walkways, but the Whistling Bird remained relatively unscathed. The "electric city" had been cut before the storm overtook Westmoreland and the water in the pipes grew to a slow trickle by afternoon, a full stop by the middle of the night.

And we began our short-lived, camping-trip version of our vacation, cooking over a fire and bathing with a bucket of cold water poured over our heads.

I wonder how my fingernails would have looked if Dean had really knocked on our door, eeennnh?

Palm Tree No. 4
Pen and ink on paper
Prints available here.

1 comment:

dinahmow said...

Lovely to read a non-scary tale of holiday hurricanes. And I think I'd opting for the Chardonnay, too!
Glad you are all OK, apart from grimy nails!