Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The little coconut that could...

I've been home alone for a little over a week now. Steve and Sam are in Cameroon with Joe and Meg. They are there to help with some issues that have arisen of late. I had a plan. I was going to repaint the entire annex part of the guest house on Monday through Wednesday. This included transforming Steve's tiny office into a tiny over-flow guest room. We are a small guest house but we are a busy one. Many times four bedrooms is just not sufficient. By the weekend we were going to be full and need that over-flow guest room.

I peeled off old wallpaper and painted for hours over three days with the help of our guardian Gustave. We finished painting and moved furniture around and hung African art on the walls and by Wednesday late afternoon we were finished. I was tired but content with the work. Then I awoke on Thursday morning to the sound of water sloshing around outside my window. I discovered our Gabonese teammate Maman Celine outside trying to clear away standing water on the front porch. As I went into the living/dining room to let her into the house I found myself sloshing about in water INSIDE my house as well. She came in and commenced to help me with the flood waters. I walked out towards the small laundry room to get a broom and slipped and fell. I fell hard and slammed the side of my head into the door frame as I went down onto a cement and tile floor. I lay there a bit dazed but in one piece. Soon I felt my right temple swelling with each pound of my pulse. Did I mention that the power was out?

I had lit some candles to help us see in the dim morning light. As I reclined on the sofa amidst the waters, holding an icepack to my pounding head, Tozer, our dog, came running through the room from the backyard yelping and sliding crazily about. Before we could usher him out the front door the overpowering odor of gasoline filled the room. Our guardian,in an attempt to help Tozer with the plague-like proportion of ticks all over him, doused the poor dog in gasoline. Apparently this is a village technique to kill ticks. I was certain that the room would explode from the toxic combination of gas fumes and half a dozen lit candles. Fortunately it didn't blow.

After getting all the water out of the house,I had to turn my attention to poor Tozer. We discovered ticks everywhere, all over him and climbing the walls of the guest house. It was so disturbing. I had to take immediate action on Tozer's behalf. I got into our car, which had recently been repaired twice for a battery problem caused by the brake lights staying on while the car is turned off which in turn drained the battery. I believed it to be fixed. Foreshadowing... I went to the pharmacy with Celine and found the best tick meds I could find as well as some spray to kill the ticks infesting the guest house. It was very expensive but unavoidable as the problem had multiplied to biblical proportions.

As I approached the car in the parking lot of Mbolo I noticed with sinking despair my break lights shining in the brilliance of a hot sunny day. Sure enough when I attempted to start the car it coughed piteously once or twice and then there was silence. I called Papy the car tech, who had already "fixed" this problem twice and I explained my predicament. He assured me he would be there toute de suite! (right away) So we sat there in the sweltering heat and I tried to hold off the discouragement that attempted to wrap itself about me like a heavy woolen cloak. I wanted to shake my fist heavenward and yell, "Is this all you've got!!" I refrained. Papy showed up and I paid his taxi fare, then paid another taxi to jump start the battery. Papy was all smiles and assurances. I let him know that I was not happy. I told him I had no confidence in his work as he had supposedly repaired this problem twice. We rode home in silence. I got out of the car and left Papy to his work and Maman Celine and I continued with ours. Gustave treated Tozer with the medication and began to treat the rest of the house with the expensive spray to kill the ticks that were raging war against us.

To my surprise the power was back on. I spent the rest of the day getting ready for the three visitors that were coming from Bongolo. In the midst of all of that four Gabonese friends paid a visit and we attempted to skype call someone in the states, I was to be the interpretor. The call didn't go through and we visited for a bit in my living room sharing a bowl of popcorn amidst the recently flooded space which was still very much in disarray. They left and I made dinner. It was on the table by 6:30 that evening. We (the visitors from Bongolo and I) had a lovely visit and ate chicken in red curry sauce mixed with coconut milk. Oh the irony.

Later after dinner and all the dishes were done and all had retired to their rooms, I finally sat down and breathed a sigh of relief as the day was over. Just then a huge tropical rain storm began raging outside. It occurred to me that we never discovered the reason why the flooding happened in the first place. What then was to stop it from happening again? I looked out the window and to my dismay, the waters were rising and rapidly approaching my front door. My house sits on the lowest point of the property. I ran outside and called for the night guardian Gary. He was no where to be found. The rain was deafening. I tried to sweep the waters away from the front door. I ran in and called my dear friend Karen who had just traveled up from Bongolo and was staying upstairs in the guest house. She came down and we attempted to figure out why the water wasn't draining. I took the end of the broom handle and shoved it frantically into the drain and felt resistance. There was blockage of some kind. Karen went out to find Gary. She found him across the street hanging out at a small store. He went into our storage unit and found a long steel pole and began shoving it into the drain as Karen swept at the rising waters. I will never forget her in her long skirt, soaked to the bone shouting at Gary to look out. He was focused on the drain and wasn't watching the other end of the pole which was narrowly missing Dr. Thompson's car parked near the drain.

It was harrowing as the rain poured and pounded and the lightning flashed and thunder rumbled. Gary was the only one wearing a rain coat. It was bright yellow and blowing in the wind and rain, I felt as if we should instead be on board a ship at sea in a raging storm. Gary was yelling that the power would cut out at any moment plunging us into darkness. Karen,in an act of futility, continued to sweep the water away from the door. It was more like she was stirring and paddling the water. Tozer was splashing about and throwing his floating toys into the air with a gleeful expression on his huge canine face. I imagined ticks flying off of him and swimming for dear life while I furiously built a wall of towels in the living room. The towels were getting saturated. There was nothing more we could do. I stood in the living room soaked with my hair plastered against my face and shouted to Gary and Karen to stop what they were doing. It wasn't working. All we could do was pray that the rains would stop. It was strangely freeing to know that it was up to God. I had done all that could be done.

Karen went back to her room and Gary went to where ever he goes and I shut the door and continued to lay towel after towel against the door. When that was done I changed into dry clothes and brushed through my wet, tangled hair. I prayed and tried to go to sleep. The sound of rain is usually so comforting but that night it was the sound of impending doom.

Amazingly in the morning I found a dry living room. I'd never rejoiced so over an ordinary day, standing in my dry living room. Gustave, our guardian extraordinaire, went about clearing out the drain. He put on his rubber boots and grabbed a shovel and pick axe and started to work. He worked all day. Incredibly he found a coconut that had caused the blockage that caused the flood. It was the little coconut that could! I was so happy to have found the cause and blissfully went about my life. That is until the next rain storm. I forced myself to sleep to the sound of the pounding rain over the next two nights. Sure enough early Sunday morning I received a call from Karen. She was packing to drive back to Bongolo and noticed my porch was flooded again. It hadn't flooded into the house. I don't really know why it didn't. The waters covered my porch. Tozer's water and food bowls were floating about and water was sloshing against the door but it didn't come in. By this time my eye had purpled into a lovely black eye. It is my first black eye I am pleased to report. It throbbed every time I bent over to lay out towels or pound away at a blocked drain.

It seemed we needed to drill another drain in the front of the house. Perhaps due to new construction of a large house next door the rain water has run a new path. Who knows exactly but once again Gustave came to the rescue. He has just completed our new drain. I love that new drain! It is wondrous and lovely to behold. I stand at the window and watch as the rushing waters run out and keep our porch dry. That love of my new drain is only tarnished by Dr. Thompson's observation today that now rats and feral cats may come into the compound. We may need to consider some kind of grill to attach to the open drain... Now I'm imagining feral cats fighting and rats running amuck and infesting our house with all manor of vile vermin... C'est la vie.