OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I blathered on yesterday about the inch-high puddles inside my house, several elderly ladies from our Mi Esperanza church were experiencing flooding up to their waists in their ramshackle abodes.

Take a minute to look around your bedroom, kitchen, and living room, and consider what would be submerged should you suddenly be inundated with water levels up to your belt buckle. That “*gulp*” is your reality check for the week.

Villa Esperanza is essentially an unwanted stretch of land that started as a squatters’ paradise and has since developed, over the last few decades, into a sort of pseudo slum. Most prominently, a murky river rambles its way through the neighborhood–the pungent odor and the dubious brown color hint rather blatantly at its contents.

The nearby meat-packing plant drains its waste into this river, feces of all types add further variety to its composition, and so much garbage has been dumped into it that the rubbish has formed a dam at one end that residents occasionally have to use hooks to unclog.

When the sky pours forth even a small offering of rain, it quickly becomes clear why the land was forsaken in the first place. Flooding is immediate and for many houses that barely merit so official a label, the damage can be devastating. After an especially hard-hitting storm like the one that struck yesterday morning, one can imagine the calamitous effects.

F took the interns and I over to spend a few hours assisting with clean-up today. Already much of the water had receded, or really, soaked into the ground creating one gigantic smelly mud pit, but the filth the water had dragged in remained strewn about. Of course, by water, I mean, reeking sewage. Not only had T and G’s homes been baptized with ungodly amounts of flooding in a matter of minutes, but their shanties has been slopped over with the cornucopia of savory bits I detailed.

I jumped into a small tiled swimming pool to begin raking out ankle-deep amounts of muddy sticks, trash, poop, and clothes enough to dress a full-grown man for winter. It smelled horrible everywhere. I was absolutely filthy within seconds. And that wasn’t even the start of it.

Glancing around, I saw dilapidated foam mattresses set out in the sun (because it was clear blue skies today) still sopping of the stinking liquid. Refrigerators were dragged out by male missionaries as torrents of dirty water came rushing out of them. And trash, so much trash, was piled, if not littered, all over.

Hours were spent sweeping, raking, mopping sewage, and collecting bags of refuse to be dragged across rickety wooden planks that unsteadily bridged over the potent canal of muck. At one point, I had to navigate my way across backwards while dragging a body bag weighing of a teenage elephant with F, and I almost fell in. There are no words to describe the petrified thoughts that flashed through my mind in that panic-stricken moment. But people had no choice but to slog through what I feared touching because it was inside their houses.

I also had the opportunity to traverse into the even more labyrinthine underwood of still more extreme poverty. Some places looked like card houses, others like ancient, worn patchwork quilts. We waded right into poo water and glerped through muddy walkways, soaking in living conditions that are so difficult to fathom amidst our standards of modern luxuries. I saw dish racks of mud-covered plates and silverware. I saw soggy cardboard forming outside walls. I saw the triviality of laptop chargers and planners and damp sweaters I’ve only worn once in my life.

One woman told us she had six bags of cement stacked outside her front door and still the sewage floods submerged her home. Another, who was eight months pregnant, spent the entire day shoveling mud and debris out of her bedroom (and I thought my back was sore this morning?). And still others hold countless untold stories of their version of thunderstorm travesty.

It really puts things into perspective.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sewage canal flowing into the main road. You can also see the part of the wall that collapsed from the monumental flooding yesterday causing poo water to rush into T and G’s homes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was a pond yesterday with water levels nearly reaching the volleyball net.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA wooden bench that washed in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMattresses that got completely soaked in sewage.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see from the coloring on the walls where water levels reached.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cleaned out swimming pool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAClearing out trash with little helpers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADon’t be deceived by the serene, glassy appearance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe notorious bridge (and trash clog).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABankside efforts to remove debris.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA glimpse at some of the rubbish collected.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking towards uncharted territory.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA feeble barricade.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAgain check the wall stains.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn attempt at pitting a junk wall against heavy flooding.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATell me how such a residence withstands storms of any kind?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASomebody’s kitchen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASchlepping the trash out to the dumpster to be burned.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChildren fishing in the sewage with cut-off soda bottles attached to sticks.

Monsoon Morning.

November 29, 2012

So shiny.

I groggily cracked my eyes open feeling characteristically sticky from sweating all night and exhausted from sleeping restlessly due to the heat. Over even the vicious whir of the ceiling fan, I felt the loudest clap of thunder I have ever heard rattle the bones out of my window.

Yesss! It’s raining! I thought with glee. There are few things I love waking up to more than thunderstorms.

The wind had blown my shutters closed during the night covering my room in a shroud of darkest black. As I felt around unsuccessfully for my glasses, a strange glimmer caught my bleary, near-sighted eye.

Huh? Why does it look like my floor is covered in wa……OH MY GOSH, WATER!!!

I leaped out of bed and landed with a mighty splash. I was simultaneously chagrined to find that indeed my room was drenched in about two inches of water and incredibly relieved I did not leave my computer on the ground as I often do (seeing as I don’t have a desk and all). I started fishing chargers out of the water and wringing out dresses that had soaked because of my makeshift “closet.” A pillow and towel that had fallen to the floor weighed about twenty pounds in pungent liquid. My sacred planner was utterly obsolete.

I glanced at the window sill where water generally leaks in and was perplexed to find the usual spots dry. Weird. To my continued surprise, I exited the bedroom and found the entire house (except the shower, of course) completely covered in standing water. A pouch of rat poison that formerly sat on the ground under my kitchen sink had floated all the way to the bathroom, and an assortment of other objects, including a variety of giant dead cockroaches, could be seen strewn about in various rooms.

Confusion was extensive as the cracks under the front and side doors were dry. Where was this water coming from? I slogged through the hallway out to the kitchen to find an all-consuming mac daddy puddle soaking my bare feet. After snooping about in the torrential rain, it dawned on me that no exterior drain exists for the entire back half of the house and the rain gutter conveniently positioned right outside the kitchen door was pouring a raging river into the house. I could have white water rafted that current.

What else was there to do, but call all of my bosses and start mopping. After hours of what felt like simply pushing water around, the floor of my house looks somewhat normal again. The odor in the air is no fresh load of linen (the scent actually hovers somewhere between damp armpits and soiled diapers) and massacred colonies of bugs greet me every time I check the back door for a tidal resurgence, but I am feeling remarkably positive.

There is so much to be thankful for–starting with lower temperatures (!), a mostly competent roof over my head, generous coworkers, fresh coffee, and an unaffected computer. [I have experienced living abroad without my laptop for an extended period and it was not the cat’s meow at all. I know, first world people problems…]

Now to make the dwindling last roll of toilet paper stretch…

Bathroom with floated in kitchen knickknacks.

Only later did I discover the lowest part of this room (not pictured).

The canals of Veni…, er, Asuncion?

A pond of a kitchen.

The most devastating casualty. Boohoo.

 

After making them stare at the large tray of cupcakes temptingly decorated with colorful umbrellas all morning and forcing them to wait until the end of the program to even go near the desserts, I thought our OANSA kids would be tearing into their sweet snack like savages. Instead, they all nibbled cautiously, looking around as if to check if they were eating correctly. The more I watched, the more apparent became the befuddlement, and then it dawned on me.

They were all stumped by the cupcake wrappers.

Oh, cultural moments. I quickly gave a demonstration on how to peel the paper away from the sides of the cake, and then the real feeding frenzy kicked in. Within minutes of the clarification, only crumbs remained, if even those. It’s amazing how the smallest things can be such a big deal.

Other big deals? H investing two years of her seminarian academic career to weekly pour into the lives of our OANSA kids. Because of her regular house visits, ever cheerful smile, gentle disposition, and nursing background, our kids were able to experience a kind of love that was unique and for so many, life-changing. May she feel the important weight of the legacy she has left in this tiny community. Cheers and party printed cupcake wrappers to her for the difference she has made.