Saturday, August 2, 2014

The blessing and curse of rain

Rain, of course, is necessary for life, even more so in a society largely dependent upon subsistence agriculture. Those of us who live in cities and buy our food from supermarkets that source their products globally are not so attuned to these rhythms, and rainfall might be an annoyance or an inconvenience; we gnash our teeth if we have forgotten an umbrella or raincoat. We only think about it in a larger context when it comes in such abundance that there is flooding, as in Hurricane Sandy. But for those whose daily sustenance depends upon subsistence crops, a few days more or less rain during the course of the year can have a major impact. This was pointed out by someone who commented on an earlier post: that the fact that I had to drive more slowly on the highway kind of pales in comparison to what that rainfall meant for farmers for whom the extended canicula has meant insufficient water for their corn, beans and vegetables. 

But too much rain can also be a curse, as heavy rainfalls in Guatemala almost invariably bring about flooding in cities, and mudslides along highways or in rural areas. Nearly every rainy season there are photos in the national press of street corners in cities like Antigua or Xela, where the water level often rises to 8 or 10 feet in some low-lying areas. And in rural areas where houses are perched on hillsides, heavy rains can mean that houses collapse or are washed away. This happened in Tapesquillo, a rural community that is part of Chinique, where I am now visiting friends, and five families -- including friends of mine and the husband's parents -- lost their homes. My friend Felipe is a skilled carpenter and he and his wife Lola, who works at the health center in town, lived with their children and at least one grandchild in a comfortable house a few hundred meters off the road. Felipe had a good collection of expensive power tools that he used in his work -- he made me a sturdy and attractive dining table which my friends are still using.  I think his house is still standing -- it didn't wash away entirely, but his parents' home did. They are being sheltered temporarily in the church in Tapesquillo, while they try to figure out how and where they can rebuild.

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