Monday, May 12, 2014

Rainy Season Starts With A Bang

After a hot sunny Saturday I was happy to see some clouds slowly rolling in about 4:30 p.m.  I’ve been looking forward to the end of the dry season, where the sun always shines and dust is everywhere.  We’ve had a few showers recently, so things are beginning to cool a bit and the dust has settled.

What turned into an overcast late afternoon sky quickly changed as the wind picked up.  Rain started, coming from the east.  Lightly at first, with thunder in the distance over the mountains.  Then the wind really increased and the rain intensified and the lightening and thunder were close enough that counting to 1000 after each strike didn’t get out before the thunder boomed.

The power was off and on every few minutes and I stood in the corner of my living room, floor to ceiling windows on both walls giving me a perfect view of the spectacular storm.  Suddenly the wind shifted violently and instead of typical strong winds from the east that accompany a thunderstorm, the rain and wind were coming from the west, in a horizontal line.  At first it appeared to be heavy rain blowing by.  Or was it dust?  No, it couldn’t be dust, with all that rain.  As I was trying to decide the wind grew even stronger.  With a noise like a jet roaring past, I watched the small building used to hold construction materials rip apart.  The tin roof flew about 40 yards across the soccer field.

Lightening, thunder, torrential rain, a steady roaring and objects being blown around the school campus made me finally realize that standing between two large plates of glass might not be the best place to be if this really was a tornado, which is what I thought it might be.

I headed into my closet to avoid shattered glass, if it came to that.  After a couple of minutes, the noise and storm continued but then I started to worry about flooding in my room.  I grabbed a couple of towels and put one under the one window which leaks and another under the front door, where rain was being blown into my apartment.

Since things seemed to be calming a bit, and I heard yelling, I opened my door a crack to see if everyone was alright.  In front of my door was the garbage can which is normally around a corner and about 15 feet from my apartment.  How it got around the corner is a testament to the wind shift.  I also found a shattered plastic shelf and a variety of shoes.  Normally kept next to the front door of another teacher who lives at the other end of the building.  I rescued as many shoes as I could but as she inched her way down to me, we saw more had blown down into the street, three floors below.  I say “inched her way” because the hallway was completely wet, as it is after every rain, and because they used the slickest tiles in the world (the same as at the school), they make walking a treacherous adventure every time it rains.  Lucky for us (sarcasm), the stairs are made of the same tiles.

The power went out yet again and this time the generator didn’t kick on.  Although it wasn’t quite dark, I got out my headlamp just to be on the safe side.  I also contemplated the tuna casserole that I’d placed in the oven about 4 minutes before the power went out.  Damn.

About 30 minutes later, though, power was back and there was a break in the storm.   I ventured out to see how everyone was doing.  The few of us in residence gathered to admire the view of the now crystal clear mountains and assess the damage.  At least one window blew out from an apartment.  Teacher Matt, glad you changed apartments and weren’t in your old one when your front window blew!

AAT and Tr. YC came over from the main school building to check out the situation and told me that all the large metal lockers at the main school had been toppled.  I’m not sure what other damage occurred.  The main school building took the brunt of the storm when the wind shifted and came out of the west, since the main school building blocked our apartment building.

Things continued to remain calm, even as the rains returned.  Gently now, with less wind.  The lightening was a treat to watch in the distance as the storm moved away.  No internet, of course and I think my satellite dish needs to be recalibrated since I now receive only two channels, but no one at the school was hurt.

I met a woman Saturday morning who is visiting Mandalay and interviewed this morning for a teaching job.  She’s staying at a hostel nearby, which, I imagine, is not nearly as well built as our new apartment building.  I hope the storm didn’t scare her off.

The storm was scary for us in a strong, well built apartment building.  I can’t imagine what it was like in the typical local houses with sides made of woven bamboo and roofs of wood, tin or thatch.   I do not take for granted that I live a very luxurious life compared to 98% of the people in the country.  Whether due to luck or good behavior in a past life, I was born into a status that has given me comfort, security and safety. 

I had a bad day at work the other day.  Not horrible but frustrating.  Then I left the air conditioned classroom to walk home past women who’d been shoveling sand and carrying bricks for 8 hours in 100+ degree heat.  And would have to then walk home and do all the household chores and take care of their families.  Perspective.

UPDATE:  I just heard that according to the news (someone else heard, since my satellite dish was a victim of the storm, at least temporarily) the wind strength yesterday was 201 km per hour – considered tornado strength although it wasn’t a tornado.  I hope not to experience anything like it again.  I also discovered that the wind broke a small piece out of one of my small windows.

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