Friday, 27 August 2010

When it rains, it pours.

The months from June to September are rainy season in Nigeria. The rain here is hard to describe until you have experienced it. No one leaves home when it’s raining, there are no okadas on the streets and car drivers often pull over because their wipers aren’t strong enough to cope with the downpour. Saying you’re late to work because it rained is a very acceptable excuse.

The word ‘torrential’ goes some way to describing the storms in rainy season, but doesn’t explain the noise you hear when sat inside a small house with a tin roof during a storm. The rain drops are as hard as hail stones and when they are hammering on the roof they sound like they will break through at any moment. When this sound is accompanied by the knowledge that the street I live on floods every year in August, it creates a strange sensation which I like to refer to as PANIC.

My road is well known for flooding; ever since I arrived people have looked at me slightly oddly when I’ve told them where I live. This look is followed by a statement along the lines of “don’t you know it floods there?!”. We live right next to the river and when it rises the only place for it to go is into people’s homes, which is exactly what happened two weeks ago.

The river on Friday afternoon. 
The river back to its normal level after the flood

During the week the intensity of the rain had increased consistently, until on Friday evening the drainage ditches along the main road were filled to the brim after a particularly heavy storm, and the river was at the highest I’d seen it since arriving.

The river on Saturday morning, the photo
from Friday was taken by the
furthest away building. 
I woke up on Saturday morning to find the end of my road impassable. The water was up to the roof of some houses and the street behind was the only way out for cars and pedestrians without a canoe. 

Despite having no rain for three days the river continued to rise, getting closer and closer to my house.  There was a constant huddle of people around the edge of the water, holding debates on how high it would rise, making use of the problem by washing their motorbikes, and generally happy to hold forth on their opinions about the river to anyone who would listen. The Nigerian Red Cross even turned up at one point, suspiciously timed for when the tv crews came to visit. They had an inflatable boat, and a couple of volunteers, but no one offered me any psychosocial support!
The Red Cross make an appearance.

Okada drivers taking the opportunity to wash their bikes in
the flood water.  

When I woke up on Monday morning the flood had reached the outside of our compound gate. This was the point at which we decided to leave, unfortunately, it was a little too late. The road behind the house had been passable by cars the day before but the water was up to peoples chests when they waded through it. The only way out of our area was through a hole in the wall of an empty compound - only big enough for pedestrians - which was thoughtfully created by a crowd of shouting men at around 6am.

I had forewarned my counterpart at the office on Sunday that we may need to leave in a hurry and luckily HVC has quite a few Land Rovers, so they sent the cavalry - our driver Shuaibu and a colleague Ruth. Unfortunately, the cavalry got stuck....they’d seen a Toyota hilux pass through the water and assumed a Land Rover could too, but the water overcame the engine and they called me to say they were stuck in the water.
Luckily with a combination of skilful driving from Shuaibu and luck they escaped the river and got through to us, only to have to repeat the journey to get us out again! 
A Hilux navigates the flood on the street behind ours, the
day before we were rescued. 

I spent the next week staying with two other volunteers in their nice dry house far away from the river, and came back to my house a week later to find everything dry, the water hadn't risen any higher than the compound gate... and there were ants in my peanut butter.

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