Tuesday, 10 February 2009

It's raining knives and knitting needles

A perfectly prepared Parika peddler!

Why is rain here fascinating, when in the UK it bores, annoys and frustrates me?

Well, in England the rain is cold. My clothes get soaked and can't dry. I've ALWAYS forgotten my umbrella. Enclosed spaces smell of rotting wool, open spaces smell of wet pavement and exhaust fumes (hmmmm- I've spent too long in the town, haven't I!)

Here, the first sign of rain is an abrupt and usually extremely welcome breeze. Next, if you're inside, is the noise. It's like a rushing. The noise comes from the roof or the ground, but seems disembodied- it doesn't drum. At first it bounces, but it flomps from the sky so quickly that it soon has nothing to bounce on except water. For about half an hour it stands on roads and paths, and then it begins to develop currents and rush.

Our little gutters would never cope. So buildings will have a great fat drainpipe running down the middle of some roofing and emptying in plumbing-system quantities on to whatever or whoever is beneath. Protection from sun and rain can often double up, so the same tarpaulin that provides shade suddenly becomes crammed with passers-by unwilling to have all their clothes and belongings turned to pulp.

Malcolm Rodrigues took us out the other day. Malcolm is a local, one of only three Guyanese Jesuits. He reminds me of a bird. Dark brown eyes, a kind of darting happy attentiveness. He made the garden at Brickdam, and he also looks after the dogs. He's extremely clever and has held a lot of inter-Caribbean and university posts, but all his attention is devoted to lab work with stroppy fifth-years at the moment, and to the dog's puppies. He's a real democrat. He pays himself no attention, has no perceptible ego, does not have Presence. No-one applauds, perhaps because he so clearly doesn't need it. He reminds me of de Mello's story of the diamond.

We went to see a cycle race. We crossed the Demerara floating bridge, a massive haphazard child's meccano toy with greedy-looking brown water lapping just below the road edge. It was hard to tell which way was up- water reaching up, water lavishing down, thin strip of grey-brown road, grey-brown light and muddy grey-brown cars in between.
We saw the riders sheltering together under a large tarpaulin, skinny tyres shying away from the sheet water. We guessed they would postpone the start, so we set off to see the Essequibo river.

Georgetown is on the Demerara. Parika (accented like 'paprika') is on the Essequibo. Twenty miles wide at the mouth, with islands big enough to live on. Apparently the biggest is larger than Barbados. I suspect it's a very nice town, especially if it isn't underwater when you visit. It isn't that the heavens open- it's more like experiencing life as an amphibian does. The arm that isn't under the umbrella is of one being with your sleeve within seconds. Almost everyone stops what they're doing and gets under an awning. We did.

... she didn't

A man approached me. Small, grubby, smelling distinctly of recently-consumed, not-freshly-opened beer.

"Welcome to my country! Where y'all from?"

"Y'all like cricket? Ooo we WHUPPED y'alls asses yesterday! We destTROYed ya man! Ooo! Hee hee heeeeee!" (This was proper mirth, not a laugh but gurgling mirth)

"This rain didn't suppose to be like this. This is dry season. It's climate change. What you do in your country and we're experiencing the effects. You see? Our ecosystem all messed up."

"Your Jeff Boycott, he was good though. But this lot- we WHUPPED y'alls asses! Ha ha!"

"Well, gotta go. I run this here internet cafe. Anytime you want to see Parika, you come find me here".

And he reeled gently off. Next time he reeled gently past, the beer was fresher and more confined to the breath.

My part was to nod, smile, affirm and feel guilty for climate change. He's right of course, but I was surprised. I hadn't expected the language and awareness to be so universal.

Meanwhile, it rained. Sometimes it slackened, sometimes the drains gurgled, the drainpipes opposite ejected water with force so it banged on to the street below.

In the end we gave up and drove back- to find the cycle race over. They had gone ahead in the rain and wind, and were happy enough with the times achieved. Malcolm joked over dinner that the guy doing the breast stroke won. It's seriously dangerous cycling on skinny tyres in deep and flowing road water, but I suppose they're used to it. For myself, I'll stick with yawning under the awning as the rain comes tumbling down. It's somehow restful. And we'd better get used to it!


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