Post 37 — Two Hundred Inches

The caption Jean added reads, "We were doing better than we looked."

The caption Jean added reads, “We were doing better than we looked.”

Larry pulled his shirt away from his sticky back as he headed into the house for dinner. After spending the day in the air-conditioned studio, he sometimes forgot just how humid it was until he stepped outside. He was reminded as soon as he saw his wife. Jean’s dress wrapped around her like a moist towelette and her dripping demeanor would put a damper on anyone’s mood. December was just a cruel word on the calendar here because the temperature didn’t get any lower – the dew point just got higher. Her pot banging seemed to be louder than usual, and Larry discovered why as he entered the dark house.

Still no rain — what a crazy winter we’re having. It’s been so dry that they have been turning the water off in the evenings. We’re supposed to be approaching the rainy season, but this has been one of the dryest weeks we’ve had since we arrived on the island. The water was off when we woke up and didn’t come on until about noon. This water and electricity situation drives Jean nuts. They shut the water off to work on the mains, but they never warn you in advance. They turn the power off at 4:30 when Jean has a roast in the oven. The Samoan sense of time is a little different from ours. After all, why should a person who has cooked their food in an outdoor oven (umu) all their life even consider this as a bad time to turn the power off? It’s only been the last few years since electricity has been available all over the island. I guess they’re just not used to it yet.

The reservoirs are low all over Tutuila. These are natural mountain reservoirs, not man-made, and they’ve always held enough water for the island’s needs. During the past several years though, water consumption has increased so rapidly that they are beginning construction on three tanks holding a million gallons apiece to meet the increased demands. One or two good rains will probably bring things back to normal, but in the meantime, water is scarce in a place that has 200 inches of rain per year.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” muttered Jean as she started trimming mold off the edges of the bread. Each room in the house had a hot locker, a large cabinet with a copper element covered in chicken wire that stayed on at all times to try to combat the creeping mildew that affected everything. But when the power was off for hours at a time, the baked goods turned green faster than you could say penicillin.

“We were having tuna fish sandwiches for dinner but now I guess we’re just having tuna,” she stated as she gave up on the bread. “Or you could gnaw on that half-cooked piece of meat in the oven. Thank God the gin doesn’t have to be refrigerated.”

Guess what, it’s not raining out! After our siege of 10 days of downpour, the last week has been magnificent. I put a coffee can out as a rain gauge last week-end, just for kicks. I measured, unofficially, seven inches of rain for Saturday and Sunday. We get one or two showers every day but only an inch or some piddling amount like that. It’ s interesting to recall that one inch of rainfall would flood street and basements in Detroit. We get that much here in ten minutes and all evidence is gone in another ten.

The entire island is porous igneous lava rock and coral sand. The water seeps through the sand instantly, and then it drains down into the rock. Under this island there must be a couple of billion gallons of pure water that has been filtered out just waiting to be used. Whenever we go for a week or so without much rain, they start to ration water in the downtown area because the reservoirs just don’t hold enough. Our water here in Tafuna comes from a mountain reservoir up on Mt. Matefao. We use the standard rule of drinking: as long as we can smell the chlorine, we can drink it; otherwise we boil all our water. The water is usually very good, except that after a siege of heavy rainfall, it begins to look more like coffee from the dirt that is washed into the reservoir. Since the water is not filtered, the churning stirs up the sediment and stays in suspension for several days. It may be all right to drink, but everyone boils the water for a day or so after the rains. You might say we do it for sedimental reasons.

Larry

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5 Comments to “Post 37 — Two Hundred Inches”

  1. The hot locker! I remember the scene in “The Year of Living Dangerously” when the beautiful Mel Gibson pulls his tux out of the closet and its covered with mold and mildew. And was our hair curly!

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  2. it was a copper element with chicken wire around it. You could touch it if you really tried hard!

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  3. I remember all the electric outages but I’m glad I wasn’t old enough to be paranoid about the water. “As long as we can smell the chlorine we can drink it”? I guess it was a less sophisticated time when consumers weren’t as hyper-educated about bacteria. Or maybe it gave us immunity to some of today’s threats. I know I can eat anything without ill effects.

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  4. Oh, the rains! We lived in Ottoville and walked to Manulele School through the jungle. When a sudden downpour started, we all knew to watch out for the inevitable flash flood. As soon as it began, we knew to grab onto the nearest tree and hold on. After a few minutes, the flash flood would diminish enough we could finish walking to school.

    Do you remember the giant African snails? Those things loved climbing up the aluminum siding of the houses after every rain.

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