Peeling the rain shell off my pruning body, I layered on socks, pants, shirts and hats, using every available clothing item in my bag, and walked outside to watch Cyclone Mick blow by.
[This is a continuation of Bracing for the Cyclone: Day 13]
Garrett and I, both equipped with our arsenal of cameras, sat atop propane tanks and cracker bins documenting the horizontal palm fronds. While everyone else was enclosed in woven bamboo walls, we found relative shelter under the awning of the billiard area, with a concrete floor and an opening behind us facing the belly of the beast. And with every hearty gust, my pigtail braids split over my shoulders and flopped in front of me, flanking my face. My all black gear coated with a thick layer of mist, I avoided touching my clothes in order to keep the rain from penetrating to my goose-bumped skin.
The boys ran back and forth through the storm, making sure cows were secure and homes wouldn't fly away in the night. Adorning little kid ponchos and hard hats, they laughed with every exclamation of further duties they had to complete before the dangerous eye drew closer.
Garrett and I packed our bags of must-save items and asked for emergency plans, but there really weren't any. "Get under the house if the roof blows away," they would say with a chortle before running back into the gales.
Nothing Stops Tea Time
The one thing I love most about former British colonies is tea time, undoubtedly. It happens whether you're in the midst of a funeral, a natural disaster, a blizzard at 17,000 feet, you name it. Though rain came spewing through the cracks in the walls, Fane was still able to strike a fire. Though the pipes weren't connected because of the overflowing river, she filled the kettle with monster drops collected off the roof. Though homes were in danger of being thrust to the next mountaintop, Paul found it essential to have some coffee with his hot sugar water before tending to the rest of the unanchored bures.
We had no idea what to do but go along with the light-hearted merriment, sipping java and cracking jokes like the sun was smiling.
And after the jokes cracked the necks of two chickens, two victims of the wind too weak to stand firm in an unfortunate gust. One hand reached around the blue curtain (shielding one side of the porch) and flopped a hen, barely moving but obviously still alive, which was soon followed by her husband, uncle or brother, a rooster with the same malady. Slicing the tracheas with a knife, Weiss (our host father) made our dinner menu official. Abel and one of his hundreds of cousins plucked, chopped and cleaned the pimply bodies in the runoff from the tin roof, not without pretending to play the beaks like kazoos.
The Fijian language radio station spilled into the village air, apparently telling everyone that the heart of the storm was approaching at 7pm. All day long we watched waves of water in the sky, counting down to the moment the entire village would be leveled. 5 hours. 3 hours. 1 hour to go! The boys made it sound like we'd never see another sunny day in the South Pacific.
No Way Out
7pm was chirping, calm, and partially cloudy with a chance of absolutely no eye-o-storm. Everyone wanted to run a kilometer down the road to see the land bridge we crossed nine hours earlier. I picked up fallen mandarin oranges along the way to find there was no such bridge. Entire bamboo plants shot down the river, colliding with volcanic walls like hopeless bones snapping in a box crusher.
Landslides dotted the landscape, and the river was now twice as wide. Eroded trees squished into the road like an untucked belly. I couldn't believe the amount of water that powered through the cavern at Namando. Had I zorbed down the rapids, the inflated ball would have exploded dramatically into bits as small as the muddy mist, and I would have been a goner. The pure power of the water in front of me was too scary to fully comprehend.
We returned to Fane's house for our Mick Chicken dinner and show. I uploaded every video from the day and replayed them over and over for every new male that entered the room. When my laptop nearly self-combusted, we turned on the TV, and I fell asleep in the middle of a crowded room of boys watching a bootleg ninja movie. I anticipated an after-shock storm, some rumbles in the distance or a light rain. Not a peep resonated from nature that night.
The next morning Namando was visible, and the water was thirty feet lower. It was simply a marvel.
I couldn't believe the power I witnessed: the power of the river and rain, the strength of Namando's rock to not budge from the opposition, the muscle of the winds that made the sky dance with water, the bodies of the men who ran through the gusts to save a somersaulting piece of tin, the smiling cheeks of the residents who watched their kitchens and bathrooms fall apart, sometimes leaving behind the lone standing toilet.
I should have been worried and frozen in awe, but the scene in our house the previous night resembled more the Chuckles Comedy Club rather than a storm shelter. It was the perfect way to throw our caution to Mick's billowing breaths and let nature take its course across Viti Levu. Why worry when its inevitable and you'll most likely be okay? Why not enjoy it until you have a reason to fret? Was that front all just for us to not worry? I just can't believe I laughed through my first hurricane.
See the video of our hurricane experience, Surviving Cyclone Mick, and please comment below your opinion of the village's approach to this natural disaster.