Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Topic 2 Cyclones

            Having grown up in earthquake country rather than snowstorm or hurricane country, I honestly do not know much about storms of any kind. Living in Mozambique in 2012, however, has definitely filled that void. Apparently, hurricanes, cyclones, and tsunamis are all essentially the same thing, just on different oceans and with different wind motion patterns. Therefore, when two cyclones (the hurricanes of the Indian ocean) hit Mozambique the middle of last month, the damage that ensued was rather upsetting. If you think about the destruction that hurricanes do in the US, where houses are made of actually legitimate and strong material, and people have the technological hook-up to be sufficiently warned of the impending storm (and then also the means to evacuate), and apply said destruction to a country where the majority of houses are made of pure mud and straw and are one-story, and most people never leave the district in which they were born, you can begin to understand the ramifications.
            The first cyclone that hit Moz last month was named Dando and it hit the south. Houses went underwater and an utter lack of drainage systems anywhere caused major flooding. Ultimately and most drastically, in the town of 3 de Fevreiro, on the border of Mozambique’s two most southern provinces, a 10m bridge in the national road (which is the sole, and paved, road that traverses the country north-south) became completely flooded by a fast-moving current that made the portion of road wholly impassable. Not only was this entire town, and others like it, submerged underwater (people had hurried to put all their possessions on their straw roofs), but also no commerce or people were able to leave Maputo, the capital, for the rest of the country, and likewise, no commerce or people were able to enter it. Additionally, we know that all other, small, dirt roads were equally impassable because Peace Corps sent a caravan of cars on a mission to take a roundabout path to pick up the volunteers from my group that needed to get to our mid-service conference in Maputo. The cars ultimately had no choice but to turn back. The volunteers that were affected were eventually given permission to take the train to the conference. At lease one mode of overland transport was working. However, because of the roadblock, the country was essentially on a standstill. Everything pretty much stems from the capital, and with Maputo cut off, goods were equally cut off. Those with boats arrived in the town to ferry passengers across the “river,” but all cars, and especially semis, were just plain stranded. Apparently, people just abandoned their cars on the side of the road and robbing of cars and people became rampant. The longer the break in the road remained, the more damage would be caused throughout the country. Fortunately, some sort of bridge was fashioned in under a week and everything began to be able to return to some semblance of normal.
            The second cyclone was called Funso, and it hit a week after Dando (though the bridge debacle hit at the same time that Funso was similarly reeking havoc). It stayed about 100km off the coast for a good week, and essentially stopped moving once it hit the waters outside Quelimane, the capital of my province. Heavy rains and winds hit the province: I believe a portion of one volunteer’s house fell down and others houses’ flooded. Those volunteers in Quelimane were consolidated in a hotel and the roads there became virtual lakes. I was supposed to fly out of Quelimane to get to the conference in Maputo, and so off I went, leaving the normal- amount of rain of Gurué and heading straight into the cyclone (on Peace Corps advice/orders…no I am not being sarcastic here). About 100km from Quelimane, in the city of Mocuba, where the furthest reaches of the cyclone’s radius was hitting, I felt a tangible and drastic difference in the rain, wind, and overall atmosphere. I had entered my first cyclone. I was consolidated in a hotel with the other volunteers from my province and then we waited to see if our plane would take off. It did, and without a hitch. Thankfully for Mozambique, but not for Madagascar, Funso eventually veered east towards the island nation, and no further damage was caused here.
            Massive flooding throughout the country has many negative consequences: roads are unusable and people are misplaced. And since no one has savings here (and insurance is a foreign concept), misplacement is serious and ruinous business. But flooding also means there is a tremendous amount of standing water, which breeds swarms of mosquitoes, and subsequently a skyrocketing prevalence of malaria infections. Standing water is also a perfect breeding grounds for cholera. Just to add insult to injury: oh, your house fell down, you don’t know where to go, and now you have malaria and your children have cholera. Great. Cities are also totally taken down from cyclones: In about 2000 (I’m 100% sure of the year), the entire town/city of Chokwé, in the southern province of Gaza, was wiped out and essentially everyone relocated. In 2008, the same happened in Angoche, in the northern province of Nampula. Obviously, before I lived here, I had never heard of such places and the devastation they encountered, because naturally, it is not international news. So this is my push for Mozambique cyclone awareness, and other natural disasters in similarly non-newsworthy countries.
            Not to change the subject (but that is what I am doing): After the mid-service conference, I spent a day visiting my host-family for the first time since training. I am happy to report they are great: the three boys are growing well and in school, my host-mother has a job being a “janitor” at the town’s administration office, and my host-father is still making the best bread in the whole country. They have added another bedroom to their house, a covered porch, and a clothes-washing basin. I am also happy to say that my host-mother made a distinct and very specific observation about the improvement I have made in the past year with regards to my tomato-cutting-in-my-hand (Mozambique-style) skills. No mention of my actual ability to now express myself in Portuguese and hold a conversation. That would be more logical. No, it is more noteworthy that I can now cut vegetables like a Mozambican. She seemed shockingly relieved. Glad to be of service, mãe. She also, however, made it a point to express her deep concern that I still do not have a husband, and offered her brother to me. Thank you, mãe, I’m glad to know that your 18-year-old brother with no high-school education or job would take me as a wife.

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