However, when I moved to Indonesia, I brought my Seattle mentality about rain with me. Foolish, because tropical rain isn’t the same as Seattle rain.
We’d host an event at our house, and people wouldn’t show up. Cell phones weren’t around at the time, and even land lines were infrequent where we were living. The following day or a few days later, I’d see them, and they’d say something like, “Sorry, Gerrit, we couldn’t come. It was raining.” I’d always answer, “No worries,” but my thoughts were, How lame of an excuse can you come up with? Use an umbrella if you absolutely must, but for heaven’s sake, deal with it! After all, we Seattlites walk in the rain almost every day and think nothing of it.
That was my attitude until I had to take the public transportation during a downpour in Indonesia, and found that the streets had become six-inch-deep rivers, flooding garbage out of trash bins and into the flow. The city I lived in was built on the foothills of a mountain range, so all the streets in the north (where we lived) were sloped—some steeply. Nobody can walk down the street in a fast-moving river where anything might smash or cut into shins. Besides, the public transportation minibuses went along with their side doors open, and passengers got drenched when another car passed, or the driver hit an unseen pothole.
One friend was driving in our city when a heavy tree branch (seven inches in diameter) broke off from above and impaled his windshield, missing him by mere threads. He could easily have been killed. Driving in the rain can be even more hazardous than walking.
Another time, we went over to some friends for a dinner party, and we got there early—just as a downpour started. One section of the housing complex (built in a flat area on the eastern side of the city) was already flooded twelve inches deep, but we made it through without our car stalling. As the night wore on, the water level rose to three feet deep. Coming on foot after work, one young man was determined not to miss the party (a rare exception considering the circumstances). His solution was to take off his shoes and pants and wade through the deep brown water in his underwear, and then put everything back on once he was past the flooded section. We all laughed along with him at his story. Needless to say, he came through the front door soaked from head to foot.
Whenever my family went to the beach during the rainy season, we swam in the pool rather than the wonderfully warm Indian Ocean, for rain-swollen rivers carried upriver garbage to the sea. After experiencing the unpleasantness of paddling or stroking along the shore with fingers snagging floating packages of instant noodles or plastic cups bumping into us, we learned to time our swims long before the afternoon rains struck.
One evening, while driving my visiting parents to the airport in Jakarta for a return flight to the US, my car got a flat tire. We had been driving through torrential rain in a sparsely populated area, and that amount of precipitation hides the potholes on the road, especially in the dark. So I hit one at high speed. I was able to get the car to the paved entrance of a large factory. Because the hour was late, the complex was closed, so I pulled the car as close to the gate as I could—as far away from the road as possible. The wind was blowing, umbrellas were useless, and I was soon miserably cold and wet. Halfway into the tire change, a full-sized bus came roaring past and hit the “lake” on the side of the road, dousing me with a wall of stinky, muddy road water. Literally, it took my breath away. At that point, I could only laugh…and hurry through the tire change even faster.
All that to say that living in the tropics taught me to have a greater respect for the rain. It didn’t take me long to begin sympathizing with the no-shows rather than getting upset by them.
Now that I’m back in Seattle, I have to say, I love the rain again—especially autumn rains. I no longer have to water our trees, our garden, or our lawn, and that brings the water bill way down. And that’s a good thing. Though I have to go out and work in the cold rain, raking fifteen (large) garbage bags of wet maple leaves and storing them in our garage until the compost waste truck comes by next Wednesday, I still like the rain.
Remember, I’m from Seattle. And that explains it all.