Rain pelted the window as I sipped my mango smoothie, feeling homesick for Seattle, where the skies are always gray and rainy.
Seattle tap water is delicious. It tastes best if you forego a cup and drink straight from the faucet. I drink it from the hose during summer.
My phone rang. It was the Peace Corps Medical Officer.
She told me that the one bridge to my village had been washed out and that I should stay home today. She didn’t even say hello.
I said I was already in town for my appointment with her.
She told me in a strained voice to come to her office as quickly as possible. She tried to keep calm as she told me a hurricane had arrived without warning, and I wouldn’t make it back home because of the bridge. I assured her that I was only a fifteen-minute bus ride away from the office.
I wanted to make today a good day since I didn’t have to work. Anything was better than going to work, including a doctor’s appointment two hours away by bus. I’d detoured to the capital of St. Lucia to treat myself to a smoothie. I’d learned by now not to order anything with leafy greens, since they cause more food poisoning than meat. This is because leafy greens are usually washed in tap water.
Seattle’s tap water flows from the Cascade Mountains. It tastes fresh and crisp like melted snow. It’s better than any bottled water I’ve ever tasted.
I gathered my things, tossed my empty smoothie cup, and stepped outside, wishing I had brought an umbrella. The bus stop was a few blocks away. The water on the sidewalk was already up to my ankles. I was soaked through after two minutes. By the time I reached the end of the block, water sloshed around my thighs. I realized I had no idea how to manage in a flash flood and began to doubt my instinct to forge ahead. I remembered the urgency in the Medical Officer’s voice and my heart began to palpitate. We’d had trainings in burglary and sexual assault, but never in flash floods.
I turned around to take a different route. At least I wasn’t cold. Tropical rains feel like a lukewarm shower. The other people on the street were scurrying indoors or hurrying towards the buses like me, so I followed, hoping they’d show me which streets to avoid. A rat swam by me. Part of me was fascinated by such a force of nature, and wanted to watch the city sink under water.
Flash Flood: 1. A rapid excess of water that will ruin a good mood and your day. 2. An overflow of your constant stream of stress, causing a flood of emotions.
Locals know how to handle this situation. Most people will drink rum, have sex, smoke marijuana, or sleep while the hurricane rages on – the same as they do every other day.
What I’ve learned: After flash floods in the wet season, there will be bush fires in the dry season.
I took a bucket bath this morning and did my hair, which means I brushed it into a ponytail. There wasn’t any water in the pipe, so I skipped my morning coffee. I knew there may not be water in the pipe for another two weeks. Even though St. Lucia was in the wet season, everyone still had to ration water. Despite intermittent rains, if there’s not enough water for the rivers to run, drought conditions still exist.
My neighbor once told me about the time she came back to the island after studying in London. She sang St. Lucia’s national anthem over and over to herself on the plane. She said she felt normal again, being back on Lucian soil. Iimagined I’d feel the same way going back to Seattle. I’d sing The Star-Spangled Banner if I flew home tomorrow, and then I’d sit around the fire pit in my parents’ backyard on my first night home.
One person’s placement is another’s displacement. The more the flood levels rise, the more I want to quit and go back to The United States.
The rainwater causing this flash flood will be caught in tanks. Having three or four water tanks is the equivalent of having a three- or four- car garage in the States in terms of prestige. This rainwater will be used for cooking water, laundry water, bucket bath water, and toilet tank water.
Praise Jah there was still a bus running when I made it to the stop. There weren’t any seats left, but the driver wasn’t leaving people out in the rain. We piled in. I sat on the floor.
An umbrella would have done me no good in this flood. Seattleites don’t use umbrellas either. The city is too windy.
The storm would rage for another twelve hours, dumping more than an inch of rain every hour.
“My girl, you look like a drowned rat,” said the Medical Officer with a look of disapproval on her face as I stood dripping water on the floor of her office.
Our relationship was strained. I think she was aware that I had filed a complaint for her mismanagement of medications. She had prescribed the wrong dosage of thyroid medication to a colleague. And the wrong dosage of an AIDS medication to another colleague.
To me, she’d prescribed me the wrong dosage of birth control, which had brought on a deep depression. I would leave work after lunch, crawl into bed, and stay in the fetal position until the next morning. This went on for weeks until I figured out her mistake.
I’d expected more from the Peace Corps. I thought they’d have provided their volunteers with correct dosages.
Peace Corps issued all their volunteers medical kits with a variety of over the counter medications, but all mine were expired.
My time on this island is nearing its expiration date.
My friend took a cab home from the airport the other day, and the driver told her why she wasn’t enjoying St. Lucia. He told her, you see, it is very rare for a white girl like her to have a shape like a black woman. She needs to go out all the time and party and wine her ass, and then she will get more attention from men, and then she will enjoy herself.
My friend instead learned to whittle wood and make it into jewelry.
One volunteer quit after four months, and that opened the floodgates for a mass exodus.
Eternity: Twenty-seven months in the Peace Corps.
An administrator high-fived me when I gave my notice.
A colleague of mine was one of the few who avoided indigestion from leafy greens. But she did get Hepatitis A, since the Peace Corps did not require vaccinations until after we’d arrived on the island.
Water is often a symbol of life, purification, regeneration, and love. It is humanity’s connection to nature and each other. Many cultures and religions consider water to be sacred. But it doesn’t always bring healing.
The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 destroyed the entire central business district. A carpenter overturned a glue pot, which started the fire, and when he tried to douse the fire with water, it only made the fire worse.
Seattle was rebuilt on top of the burned city. You can take a walking tour through the entombed ruins.
Fire is often depicted as a goddess who symbolizes rebirth and life. Seattle was born again from those flames. Wooden buildings were banned, and now the city’s most beautiful architecture is brick.
After my doctor’s appointment, I waited next door at headquarters, which was in a frenzy with staff trying to locate volunteers, but not everyone could be reached. A small TV was blaring the local news for staff to reference. A reporter announced that cell service began to go down on the island, along with sweeping power outages. The staff let out a collective groan.
My friend likes to say that the only thing the Peace Corps is good at is getting volunteers out of the country once they have quit.
“You never see smoke without fire.” – Caribbean Creole idiom
I can’t ignore the smoke anymore. And this storm dumping water on my life is not helping the situation.
I sat in the lobby, still soaking, waiting for instructions. News of landslides were overwhelming the Peace Corps headquarters. Roads all over the island were being washed out or blocked by debris from the flooding.
What I’ve learned: I should have listened to my dad and taken that job offer with a pay raise instead of joining the Peace Corps.
I was hopeful that I’d be put up for a night or two in the hotel, which had air conditioning and cable. Instead, my American boss lived a few minutes from headquarters and offered me her spare room.
I hadn’t felt comfortable in any social situation since I arrived at my site six months ago. I was constantly surrounded by people but always felt lonely, and now, at her home, I was again going to be surrounded by strangers in a place where I did not belong. I just wanted to be alone for a while.
“The great omission in American life is solitude; not loneliness, for this is an alienation that thrives most in the midst of crowds, but that zone of time and space free from outside pressure which is the incubator of the spirit.” – Mayre Mannes, author and cultural critic
My boss dropped me off at her house. Her husband was in the kitchen making dinner. His dark skin and casual demeanor reminded me of my dad. Their kids insisted I take them outside to puddle jump, and I happily obliged. I loved puddle jumping in the rain as a kid in Seattle.
I ate dinner with my boss’s family. She lent me some of her clothes to sleep in and gave me an extra toothbrush. Her kids tucked me in with a bedtime story. In the end, it was much better than a night at that one-star hotel.
Kimberly Nicole is a fiancé, retired burlesque dancer, and writer. She moved from Seattle to Hawaii to St. Lucia to Hong Kong where she has been living the past five years. Kimberly started writing a novel years ago because how hard can it be? That book is still not finished. She has had much more success at finishing essays which have been published in The Literary Yard, The WAiF Project, and Wanderlust Journal. When not in a Pandemic, Kimberly enjoys traveling Asia and the South Pacific. If traveling ever becomes a thing again, she will resume posting her photos to her Instagram account @k1m_b3rlee.