Monday, 11 February 2013

Peering out from beneath the parasol

I have taken to roaming the streets of Suva armed with a large USP multi-coloured golf umbrella. This isn’t because of the rain (though it does come in handy for that) but rather to keep my brain from being braised inside of my skull. While you’ve been digging snow from your driveways, I've been cooked into a state of tropical torpor which I can occasionally rouse myself from with liberal doses of air conditioning, gin & tonics and the odd trip to the beach.

One wonders how I could possibly have so many places to go and so many things to do without being in paid employment (that is coming, but on island time). As we have no car, I travel by taxi or bus. I know that I’ve blogged about the taxi drivers here before, but I had three last week that are worth mentioning. One drove at speeds faster on the roads of Suva than I’d ever been on the island before. His driving technique was to drive at great speed, anticipating that other drivers would either drive sensibly or just get out of his way. I suspect that he may not live much longer. The next one drove very slowly but entirely erratically. I imagine that his vision was somewhat impaired. Finally, there was the personable chap whose driving was completely normal, but had Fiji Water bottle half full of what I suspect was urine sloshing around next to the gear shift.

Last Wednesday, Anna and I (having survived the taxi trip into town) were having a skiving afternoon watching Django at the cinema when the lights came on and the usher appeared. She announced that there was a tsunami warning and we could either stay to finish the movie or get a voucher to return to the cinema another day. The cinema is right on the harbourside and while we were really enjoying the movie, seeking higher ground seemed like the sensible option. Ironically, we’d just seen the trailer for The Impossible with Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor which is about the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and decided that we wouldn't want to see it because we live on a tsunami-prone tropical island. When we emerged from the theatre, blinking against the sunlight, traffic was at a standstill and the pavements were full of people.

Previously I've experienced two types of natural disasters: earthquakes, which you can do bugger-all about when they strike except dive for cover, and hurricanes, which you have days to prepare for. I was at a bit of a loss with what to do next. Run to the top of the nearest tall building? Walk the 4ish miles home which is outside of the tsunami danger area? I literally had no idea if we had two minutes or two hours in which to act so I asked a couple who were studying a smart phone. According to them we had 2 hours to get to higher ground. Jumping into a taxi was out of the question as they were all full and weren't going anywhere anyway.

Traffic and people leaving town towards higher ground

So we started to walk uphill out of town. I was really impressed by the calm, orderly and friendly atmosphere. The only upset person we saw was a hysterical ten-ish year old. We overheard her expat mother say “don’t worry, it won’t be like the movie” when we walked by. I will refrain from commenting on parenting skills, though I suspect taking a child that age to see The Impossible was perhaps a mistake and may have created neuroses that will last a lifetime.

The sun was searing, but we walked most of the way home before Anna’s friend stopped to give us a lift the rest of the way. My shirt was literally soaked in sweat (I didn't have had my brolly with me), but before I showered we had to prepare for the impending disaster. This included filling up water bottles and posting updates on Twitter and Facebook.

Fortunately, just as an email from the US Embassy popped into my inbox telling me to prepare for the tsunami, a friend rang to say that the warning had been called off.

You all may be wondering where John was during all of this. Earlier that day, he had rung me from a waterside hotel where he was attending a conference just out of town to tell me that his phone battery was nearly dead. Despite me saying regularly that we should have a family plan in case of an emergency (like a tsunami) we hadn't made one. Well, at least we know what the first rule of the emergency plan will be. Keep your bloody phone charged.

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