Sunday, October 16, 2011

Winter Is Coming

By: Mike

Sometimes I have to remind myself it’s October already. Halloween is right around the corner, followed by a normally chilly Thanksgiving and a white Christmas far from here. People are starting to unbox their sweaters if they haven’t done so already, and turning up heaters or maybe even trying out the fireplace in the evening. Hot chocolate weather. Curling up underneath a blanket weather.

Here, we just have hot, and slightly less hot.

On this scorching, sunny Sunday afternoon, I spent an hour or so sitting outside in my comfortable but slowly disintegrating green camp chair, and read a good book. Aside from the usual background noise of the jungle insects and the random chirps of birds feasting on termites in the infested mango trees, it was quiet and peaceful. Even in the shade of the house, the unused concrete carport used as a patio was hot under my sandaled feet. It rained photo 2heavily yesterday, and all that evaporated moisture caused an almost oppressive humidity. Thankfully, a bottle of chilled water sat within arms reach on the wooden utility cable spool that serves as makeshift lawn furniture. All in all, it was a nice day on Yap, even if I wished for a little breeze or a cloud in the sky.

Apparently, no one told the weather man. The sky remained clear and blue, and the trade-winds that usually waft through the living room hadn't arrived. I'd heard about this weather man before, from several different locals. They'd jokingly talk of going to see him when it's too hot or rains too much. After some curious inquiries, I learned that he doesn't report the weather, but rather creates it. While I'm uncertain of the specifics, I got the general sense that controlling the weather involves keeping the weather man happy. For instance, good weather might be more likely if the weather man received some White Wolf Vodka, a locally available brand more notable for the size of its bottles than the quality of the spirits.

Recently, I get the feeling that the weather man has not been very happy. For what feels like months, Miranda and I have been kept indoors due to nonstop downpours of rain, followed by work-filled weekdays of taunting sunshine.

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For instance, I've wanted to go snorkeling again for a while now. However, trekking all the way up north in the rain, constantly dodging potholes on a road that is treacherous even without a layer of mud, seems more trouble than its worth. So, instead of happily floating in the ocean, I sat on the couch and hoped that next week, for whatever reason, the weather would cooperate. It never did. I wondered if I should have bought some White Wolf.

Today would have been perfect for some underwater fun. As bad luck would have it, I'm stuck inside with what I hope is just the dreaded common cold.

It started about a week ago, with Miranda coming home from school with a sore throat. Since she yells at kids all day, I didn't think much of it at first. This was followed by a fever, tingling ears, and a runny nose that worsened into a full-on head cold. She took two days off from work, but didn't improve. She went to the hospital, and told the doctor it might be an ear infection. Predictably, the doctor agreed after a cursory examination, and sent her home with a bottle of antibiotics. Slowly but surely, Miranda continued to get better over the next several days, no doubt helped by some attentive nursing by her caring husband.

Being sick here is quite possibly the worst feeling ever. Combined with a fever, the heat is terribly uncomfortable, even with every fan set on high. The brightness of the sunshine feels like its poking needles in your eyeballs, and the bugs and birds that never stop making noise are sirens in your ears. It's definitely not fun. Sure, you can get better with prescriptions from doctors who seem genuinely relieved to hear your own medical diagnosis, but the days in between are rough. I should know because I, of course, caught whatever Miranda had.

That's just one of the downsides of living on an island. Sure, we'll be the last to go if a global pandemic super plague hits. On the other hand, if anyone you know on island has a cold, you probably will too eventually.

There are also more serious illnesses to watch out for. Ever since I arrived here, people have told me about dengue fever. It’s a disease spread by mosquitoes, which causes fevers, headaches, and as reported by local authorities, “General Body Aches, Pain in the Body Joints.” There have been several reported cases across the island recently, and even an outbreak in one of the nearby villages. Mosquito’s are always around, and even with mosquito coils and bug spray, it seems like it’s a constant losing battle. Another disease that has had many outbreaks reported within the past few weeks is called Leptospirosis, caused by rodents. There’s a long list of symptoms, including “Shaking Chills” and temporary blindness, that all sound terrible.  Both of these diseases are serious and we are taking all necessary precautions. In the house, we’ve had rat problems before, and most recently a litter of baby rats were born above the bathroom ceiling. Every morning, they can be heard softly squeaking for breakfast. Time to break out the rat traps again!

IMG_0049Speaking of potentially life-threatening things, I should also mention the recent earthquake. Two Thursdays ago, Miranda and I were sitting on the couch, when all of a sudden it sounded like a large truck went rumbling by. I jumped up when the rumbling got more and more pronounced. It lasted about five or six seconds, just long enough to wonder which doorway would be safest to stand under. The US Geological Survey said that it was a 5.8 magnitude quake 16 miles northeast of Yap, and the largest reported quake in Yap. Throughout the rest of the evening, there were smaller aftershocks that were barely noticeable. There wasn’t any serious damage around town, but we did notice a suspicious crack in our living room wall afterwards. Since I hadn’t experienced an earthquake like this before, it was a real reminder of how vulnerable we are to freak acts of nature.

I guess each climate has it’s own complications that come with winter. Colder places have their icy roads and snow plows. We’re certainly not in danger of frostbite any time soon. We just have our earthquakes and rat diseases to deal with here. I suppose everywhere has its own unique adventures.

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