El Niño '92 The dry side of life
by Rudolph von Scheven

  When the plane landed on Majuro, all I saw was water,
        water to the left, water to right.
Later I discovered the strip of land I was to live on.
Living on Majuro means to see water, more water,
        and yet more water. Water, water everywhere.
I learned to dive, I learned to enjoy the creatures of the sea,
        and I learned to appreciate the world of water which surrounds me.
I marvelled at the turquoise water of the lagoon,
        and I admired the deep blue sea.
The tropical sun made the land sparkle in vibrant colours.
Paradise on earth.
There was the occasional problem with the drinking water,
        of which there was not so much around.
Still, life went on pleasantly.

After a long while came the typhoon.
Whirling winds, flying coconuts, slashed trees, shredded leaves.
And rain, rain, endless rain.
Hard, splattering, smashing, drumming, droning, flooding rain.
While I watched, I saw water, water everywhere.
In puddles in the garden, in large creeks running down the road,
in torrents coming through leaky roofs.
After that time of plenty came the time of nothingness.
Not drop of rain, and the sun scorches down on the sand, turning it to dust.
I still see water, water everywhere, but not a drop I can drink.

I am afraid to go swimming,
        as there is no water to wash myself;
I am worried that my little baby son might vomit,
        as there is no water to clean up;
I am afraid that I may fall into the dust,
        as there is no water to wash my clothes;
I am reluctant to go out in the sun,
        as there is no water to refresh myself;
I am afraid to eat at home,
        as there is no water to wash the dishes;
I am worried to eat out,
        as there is no water for them either, and disease spreads.
I am frightened because there is no water,
        because,soon, there may be even no water to drink.

El Niño, has struck again, and today I am surrounded by irony.
The ocean I saw,
        I can no longer fully enjoy,
The lagoon I saw,
        I no longer marvel at
and the sun,
the relentless sun dries out people and land.
A grey veil of sand dust has covered everything around me.
What had once been paradise has rapidly become hell.
The difference between paradise and hell is small,
        just some drops of rain,
 some water to drink,
         some water to wash.

Really too bad, but that˙s life, someone says,
        waving an airline ticket out to Honolulu.
He does not have to worry about water,
        as the water truck delivers water four-times a week to his house.
His catchment is always full,
        he has never felt the slightest change in his life.
He is one of the powerful, one of the privileged.
I admire those, who made their living here. Before.
Before we had planes to fly in water for the wealthy and powerful,
        before we had ships to bring in the food.
And I admire the average Marshallese who accepts all this without anger.
Water is life, but this waiting for water, this desperate waiting for rain,
        that life ,that I am living now, is this life?
Let us have rain soon, to restore our souls,
        to restore the land and the plants.
But when the rain comes,
        the land will have lost its sparkle to me,
 the sea will have lost its admirability,
         because I have seen the dry side of life.


Originally published in Antithesis vol. 7(2), pp. 87-89, 1995.

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Bibliographic citation for this document

Scheven, Rudolph von (2000) El Niño ¬92 -- The dry side of life
URL: http://marshall.csu.edu.au/Marshalls/html/Literature/El_Nino.html

Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.
e-mail: dspennemann@csu.edu.au

(c) Rudolph von Scheven 1995-2000
Reproduced with permission
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