Perils of Polly: When it rains, it pours

Posted: Friday, February 18, 2011

Editor's note: Polly Crawford was a reporter and associate editor of The Peninsula Clarion from 1985-1988, when she wrote "Perils of Polly." She also wrote a series of "Peril" columns in 1998 about her Australian adventures. Her perils continue in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Photo Courtesy Polly Crawford
Photo Courtesy Polly Crawford
The arrival of a hurricane floods the streets in El Viejo.

Here I was, in a tiny village in Nicaragua, faced with quite a dilemma: the inside of an outhouse about which I knew nothing and could see nothing. My Spanish-speaking host had led me in the dark, and then discretely walked away, thinking she was giving me privacy. Of course, our communication would have been limited, anyway.

As disgusting as it may sound, I did the only thing I could do: I began to feel around with my hand. I found a raised hole and proceeded to use it. I got out of there in a hurry.

Next was shower time. There was a concrete "building" about neck high with a bucket and dipper. I scrubbed my hands first.

The next day I bought a flashlight, so when it came time to use the outhouse, I was now armed and ready. I marched out by myself in the dark, shined my flashlight into the outhouse, and to my horror, ten beady eyes and large sets of antennae peered out from the hole. The previous night I had peed into a family of cockroaches!

I shined my flashlight into the hole to send them skittering before using it, then reported back in the house, "La cucarachas!" My host laughed and dug out some Raid and went to the outhouse.

My first agenda item was to go to Maria's farm. Maria was my missionary friend from Nikiski, and she hadn't been to her place in several years. She wanted me to stay there, take an inventory, and decide what needed to be done to keep it in repair.

By now, a translator, Arlen, had joined us, and we slowly bumped our way around cattle and horses, across a mostly dry riverbed, and down a narrow trail more suited for bicycle and four-wheel drive than my miniature rental car with its donut wheels. We passed tiny houses all on large plots of land, but saw no cultivated land. Each farmer had a few head of skinny cattle and a skinny horse or two.

One thing about the tropics: the jungle quickly overtakes anything manmade. What I found at Maria's farm was disheartening. Termites and rats had taken over. The stench of a dead rat permeated the living area; Omar, my guide and whose house I was staying in, thought it was probably in the defunct washing machine. Termite dirt was scattered everywhere, falling from the eaten-away beams. Omar and Arlen chased a rat around the main church part of the building, finally catching and killing it. I sorted through books and papers that were now moldy, taking an inventory of what was still usable. We grabbed some undamaged tracts and Bibles to give away. Omar climbed an avocado tree for some welcomed fresh avocados, and then we left. I was not going to stay there.

Omar, Arlen, and I decided that the next day we would embark on our mission trip to the north-western tip of Nicaragua. Maria said the roads were pretty bad, and it was at least a five-hour trip, but as long as it wasn't raining, we should be OK. I was eager.

We had paved roads for a long ways, and we had a great time chatting, singing, and just being care-free. Then a splash of rain hit the windshield -- just about the same time that the pavement gave way to gravel. We crossed nearly dry creekbeds, and I began to wonder what would happen if we got up to the tip of Nicaragua and couldn't get back down. Our plan was to spend the night but we didn't even really have any place to stay there, and didn't have a tent or hammocks. Maria had told us the villagers would probably give us shelter.

The rain got heavier and gravel turned to dirt, then mud. Suddenly we found ourselves in a line of stopped traffic. As we sat in the traffic, a jacked-up, four-wheel-drive pickup with huge tires, going the opposite direction, stopped by us. The driver, eyeing our miniature rental car, rolled down the window and shouted, "WE couldn't even get through."

"That's it!" I announced to Arlen. "We're turning around."

We stopped at a hospital and delivered Bibles to anyone who wanted them, then continued back to the twin cities of El Viejo and Chinandega. It was here, Arlen decided, that we would find out what happened to our confiscated container. The ministry of which I was president had sent a container full of medicine, clothing, and other things for poor villages. We wanted to know what had happened to it.

As the rain and wind picked up speed, Arlen mused, "I think this is going to turn into a hurricane."

I scoffed at the notion. "It's just rain!"

I drove back and forth between the two villages looking for the officials who knew where the container was. We talked to the mayors of each village, along with the now deposed official who was supposed to see that the containers got delivered. The Chinandega city hall was dark when we met with the mayor. People were standing around in the dark with clipboards.

As we walked out, assured the container would be delivered properly, Arlen smirked and said, "Do you know what all those people were with their clipboards?"

"No."

"Rescue workers for the hurricane."

At our last stop, I noticed the water in the street was rising toward the floorboards of the car. Streets were now rushing rivers, as there was no such thing as storm drains.

"Let's get out of here," I announced to Arlen, pulling him away from his latest container conversation.

On the highway, I gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles. Branches from trees were flying around, and rain nearly obscured my view. I had to swerve around fallen trees and crashed vehicles. "We've got to get to Leon," came Arlen's fervent words.

Check back next week for more ...



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