So we’ve been back in Rio (after our Peru trip) for just a little over a week now. This afternoon was our weekly “street event” where we go down, hang out, share a word from Scripture (with varying degrees of success), pray together, and share a snack with friends on the street. I left the house early this morning for breakfast and conversation with Jenna, then spent several hours at my school trying to iron out confirmation of enrollment details (which I need to extend my visa). By the time I made it downtown, I was already a little tired, but ready to dive in and see what would happen. I didn’t know that I would literally be diving in all too shortly!
As we sat under one of the banyan trees in the “Praça do Cavalo” (The Horse Square) conversing, playing cards, and catching up, Rich and Dandy set off to find a few others who weren’t present. About three minutes after they left (walking through open grassy parks) it started to sprinkle. Jacque and I and the rest of the 20 or so youth gathered up all of our activities (and blankets, backpacks, possessions) and ran across 10 lanes of traffic to take shelter under an overhang in front of an office building.
We sat there for a while (through two games of Uno, actually, which with these guys go on for ever!), until we noticed that the water had started rising. It filled the street, and as buses drove by their wakes would slowly lap over the curb, inching their way towards us, getting closer and closer (kind of like King Canute of the Danes… never mind…).
A moment of panic as we all scrambled to move farther down the sidewalk… and then another as we picked up everything and kept moving. The water kept rising higher, the wind whipping down the canyons of Rio’s high-rises, knocking over street signs (well, OK, just one. still, it was a hard wind)… The water finally pushed us to the corner where we stepped out into the wind – still under an overhang, but realizing that our patch of dry ground was steadily shrinking. Soon, it was not only 20 plus street youth, Jac and myself huddled together trying to stay dry, but businessmen and women trying to get home yet unable to cross the street to get to their bus stop. A few brave souls rolled up their pants/skirts and strode across the knee-deep water. (One of the older teenagers took advantage of his captive audience to make snide comments about the past mayor of Rio, who was replaced by the new mayor about two weeks ago – “12 years of Cesar Maia, and this is the kind of roads we have. Glad I voted for Paes…” when that got a laugh, his grin exploded from the wry, sardonic one that usually is in place to a blazing flash of teeth, pride in his eyes…)
After about 20 minutes of this, a cheer rose from our midst – we saw Rich and Dandy hurrying across the street, not bothering to worry about getting their feet (and legs) wet as they ran through the rushing rapids. (They weren’t worried because they were already about as wet as if they’d fallen in something big and wet – completely drenched from head to toe and back to head again.) A quick hurried conference later, and we quickly prayed, handed out food, and began plotting how we were going to get Dandy home without her getting pneumonia again (and her husband mad at us… again.)
As Dandy caught the bus at the bus stop (only having to wade through three medium rushing rivers) Jac, Rich and myself braved the path towards the metro station (convinced that 40 minutes standing in sardine conditions was much better than sitting for 3 hours in a bus trying to get through flooded streets.) We didn’t reckon on ever-growing lake standing between us and our destination. My feet not being completely wet (and more to the point, not wanting to wade through the waters carrying who knows what kind of diseases and critters), I hopped up on a metal fence surrounding one of the parks (the Passeio Publico), balancing myself on the concrete base that managed to keep my feet out of the water, and began working my way down the flooded street and sidewalk.
Rich and Jac followed for a bit until we ran into a candy salesman who had tied his cart to the fence, in hopes that thus anchored it would no longer float away. It was too big to climb around, and too delicate to climb on, so we found ourselves stymied. Rich and Jac turned back (deciding to go around the park the long way), but I would not be denied. So, up and over the rest of the 7 foot high fence – being very careful to not slip on the wet metal and impale myself (or my foot!) on any of the sharp points.
Once inside the park, I thought I’d be fine – the concrete retaining wall would keep most of the water out, and I’d be able to walk in (relative) dryness to the comfort of the metro station. Alas, ’twas not to be. I had not reckoned on the gate into the park. There was no wall there – only two swinging doors made of metal bars, propped wide open (not that it would have done me much good if they were closed.) And through the open gate rushed a torrent (yes, a torrent) of water. I saw mini-rapids and rats in kayaks made from 2-liter coke and guarana bottles. This river spilt into the park, gushing through several small waterfalls until it reached the ever-growing lake in the middle.
I stood frozen, clinging to the bars, occasionally startling random passers-by on the opposite side of the fence who couldn’t see me until they were almost on top of me, us face to face with only a few inches of rain-soaked air and a couple iron bars between an even more awkward situation. But, sadly, there was no other way. So I jumped. The water was up to mid-thigh, and the current was pulling (man, I’m glad I wasn’t wearing flip-flops today…) At this point, my jeans were completely soaked, and the rest of me not far off, so I gave up on trying to get style points (and stay dry) and decided to hurry the rest of the way to the metro station. I just hoped that Rich and Jac had made it.
(It turned out they did, pretty fine. They had to wade through a few ankle-deep rivulets, and were still pretty wet, but at least they hadn’t bathed in the run-off from all the nasty-ness, pollution, bodily fluids and wastes, and critters (both visible and invisible) on their flight to freedom and dry-ness.)
Of course, about ten minutes after we got on the metro, the sun came out, the torrential downpour died down to a sprinkle, and we were treated to a gorgeous rainbow and sunset… And that, my friends, is how we survived the great flood of ’08…
(pictures would be forthcoming – at least of the sunset and rainbow – but I left my memory card reader with the Nichols… So for now, use your imaginations…)