marcel barang

Chronicle of a flood foretold – Day One

In English, Reading matters on 27/10/2011 at 5:37 pm


9:40am: The gutters in the lane finally overflow. Water rises smoothly, silently, implacably, carrying a few dead leaves to the bottom of the cul-de-sac. A few rats run for it, as do quite a few cockroaches. Most ants left the neighbourhood at the end of Lent, four days ago.

9:45am: In the first three centimetres of water, a young snakehead cruises by against the flow. A few earthworms wriggle in and out of the flooded gutters.

10:30am: The concrete lane is now totally under water, a rise of about 8cm above gutter level in less than an hour. The snakehead seems to like my company or to be wondering where it went wrong: it either stays static in front of my door or disappears for a while under the gutter slabs. A booted Khun Yui insists on collecting floating garbage with a broom and a dustpan. Her daughter is taking pictures of the invading wonder. Uncle Pratheep, the DIY enthusiast, is fastening green trellised plastic sheets to his gate, presumably to prevent dross from sullying his garage. One of his sons, a married man with a voice even more unpleasantly high-pitched than his mother’s, is stomping about like a child, showing off his brand-new boots. Khun Yui, Khun Lee and Khun Never-knew-her-name are reassuring one another they have plenty of victuals, meaning above all rice, to withstand a prolonged siege. Ground temperature: 29°C.

11am: Twenty centimetres from gutter level. Nothing to worry about yet: my front wall at its lowest is twice that high. Noi and Nok, my sister-and-brother next-door neighbours, both around thirty and podgy, go out backpacked to get something to eat: no food in their house! They say they’ll be moving to a condo next. Mr Hot Walls, my other next-door neighbour, the one with bats in the belfry, mercifully keeps to his chambers. Urchins from the next lane are having a great time wading around. They soon take off their inadequate ankle-boots. They want to know about my dog (I sheltered one for about a month over two years ago) and ask if I speak any foreign language at all. Anyway, they soon tire of this farang uncle.

11:20am: First problem: water is beginning to seep through short cracks in the cemented floor of the garage space near the door. The whole area will soon be flooded: I have no portable water pump; if worst comes to worst, I can bail out with my large plastic dustpan or borrow someone’s draivo; if the water level outside recedes enough, I’ll unplug the evacuation tube. The security margin is 25cm; after that, water would enter the living part of the house, if it hasn’t done so through the bathroom and kitchen evacuation holes, which I’ll have to block up at some point. For the time being, I just shift a few cardboard boxes to the top of the leftover scaffold boards piled in one corner of the garage, disturbing and then slaying several generations of cockroaches. Nothing to report at the back of the house: amazingly, the whole terrain vague behind us is still dry.

12:20am: The usual valet brings Mr Hot Walls his lunch from his wife’s grocery shop at the corner of Wat Karaoke. A bicycled fat man in bright colours and cloche hat pedals for some reason to the end of the lane and back in a big whoosh: the events of the past hour. The crack running across the garage floor about three metres from the front door is beginning to leak insidiously. A third of the garage area is under a film of water.

1:30pm: 25 centimetres above gutter level; 8cm above my front step, where my friend the snakehead is back. A breeze keeps dead leaves drifting back and forth on the water surface, but the main drift is inward: the water is still rising. Blessed silence, except for unstoppable compulsive cockcrows at the back, the cooing of a turtledove nearby, and the odd revving of a distant motorbike. Neighbours address each other in loud voices across the liquid divide, a feast of shades of brown and sunny sky reflections. Ground temperature: 31°C.

2:29pm–2:31pm: The house ghost strikes again: the pump runs five times in succession, unprovoked. I switch it off. Must be a leak in the underground pipes somewhere. As if there wasn’t enough water around! Hard to concentrate on my current translation, a political satire by Somphorn Prasertsang I haven’t found a title for yet (Soak Asoon: Giant grief? Sounds too much like what’s pending to us all here.).

3:10pm: Another 2cm outside; another 13cm before I must add the planks saved since 1995 to the entrance with the addition of some mud or silicone for water tightness and protection against splashing. Of course, the garage area is under water. Ground temperature: 33°C. Living room temperature: 31°C.

4:40pm: The water has begun to flow back, and right now is back to its level of two hours ago. The next high(er) tide is at around 6am tomorrow, but that’s measured way out there at the mouth of the Chao Phraya.

My brother called a couple of hours ago from Toulouse. When I tell him what’s been happening and is likely to happen further, his impatient answer is: ‘Yes, that’s right. I’ve read it on the net.’ He is a new convert to world wide wonders.

I’ve called my daughter on her mobile. She has yet to call back.

PS: 7pm: My daughter has called back: the house at Phrannok is still on dry ground, perhaps, she says, because ‘they’ve built very high walls around Siriraj Hospital’.

Already two inflated dinghies, bought for the 1995 flood, are active in the lane.

Contrary to what I wrote, the water isn’t flowing back but very slowly rising still. By 5pm, the soil on the mini-gardens back and front had begun to sweat, and they are now under water. Inside, the toilet won’t flush. This has prompted me in the past hour to first put the planks in place at the front door, borrowing some silicone from a neighbour. Then I’ve undertaken to put everything on the floor to places higher up. I figure there’s a real chance of water entering the living room. I’d rather it didn’t happen during my sleep. Later tonight, if the level keeps rising, I’ll unhook this computer cum printer and put them on the table, and will use the laptop on the mezzanine henceforth. I may have to unplug the TV set as well.

C’est l’heure du pastis. Faut arroser ça !

Goodnight everyone.

  1. We’re listening with some anxiety to your posts. Glad you heard from daughter. Stay in contact.

  2. Bon courage et surtout bonne chance!

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