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Rain, rain go away: Summer in Oaxaca

Stan Gotlieb

Protest banners
Whether rain or shine, the protests in front of the government palace in Oaxaca go on. This banner, with likenesses of Ricardo Flores Magon and Emiliano Zapata, says "This paradise, this flag, this land we will guard with dignity. We are building the people's power."
© Diana Ricci, 2000

[I wrote this last fall. Now it's late springtime on the local meteorological calendar, and it has hardly rained in three months — and is unlikely to do so for three months more. As we approach the hot dry season, when the air gets smoggier without the cleansing that a good rain provides, I look back on this piece and it reminds me that, as the song says, there are two sides to every cloud.]

It's raining. It's been raining for days. It's overcast, gloomy, damp and depressing. It doesn't help that it's normal. It doesn't help that we need the rain. I can no longer remember that it was beautiful for days on end before the clouds moved in.

Oaxaca at the end of September, and near the end of the rainy season, is almost always like this: rain, ranging from drizzle to downpour, from midday to dawn. It goes with the territory. Everyone knows about it. So why am I whining?

I suspect I am suffering from seasonal climatic depression, or whatever the fancy name is for discomfort brought on by sunshine deprivation. I have, as Ken Kesey describes it in "Sometimes A Great Notion," mildew of the mind.

Goodness knows, I am not the only one. Everyone I know here in Oaxaca seems to be affected. Or is it "infected"? Are we suffering from a sort of angst virus, that makes our psyches fester and flake off in much the way as our walls when dampness penetrates them? And if so, what might the cure be? Is there an inoculation available? What do you do when no amount of vitamin B will cheer you up?

Some of our tribe (we foreigners represent the 17th distinctive cultural grouping in the Oaxaca valley, and the only one that didn't always live here) cope by leaving. September is a great month for visiting your kids in Florida, providing there are no hurricanes lurking; but if they live in Washington state it might be more like jumping out of the drizzle and into the downpour.

Others of us go to the beach, where the weather is a bit more violent, but also more changeable, replacing days and nights of overcast and gentle rain with sunshine interspersed with gully washers.

Still others take refuge in alcohol, evangelical activity, or other culturally destructive compulsive delusional behaviors.

Most of us just hunker down at home and watch tv, and phone each other to make sure that there are no thoughts of suicide floating around. It's a little like being in a nut-house: long periods of mental shutdown, alternating with group therapy.

When we do get together, the weather looms large in our conversations: last year was worse (or better, depending on how bummed we are about this year); at least we are not down on the Istmo, or in Nicaragua, or Honduras, where flooding has uprooted thousands of people; where will we go next September, to escape.

Doing the wash becomes a game of Russian Roulette, where you cannot be sure whether the wash you hang in the morning will be dry in the afternoon or next week. Drains back up, making a walk to the market more like a wade. Large chunks of time can be taken up with the choice between wearing a rain slicker and taking an umbrella (otherwise known as the one-hand / two-hand method of carrying groceries).

Today is the sixth straight day of overcast skies and occasional rain squalls. In my mind, there is this cartoon that a friend of mine drew over 30 years ago. It shows a room bathed in blood, with body parts laying around. In the middle, a man sits with his head bowed, holding a broad sword. The caption is, " Are you tense? Irritable?". I'm glad I don't have a car. The urge to mayhem might prove too great for me.

The newspaper says that the clouds cover all of Mexico and most of central America, and extend as far east as Florida. Tomorrow will, they tell us, look a lot like today. It's a good thing that I have this word processor, and a deadline to meet. Otherwise, I might end up being a drunk, or an evangelist.

Published or Updated on: March 1, 2000 by Stan Gotlieb © 2000
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