Caught in the storm

“Zarzar, do people ride their motorbikes when it is stormy?” I asked a few days ago as we sat inside the office listening to the rain hit the tin roof above our heads. “Yes,” she replied, they wear a raincoat and ride their motorbikes.”

A more appropriate question would have been, “Zarzar, what do people do when they are motorbiking back home and are unexpectedly caught in a torrential downpour?” I imagine she would have said something like, “people find shelter and wait indoors somewhere until the rain stops…. Unless you are Suzy.” Suzy is one of the interns here at BWU, and she is absolutely fearless when it comes to driving the motorbike. She is also fearless, as I discovered today, driving through the ridiculous storms of Thailand. Now, I am a Portland native so I have seen rain. Boy, I have seen. rain. But I’ve never really been caught in the middle of a storm like this, let alone been putzing around on a motorbike in the crowded streets of a city.

I went with Suzy around 4pm to deliver books to various community members. BWU has a library filled with Burmese books of all subjects—fiction, history, science, psychology, beauty magazines…. The list goes on. Suzy is a library intern, so she is in charge of motorbiking a large stack of books out to these community members and exchanging a new stack of books for their old ones they have already read. She and Mae are also in charge of checking in and keeping the books at BWU in order.

The two members we delivered to today were factory workers. Migrant workers from Burma often work in clothes factories similar to the ones we visited today: if your clothes say “Made in Thailand,” chances are that they came from one of these factories. How do I describe them? If you can conjure an image associated with  the word “sweat shop,” I think that might be slightly accurate. The factory buildings I saw were large, dark, and crowded. Chain linked fences inside the factory buildings surrounded workers at giant industrial sewing machines. Behind the factory are living quarters, where workers often live. They are, like a lot of the housing here, basic and crowded and not completely sanitary. But it is a place to live and I imagine that the workers are thankful for this basic shelter.

The man guarding the gate eyed me suspiciously before letting our motorbike in. In fact, Suzy and I had to wait 45 minutes to pass through the gates. The man kept pointing at me and shaking his head. Because neither Suzy nor I speak Thai, we couldn’t do anything but wait. Eventually though, we were let in and we exchanged our stacks of books.

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On the way back to BWU, some unfriendly clouds loomed in the distance. They were definitely not there when we left. Being the optimist that I am, I was hoping that we could make it back to the office before it started seriously raining. Let me tell you… Thailand is no place for a weather optimist. No later than 5 minutes after Suzy and I had discussed the potential showers coming our way did the first few raindrops fall onto our shoulders. “Rain!!!” Suzy exclaimed as thunder shook my eardrums harder than a death metal concert (not that I’ve been to one, but I imagine them to sound similar). She made a quick detour to Zarzar’s house to drop the books off to keep them dry.

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As we zoomed out of Zarzar’s driveway and back into the streets, I noticed that the sky was considerably darker and the size of the rain drops were growing larger. They fell faster and faster, the lightning and thunder seeming to egg them on. Before I knew it, rain was pelting us from all directions and we were both soaked quite thoroughly. Thunder clapped above us which sounded like a Taiko drum performance amplified by a million megaphones. Lightning lit the streets up as thunder sounded and I wondered if the counting seconds between thunder and lightning strikes (to determine how far away a storm is) worked for both kilometers and miles. Since they both struck at the same time, I suppose it didn’t matter.

There isn’t too much else to say except that we were both very soggy and a little chilled by the time we made it back to BWU. The cold water baths I have been taking felt extraordinarily warm compared to the rain outside. I’m not actually sure why I bothered showering, to be honest. Today was a humbling reminder of Mother Nature’s intensity and power; it also made me very thankful that I did have a roof over my head to return to, I am sure there are many people here that don’t have a roof without leaks to live under during storms like these. Anyway, Suzy is walking around with a towel on her head and I think I’m going to do the same. After today, I am eager to go dry off and be done with  water for a bit, and perfectly content listening to the water fall outside from the shelter of the office.

–Rachael B.

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