Friday, September 02, 2005


We have interesting problems of our own here in South Africe, but what we don’t have to worry about are hurricanes. A tornado or two, fantastically violent electric storms, hail, gets a bit windy this time of year, but nothing approaching a full-on hurricane has been seen in these parts at least since I’ve been alive.

So I find myself living in San Antonio, Texas, 1989, my husband works for the military, I live in a townhouse in a gated complex, drive an Amerrrrcan car, eat barbecue and shop at HEB. I work for a Texan bank where the bosses wear Stetsons and have bathroom/shower combos in their offices. It’s a strange job, rather vague which led me to suspect I was their spy, but that’s not the point of the story. Along comes Hurricane Gilbert heading straight for the Texas coast and there’s a small chance it might fling my car into my roof. The television build-up to the hurricane’s arrival is huge, everyone becomes an expert on synoptic charts and has moment by moment knowledge of the exact placement of the threat which is even more menacing since it can’t be controlled. A sense of urgency takes hold, there is a zing in the air, faces are flushed, the radio is on all day, everyone pops around for an update, someone has a map and tracks the progress with a pencil.

The bank takes care of its staff, emergency plans are put into action for the employees from the coastal branches to drive up to San Antonio and stay in hotels, pets are kenelled, goods are stored. Packing up an entire household in a few hours can lead to strange misshapen objects. Padre Island is completely evacuated, it looks like an apocalyptic nightmare, all the beachfront hotels boarded up against the wind which already blows frantically.

On Friday, everyone is on edge, except me, I’m South African, we don’t take safety for granted, every day is a gift, little storm, pah, no big thing. The next day, it’s blustery and grey, but the roof stays on, we stay indoors the American way with pizza, beer, videos and ice cream, we don’t for one moment think of packing the cars and running for our lives. Where would we go, live in someone else’s house? Pack up everything all for nothing? Why us? Why is that hurricane going to hit our house exactly? We’re reckless, we’re special, we’ll be alright.

The hurricane lifts as it reaches the coast, it skips over deserted Padre Island, misses Corpus Christi and Victoria by miles and one of its evil stepchildren hits San Antonio right in the Texan goolies, one of the military bases has its buildings drilled through by a giant Black and Decker, splintering everything into matchsticks.

So there you go, you can never tell with Nature, which is why you don’t pack up and head for the hills at the first sniff of a hurricane, you ride it out, hoping you are special enough to the universe to be spared and that if something bad happens the government will send somebody to help you in time.

Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't.


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