Friday, August 30, 2013

Harris the Rain King: Chaac and Awe in Belize- Part 1

Hunapu stood at the edge of the forest, looking up the road into the distance.  The far trees danced and jumped in the shimmering heat. A flinty, scorched smell mixed with the smoke and dust filling the air; making his eyes tear and each breath burn.

He turned back to his family's open hut and the stunted plants wilting in the sere earth around it. Mother sat in the shade of the hay roof, holding his baby sister, Cuicatl, and staring blankly at the dying garden plot. His father moved slowly among the dusty plantings, metering a small amount of precious water to each, only to watch the ground swallow it and dry up again immediately. Chicahua dropped the empty calabash gourd to the ground and sank, exhausted, to his knees beside it. The rains were long overdue. In Hunapu's ten years, a' yax-hau; the first rains, had never been this late. He muttered a quiet prayer to Chaac, as he and his parents had, daily, since the drought had deepened.

Turning back to the road, he kicked the dust into small swirls that moved only slightly into the dead air before settling back at his feet. Hunapu raised his eyes again, shielding them against the searing glare beating down from the cloudless sky. In the distance, the images still danced in the heat and haze. 

Then, gradually, one began to resolve itself.

"Tat, Na'na; Someone comes!"  Hunapu shouted to his parents, who moved hesitantly to join him, squinting into the distance at the approaching figures.

As the travelers neared, Chicahua's eyes widened in alarm. "Hide your face! Look to the ground until they have passed!" he hissed urgently to his wife and son. Hunapu did as he was told. He could feel the closeness of the strangers, hear the sound of feet shuffling over the uneven road, smell the dust kicked up by their passing. At the last moment, defying his father's words, he raised his head slightly to steal a glance at the procession.

His eyes locked immediately with those of the man being carried down the road and widened with amazement. His skin was pure white! He wore white hair and a white beard and his great dark eyes (the Mirrors of His Eyes!) reflected back Hunapu! Frightened at being caught he tried but could not tear his gaze away. "Chaac!" he murmured. "Chaac, Lord of the Rains! Lord of Thunder!" Alarmed at his boldness, Hunapu dropped his face again but not before seeing Chaac smile back at him as he turned the Mirrors of His Eyes back to the road he travelled.

As the procession moved out of sight, a single drop fell from the sky in front of Hunapu, raising a small puff of dust and leaving a tiny crater. Another followed, as did another, slowly but with increasing speed. The scent of the air changed as distant thunder rolled over the forest.

"A' yax-hau!"  Chicahua exulted through cracked lips. "The First Rain has come, Hunapu! Always remember this day!"

And Hunapu would remember it. When he was very old, he would share the tale of how his eyes met the mirror eyes of Chaac with his children and with his children's children...

Or at least he would have if he and his family hadn't been carried off and drowned in the flash flooding fifteen minutes later.


"Did you see that Mayan family we just passed?" I turned to ask Staci as I pulled off my aviator sunglasses and wiped the sweat from my face. "I can't imagine working in this sun all the time. I go from pale to stroke without ever hitting tanned." Digging through my backpack, I double checked the sunscreen's SPF  for reassurance before settling back. "The little boy smiled at me. It's probably the white hair. All kids think "Santa Claus" when they see me."

"I'm sure that's it", Staci muttered through clenched teeth as our jeep rattled her spine like castanets. "The Mayans have always been big on Santa, you know." It hit another rut and launched her a foot in the air before catching her, again, like a baby in the hands of its drunken, least favorite uncle. "God, does this thing have a suspension?!?"

We were an hour south of Belize City, bouncing down what had rapidly changed from pavement to dirt to rutted mud to a game trail  apparently cratered by years of indiscriminate cluster bombing. Being the last jeep of three, we were also nicely coated with dust while being shaken like human martinis. One moment, Staci would bounce across the back seat atop the luggage. The next moment, the luggage would ride her back the other way. By virtue of my heroic proportions, I had wedged myself tightly in place and was watching the jungle deepen as we passed.

The driver, Hernan, glanced back apologetically. "The dry season has been tough this year. That's why it's so dusty. The farmers are having a hard time of it. If we don't get rain soon, it's going to be very bad for everyone."

Hearing this, I smiled knowingly at Staci as she rattled past, clinging to a couple of playful scuba tanks. "Oh, I have a feeling the rains will come." I grinned. "I have a feeling the rains will come soon. Don't you think so, honey?"

Staci, closed her eyes and groaned apprehensively. "You know, forget the suspension. Hernan, can this jeep float?"


I'm not sure when I first realized I was a rain god.

That sort of realization comes slowly, on little catfish feet.

I don't even try to justify that status anymore; everyone thinks that the weather has it personally in for them. However, anyone reading this who knows me is silently nodding their heads, some violently as if to dislodge an unpleasant memory. (See October 12, 2009 entry, "Travels With Dennis in Search of...) Some who, unaccountably, have travelled with me more than once (Usually due to marriage or other unavoidable circumstance.) are even able to silently mouth the common refrain, along with the local survivors digging themselves out of whatever wreckage is currently burying them. Ready, kids? All together!

"I don't know what happened! We've never had weather like this before at this time of the year! It was... It was just on us with no warning! Oh, God... Where's the baby?!?!"

Unfortunately, I have no actual control over precipitation levels or exactly what form the weather event will take so there's no money to be made by, say, breaking droughts or ushering in an occasional Ice Age. Normally, the only recognition I get is a friend's occasional look of stunned disbelief at what's happening outside or a high-five from my brother when our combined mojo has rendered an entire region uninhabitable.

There was this one time, however...

Stay tuned (or online, whatever) for the next riveting (meh...) installment!

Who'll Stop The Rain. Anyone? Anyone at all?


I, Me, Mayan

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