(first written July 2010)
It is said that the only thing that never changes is the fact that all things change.
In living memory Antakya has two basic seasons; either summer or winter. It isn’t totally like a switch, but very close to being like one, one day it is summer, and the next, winter. Sometimes, it can begin the day as winter and end it as summer. But in our limited experience and in discussion with locals, it seems as if there is no distinct season of ‘spring’ or ‘autumn’ as we would recognise them.
That is until this year.
Winter is characterised by its lack of the continuous wind blowing up from the Mediterranean Sea – replaced by winds that can blow at any time and from any direction – and by a cloudy brooding sky and by rain interspersed with the occasional thunderous downpours which can result in the creation of localised flooding as the water pours off Mount Habib Neccar (ancient Mt Silpius) and into the city.
Floods are notoriously democratic, causing havoc and ruin among the rich and poor alike without distinction or discrimination. These are not the floods that make the news and unleash waves of international aid but the more localised version which inundate homes and cause distress and discomfort but mercifully leave everyone alive and standing – albeit in mud.
Our first Antakyian flood, was last year (April 2009), and flood or no flood, I had to go out. It had rained vigorously all night and the mountain released all the pent up precipitation that had fallen onto it, channeled into the valleys and gorges that scar the face of the mountain. The water cascaded down the mountainside and down into the area of the city where the houses are built on the hillside. There the concrete stairs that take the place of streets are converted into spectacular rapids and waterfalls and from thence the water continues down the regular streets, alleyways, byways and lanes of the city, heading to the Asi river (ancient Orontes river) and ultimately to the Mediterranean Sea.
As I had an unchangeable appointment, I left our home and as I stepped into our courtyard I was greeted by a great brown stain coming from the street door. This apparition had originated in the corridor that joins the street door with our central courtyard, and once at the courtyard it was spreading out in in a fan shape, creeping relentlessly across the floor of the courtyard.
Our courtyard is open to the sky, so the night’s rain had been, ah, flowing freely onto the courtyard. Around the courtyard and stairways there were places where you normally could avoid rain, but the length and intensity of the deluge was such that our dog looked like a forlorn drowned rat – even the normally dry areas were wet.
The road in front of our house is a modern cobbled street – modern in that instead of stone cobbles, it is a laid pattern using preformed concrete, interlocking cobbles. As we reside in the older area of the city and the storm drains are really not adequate for the rains which can besiege the city, the basic design of the street, most likely reflecting the ancient solution to this problem, has been constructed so that the centre of the roadway is concave, that is lower in the centre and higher at the sides hence the excess rain water flows down the middle of the street. However when I opened the front door the water was not flowing only down the centre of street but rather the road was awash from side to side, with a swift flowing stream, deeper in the middle but ranging from edge to edge (shore to shore?). It was this overflow which had come in our front door, down the corridor, invading the courtyard.
We drive on the right in Turkey and hence use left hand drive automobiles. I had parked on the right, snugged up to the exterior wall of the house. To gain entry into the car there was no option but to plunge into the waters – ah,if only the car were British and steering wheel on the side where the water was at it shallowest, but alas, even if it were so, I had left no room to enter by the nearside.
Oh, for a pair of wellies.
If I didn’t have an appointment – an important and unchangeable appointment, I would not have gone out.
If I had any common sense I would not have gone out.
Strange thing about ‘common sense’ – it isn’t nearly as common as one would think; well, not in my case in any event.
Struggling against the determined and forceful current and drenched below the knee, my shoes, socks and trousers well inundated, I made my entry into the automobile.
The vehicle started with no difficulty, however, I had a distinct struggle getting the car moving as the rain water had deposited debris in front of the tyres and as the continuous force of the waters swirled by, it was holding that formidable impediment to my intended forward motion in place.
Once the obstacles had, with difficulty, been overcome and I was moving, I drove up stream – I used to call it a street – through the on-rushing water, over the storm drain at the top of the road that had long given up the impossible task of capturing the river of water and I decided, rightly or wrongly, to turn left and head up the mountain.
As I rounded the corner by the Maternity Hospital I was faced with the sight of an unbridled torrent cascading out of the entrance to the park on the corner. Additionally, right where the water was at its deepest there was a storm drain, however, one of the great cast iron grates had been forced up by the waters and was now perpendicular to the road – the top sticking out of the flood.
What to do now?
I could choose the least tumultuous side of the waters and try and make my way trough the incoming flood, or I could retreat and find another way, or, perish the thought, cancel the appointment and go home.
What would “common sense” dictate?
I don’t know.
But I do know that appointments are to be kept and so I forged forward.
As I proceeded in the swirling waters, the one thing I did not know and could not know was whether the remaining grates were where they belonged on the drain, or whether I would drive the car into a hole and get stuck, or even if the road was no longer there – all was obscured by the abundance of gushing and frothing water.
As I cleared that barrier, and made my way through the torrent of water flowing as from a cataract from the park I crested the wee hill to a ‘T’ junction. My plan was to turn left. It transpired that was a good plan as there had been a massive inundation complete with masses of gravel and stones and even now, with water obscuring the full extent, it was clear the road to the right was impassible to all.
I made my planned left turn and drove the ‘middle’ road – the ‘high’ road would have been accessed by turning right, the blocked way and the ‘lower’ road, well when I first turned left I would have to have turned right at that point to get to it.
The course of this ‘middle’ road travels laterally, traversing the hillside and additionally took me higher up the hillside. On this road there were few vehicle roads on the right, the steep hillside side, but many footpaths providing access to the hillside homes. These footpaths, all concreted and basically forming continuous stairways were now all converted to stream-beds, cataracts and water falls.
Through the rainfall, wiper blades banging back and forth trying to keep the windscreen somewhat clear and the inevitable build up of moisture on the inside of the glass could not hide the fact that it was quite an impressive sight – as long as you do not have to travel on any of the footpaths up the mountain and the water is not finding an egress into the homes clinging on the mountainside.
A glance to my left, downwards and city side, and I cannot see the city. It is shrouded in cloud and pelting rain.
At this rather late and belated point I began to think that this wasn’t one of the wisest things I had ever done.
But, I had chosen, there was literally no turning back – I could only press onwards.
Completing the traverse of the mountain side, the time came to move down towards the plain. As I descended, once again I passed more cast iron grates peering up from the waters giving silent warning that the storm drain below had been utterly compromised.
Once on the flatter part of the city a new sight greeted me. The waters that had entered the storm drains up the mountain, filling the pipes to their capacity, had now, on the level, been translated into geysers, forcing the manhole covers off and bubbling, gurgling and sometimes forming great columns of water erupting out of the drains and onto the streets.
The world is truly upside down when the drains – which are supposed to remove unwanted excess water are now the conveyance for delivering massive amounts of unwanted water onto the streets.
At last I turned onto a main road where I joined a line of slowly moving vehicles – now I could relax a bit. Being at the tail end of moving queue of vehicles I had, in effect, an independent guide as to the depth of the water ahead and indeed if the road was missing below the surface of the water. My task was to follow the queue and the vehicle in front would declare the depth of the water and if there were any hidden dangers. I would not have to discover that for myself.
Sometimes it is best to be at the back of a queue and not leading one.
As we moved along – slowly as it turned out, no one seemed to be in a great rush – I was faced with the sight of great piles of cobbles, torn from the surface of the road and compelled downstream until at an appropriate point they were deposited in a great heap.
Water is a powerful force.
The vehicles in front of me would sometimes weave all over the road to find the shallowest path or to avoid some obstruction but we continued to make slow but steady forward progress.
At the end of this journey, whilst it was still raining, although the intensity had left off by a large margin, I arrived for my appointment and on time.
This kind of flood is not ‘news-worthy’ as it is a ‘localised problem’. No one outside of Turkey would have heard about it. It was not ‘news-worthy’ that is, unless you are one of the families who had the force of the flood come in the front door and out the back – leaving behind a legacy of mud, debris and misery.
We had but some muddy water come into the courtyard – an insignificant, minor inconvenience, nothing more.
Some of our neighbours had bedding and furniture inundated, floors engulfed in mud and foreign matter.
But, as I said at the beginning, there is change. This year we actually had a spring – it lasted more than a month and in that time there was no flood. Every year there is at least one flood – normally – sometimes more.
But not this year.
Mind you, no one is complaining.
These past months we have had more challenges than normal – sometimes difficult questions that defy simple answers. Often being called upon to do things and undertake commitments that take us well out of our ‘comfort zone’, experiences which can be somewhat onerous. But we are here to serve. Sometimes the service is in areas and ways that aren’t what we may ‘want’ – but we are here to serve, not to do what we ‘want’.
However, whether we are aware of it or not, all things change.
Good things come to an end. Someone moves from the area and there is a real hole in the assembly. Children grow up and leave home. The job that we enjoy comes to an end. Someone dies.
This is also true of the things we do not enjoy.
Bad things come to an end. A difficult circumstances and debilitating problem, a overwhelming challenge, these too come to an end.
Maybe it’s not a great encouragement, but we are called to persevere – and knowing that all things come to an end can aid in that perseverance.
This can give us the impetus to carry on, and so, carry on we do…