(written October 2011)
With the final ‘amen’ uttered, T. and I and the elder and his wife rose to take our leave from our hosts of the evening – our colleagues and fellow labourers J. and R. This young family joined us about two years ago and have been studiously studying Turkish, reaching out to the youth and leading the music on Sundays.
After the summer break, this had been our first team meeting and was a good time of sharing, fellowship and planning.
The evening was noted as well for its climatic activity. Throughout the summer we see neither cloud nor experience that phenomenon of moisture falling from the sky – I believe the English word to describe this is ‘rain’. In Antakya you know autumn has come when you see clouds and then this, ah, rain stuff.
The first rain is often like the experience of someone trapped underground for a long period of time – when they come out to the light they can’t see, it is hard to focus, they are disoriented. Likewise, the first rain is often a pitiable affair. Moisture does fall, but in a lacklustre, half hearted manner that does nothing to refresh, does nothing to cleanse and often results in higher humidity and mud stains camouflaging most surfaces.
This particular evening it was not the first rain and it seemed to be at pains to demonstrate that it had remembered what ‘real rain’ was all about.
As we made our way from the apartment building to the car for the drive back home, only I had the benefit of a rain hat and a proper rain jacket and as my shoes had recently perished, I had purchased boots, that is water-proof boots, as my footwear. I feared no rain and calmly walked to the car whilst everyone else made a mad dash.
As we commenced our return journey by car we were confronted with the evidence that this particular rain, whilst not of ‘flood’ proportions, was a serious attempt to not just ‘water the earth’ but to ‘cleanse the accumulated dust and dirt’ left by the long, hot summer.
At every turn gasps and exclamations as we saw the run off overwhelming the storm drain system. At the great round-a-bout, where on the east side of the intersection a street comes down the hill, the road resembled a stream in torrent rather than a public highway.
Snug and safe in our car, wiping the accumulated condensed moisture from the inside of the windows we made our way through this amazing water world.
As we approached home, we came down our street. Now our street does not have the classic storm drain system – ours is a more basic, but yet functional system. The road bed is not convex (higher in the centre and lower at the edges) as on a traditional western street, designed to remove the water from the centre of the road and direct it to the storm grates at the side. Rather, our street is concave – lower in the middle and higher at the sides, directing all the run-off to the centre of the road where is flows merrily down the centre of the street until the next storm drain which lays across the road bed.
This night it was working well.
We drove down and turned around so we could park up close beside our home. As we completed the turning manoeuvre, we watched a large, plastic paint pail – now serving as a make-shift garbage can and placeholder to ensure our parking place is still available when we return – being carried along by the current down the centre of the road – which in itself had transformed into a swift flowing stream coursing done the middle of the street, the edges of the water drawing ever closer to the sides of the street.
Being the only one in appropriate rain gear, there was no question as to who should leap out and rescue the pail.
So, dressed in my rain hat, water-proof jacket and water-proof boots I calmly walked over to the centre of the road, and then had to scramble as the pail was making good time in the torrent.
Turning, pail in hand, I began the walk up stream to the house, confident in the knowledge that I was protected from the onslaughts of the rain and flowing water.
As I looked up the road, it was evident that all was not well. The car was only half parked and still out in the street, at an odd angle and everyone looking at it from the shelter of the eves of our home.
When I came up to the car, it was clear the left rear tyre was, well, where was it? The corner of the car was basically resting really low and the tyre was obscured by swirling water. Well, when we left that evening, in the dry, some two or three hours earlier, there was nothing for the car to become entrapped in. Yes, it is true that previously the cobbled street had been opened up in front of our house to do some work, but it was completed and all filled in. The patch was raised and hard packed, not yet re-cobbled, but a solid hard pack.
Now the centre of the street was a swirling mass of water and the car was on the right side of the street, the left side of the car in the centre and the left hand rear corner well and truly settled in.
I went up to the car, examined the turbulent waters and suggested to the elder that he try and go forward, out of the apparent hole. As he attempted to move the car forward, I tried to assist in pushing and lifting.
The tyre spun – muddy water and gravel flew up and the car settled a bit lower down – not the desired result.
The rain continued it’s relentless downpour – the raging waters churned past and the car, headlights shining forth, now pointing upwards as the back of the car is significantly lower than normal.
Neighbours begin to congregate – curious as to what the commotion is and why the car is in the middle of the street blocking any other traffic from traversing the roadway. Everyone is huddled against the front of our home as there is a over-hang which impedes some of the rain.
The problem is discussed.
We have neighbours from the immediate vicinity, and slowly, neighbours come from farther a field.
The men are keen – “What can we do?”.
It is pouring with rain. The elder’s wife who has stood in the rain for a brief moment looks drenched to the bone – wet hair plastered to her head, a sad sight. My jeans, being as they are, below my rain jacket, are completely and utterly soaked.
Much to my surprise and horror, my rain jacket has failed. My shirt and undershirt are sopping wet. My rain hat is now truly a ‘rain’ hat, it is raining on the inside.
Oh, and it is still vigorously raining.
And the men say “we can all gather around and lift and push and maybe get it out”.
This was said in the bucketing rain.
We turn the car off, leaving the hazard lights flashing their warning to other road users.
The rain begins to taper off. A number of the neighbours, convinced that there is nothing to be done, leave, wet and dripping, to go home.
And yet, more neighbours are still arriving. Curious as to what has happened and offering whatever assistance they can.
As we stand there, I see a car about 50 meters away turning down a side road when it abruptly stops, reverses and then drives straight up to where we are. They saw the problem from a distance, changed course and immediately came and offered help… can they help push, do we need a tow… “say whatever help is required,” they say, and they will lend a helping hand without hesitation.
The rain has finally stopped.
The stream in the centre of the road has slowly but surely diminished and then, for all intents and purposes, dried up.
The road surface is now visible, the hard-packed earth that once filled the hole has been excavated by the turbulent, rushing waters and the void once opened is now the resting place for the left rear tyre. The corner of the car is resting comfortably on the road rather than suspended above it courtesy of the tyre – and the tyre, ironically, is suspended in the hole.
We remain standing on the street, watching the car… One thing is clear, the car will not go anywhere in spite of a regular flow of concerned neighbours asking if they can assist in anyway.
This speaks volumes about the nature of Turkish culture – willing to help, even in the pouring rain – without proper rain gear where the only prospect is to get drenched in the process for no return.
It also speaks volumes of the testimony that the elder and his wife have displayed in this community – being light and salt and making a difference.
In times of troubles, even minor inconveniences in life like this, the response of those living near us, declares much about how we are perceived and the strength of our testimony. It would have been simplicity itself for the neighbours to stay snug and dry in their homes – not venturing out into the downpour, in the dark.
It is the ‘bumps’ in life, when things go ‘wrong’ that declare much about our character – who we are – and how we respond declares much about what we truly believe. This then determines how we are perceived in our world which, in turn, is evidenced by the response of those around us.
Oh, the elder rang for a recovery vehicle to come and in the fullness of time the lorry arrived, gently lifted the back of the car out of the miry pit it had become ensnared in and it was set free – no damage done, partly because we resisted the offers to man-handle it out of its dilemma.