Raindrops (Literally) Keep Falling on My Head

In general, Brazilians are (justifiably) famed for their sunny dispositions, and among all Brazilians, many would argue that Bahians possess the sunniest dispositions of all.

On a regular day-to-day basis, such a positive outlook on life can act as a soothing balm and serve as a refreshing reminder that no matter what trials you happen to be living through (and neurotically freaking out about or moodily brooding over), they’re probably not quite as bad as you think. Since life is short, forget your troubles, have a cerveja estupidamente gelada (“stupidly” cold beer), and get happy.

The rain puts a damper on daily life, which revolves around sun-soaked activities, and on nightlife, most of which unspools en plein air.

As an adopted Bahian, who has spent a lot of time living intimately with bonafide Bahians, I’ve come to appreciate this cultural characteristic quite a bit. I’ve even absorbed it to a certain extent. However, this week all bets were off.

For 12 days now, it’s been raining almost non-stop in Salvador. This year, the famous “águas de março” (waters of March) whose job it is to “fechar o verão” (bring summer to a close) — a natural phenomenon musically immortalized by Tom Jobim and Elis Regina in Jobim’s classic “Águas de Março” — didn’t make their appearance until the end of May.

The rainy season is not a good time to be in Salvador. For most of the year, Bahia’s baroque capital is bathed in a golden light that causes its tropical colors to shimmer. However, with the rains, the unexpectedly gray, soggy city reveals an underbelly of decay and cracks, rot and misery. Streets and sidewalks are quickly transformed into creeks and rivers. Traffic is messier than usual. Landslides cause precariously built hillside houses (inevitably in poor neighborhoods) to fall, destroying homes, and sometimes, lives.

The rain puts a damper on daily life, which revolves around sun-soaked activities, and on nightlife, most of which unspools en plein air. During these damp days, Bahians hole up at home and observe, from their windows and TV sets, the landscape transformed to a waterscape.

But what happens if it’s raining inside as well as out?

I was faced with such a microcosmic phenomenon this week as my kitchen and, especially my living room, became miniature Pantanals. I’m not just talking about a few drips, but a steady and ongoing symphony of large droplets, the kind that create bloated lumps in the ceiling and small lagoons on the floor.

My internal showers stem from the fact that I live on the top floor of a small, 4-story building, which has the misfortune of sitting next to a brand new 20-story luxury condo complex, in its final stages of construction. During said construction (a hellacious period which has lasted close to 3 years), workers have proceeded to drop, toss, and lob various pieces of flotsam and jetsam haphazardly, some of which landed upon the roof of my building, blocking drain pipes and breaking tiles. Although intermittent in-house drizzling has occurred over the last two rainy seasons, this week’s living room downpour was extreme.

But back to Bahians’ notoriously sunny dispositions. The truth is a sunny disposition is the very last thing in the world you want to be confronted with when your living room walls resemble the insides of a very wet grotto. However, sunny is what I got when I called my neighbor/building super to report that it was raining cats and dogs in my apartment.

To his credit, my neighbor/building super also took action. He promptly went next door to the new 20-story condo to remind the head engineer that, several months earlier, he had signed a document promising to repair our roof upon the completion of all exterior work (i.e. over a month ago).

Within minutes, the engineer and a couple of workers were splashing merrily through my living room, noting cheerily that yes, indeed, something was amiss. They then proceeded to go out into the equally marsh-like hallway. A worker was dispatched to check out the roof for an explanation. Meanwhile, my neighbor/super, the engineer, and another worker stood around in the pseudo swamp, happily reminiscing about flooding incidents from their pasts, each one trying to top the other with tales of wet woe yanked from their personal archives. The more mirth they derived from these shared recollections, the more steamed up I was getting.

The cheery consensus seemed to be that because such leakages always happened, they always would; my inner rainstorm was merely a normal by-product of a somewhat larger-than-average amount of precipitation.

“But no,” I pointed out, while trying desperately to tap into my reserve stores of adopted Bahian insouciance. “Prior to three years ago, it never so much as dripped in my apartment.”

“Ahhh, but this year’s rains are particularly fierce,” pointed out the affable engineer. As proof that the rain itself was to blame, he proceeded to merrily point out that both Salvador’s international airport and the third floor of one its chic-est shopping centers were suffering from leaky ceilings as well.

Not to be outdone, my delighted neighbor/super (who’s also had his share of in-house precipitation over the last three years, and suffered much more material damage than me) chimed in with the fact that there had also been recent reports of rain inside a very large local supermarket.

And they were off again…

Their sunniness in the face of so much rain was so galling to me that I preferred to return to the dismal comfort of my own personal Pantanal.

I don’t know what I expected. A rapid and efficient solution would have been nice, but after 13 years in Bahia, I’ve been deprogrammed to entertain such fantasies.

Truthfully, what I really wanted was a little less joy and a little more good, old-fashioned North American bitching, griping, cussing, and crabbiness. I wanted some acknowledgment that, yes, a downpour in one’s apartment is abnormal, sucks, and is worth getting upset about.

Instead I got a lot of smiles, good humor, and entertaining anecdotes – all of which made me feel foreign beyond belief.


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