Kerala Underwater: How My Summer Turned to Sink or Swim

My family follows the same tradition every single summer: we spend the month of August with my family in India. This is not, and has never been, my ideal vacation. India goes from a desert-like heat in July to monsoon season in August, two types of weather of which I have never been a fan. Like the saying: "a little bit of rain never hurt anybody" . . . but a month of nonstop storms sure can. 

 

Arriving in August, we were greeted with bucketloads of torrential rain. Nobody was on the streets which is an extreme rarity for India. Passing towns on the way back from the capitol city I noticed houses, shops, and various types of buildings all underwater. I didn’t completely allow myself to think of the inhabitants and owners of those venues in my jet-lagged state, exhausted after 24 hours of nonstop international travel. Either way, every day on the news I saw that there were floods in Kerala, but since none were in the town I was staying at, I just forgot the flooding even existed. I feel like in general that’s what people tend to do when there's a problem. If an issue occurs but it's far away from somone, they tend to stick it in the back of their mind and focus on situations that are more tanglible. Out of sight, out of mind. Right?

 

The Kerala monsoons didn’t get a lot of coverage on American news but they were the worst rains the southern state had seen in a lifetime. That entire summer, my family and I were huddled around the television, watching the death count rise higher and higher while listening to the rain pound against the roof  with every passing minute. Entire villages were swept away and buried underneath landslides. Hundreds of people lost their lives and their families. People were forced to travel south and take refuge at the homes of relatives or friends, often cramming way more people than could fit into tiny houses—houses that had lost electricity and running water due to the heavy storms.

That summer, over 450 people passed away and over 100 people went missing. I still couldn't wrap my mind around this fact as someone who had never lived through such a natural disaster until the moment my uncle showed up in the middle of the night  at our front door. He was bedraggled, soaking wet, and shivering. His house had been swept away and he had barely gotten out of it in one piece, hurrying over to the first place he thought he might receive shelter. Seeing him standing there, trying to figure out where he would live now made me fully realize how dire this situation was for the people of Kerala. The people that did not have a plane ticket waiting to whisk them out of this nightmare next week. 

            As the date for our travel back to the United States drew closer, the rain was not letting up—and of course, by now I had really started to get worried. And then my family received the news: the airport had flooded and shut down. All the nearby train stations were closed. We had to most likely travel by car for part of the 9 hour journey, and then by boat, and then by car again. Most roads were completely flooded. My relatives living far away came to take refuge in our home which, thankfully, was on a hill and had been untouched by the rising floodwaters. Though there were times we surely thought things were going to go downhill, I was surprised by how much my family and the people around us came together in these desperate times. 

The people of Kerala truly banded together during this difficult monsoon season. With so many people suffering from loss, grief, injuries, trauma, and hunger, everyone needed help. And the beautiful part was, everyone was willing to help. Even people going through the worst possible situations in their lives were helping other people cope with their present difficulties. As an American citizen who was going through a natural disaster like this for the first time in her life, I was equal parts shocked and proud to be part of a family that dropped all signs of selfishness and moved to help people. 

 

 

The main point of this story is not to talk about the irreplaceable damages that the floodwaters caused to Kerala. Though those were awful to think about, the nation really banded together. Neighboring states around Kerala sent food, water, medical supplies, and other basic needs. People came together as one nation, and soon enough, relief funds started making their way towards Kerala. I watched endless lines of trucks come in from Tamil Nadu, bringing barrels, crates, and bags of food and fresh water for the starving people. I felt such a sense of pride watching all of this unfold and was grateful to have been given the opportunity to donate whatever I could and help my local church in small ways to assist Kerala as well. 

So though rain hurt the people, the people helped the people. Though the rain still beats every summer, Kerala remains standing strong. Kerala won’t sink, for she has learned to swim.        

 

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