A Green Christmas in Aruba

It’s hot and sticky outside and my neighbor, Poor John, is blasting “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” from his house, which seems surreal since the island is turning green… definitively not white. Sinterklaas visits homes tomorrow evening with his Zwarte Piet, and all the children will place their shoes next to the front door in hopes that he will leave behind a bright orange carrot inside one of their shoes instead of beating them with his twig broom. It’s the rainy season here now, so it’s best to always carry a large, strong umbrella. Sunny days are deceptive this time of year because storms surge in suddenly out of nowhere and bring a torrential downpour for all of two minutes and then leave as quickly as they came. Welcome to December in the Dutch Caribbean.

green-aruba

Who knows if Sinterklaas is even on the island. The typical two-minute torrential downpour lasted all morning two weeks ago when Sinterklaas was scheduled to arrive by boat at 10am. He may have drowned out at sea in the storm since his boat never made it to the port that day, leaving thousands of children on the island terribly disappointed. We had planned to welcome him as well; instead, I spent all day trapped inside my house watching the dirt roads in Tanki Flip turn into rivers.

The rain had been pounding down on the rooftop all morning that day, but my reaction was flat after Hurricane Mathew passed by in late September. It seems as if it hasn’t stopped raining since Matthew. I stayed in bed enjoying the rain, lost inside a book while my phone pinged again and again. Finally, sensing something wasn’t quite right with a barrage of Sunday text messages, I took time to scroll through countless texts about rising water around the island. Some colleagues had posted alarming pictures, so alarming that I sprung up out of bed to look outside my window and survey the water level.

My patio chairs were already under water, and they would have been floating around the backyard if they were made from wicker instead of wood. I rushed about the house pulling the curtains back at every window. The empty garbage bin was madly swirling around in the side yard playing bumper cars with everything in its path. Looking out the front of the house, neighbors were wading in water up to their thighs while transporting giant slabs of plywood board from one house to another as they screamed words I could not understand in Papiamento. Their actions, however, communicated to me that the situation was serious. They seemed to know exactly what to do and clearly benefitted from being natives, already busy dropping sandbags in front of their doors.

Within moment of realizing I should probably follow their lead, my electricity was out and my dreamy Sunday morning had turned into a nightmare. The toilet began mocking me for my septic tank ignorance as it loudly gurgled out over and over. I closed the bathroom door and tried to ignore the sound. When was the last time I had that thing serviced? I looked outside at an elevated platform that marked the septic spot and all its nefarious wickedness lurking below ground. Water was already starting to lap up over the top of it. I noticed that a rock precariously covered the hole at the center. Is that normal? Shouldn’t it be tightly sealed shut?

aruba-flooding

Needless to say, I was not prepared for a flood. There were days and days of weather tracking and nail biting anticipation before Hurricane Matthew, but I was busy living my life this particular weekend and had no clue dangerous weather was even on the radar. My main concern was just how high the water would rise. When would it start to come inside the house? And how long would the toilet continue to chide me before the septic system caused real harm?

I looked outside again and spotted a Cocker Spaniel swimming down the street. The water was now seeping in under my front door. I began throwing any absorbent material I could find in the pathway of the water flowing inside under the door: old towels, sheets, mattress covers, and a suitcase of winter clothing for safe measure. Then I  started moving things in every room to higher ground, stacking stuff on top of beds, dressers and the dining room table. I packed a backpack of items that I would not want to lose or have destroyed including my passport and international documents, souvenirs from South America, and pictures of my friends and family back home.

And then, just as steadily as it had risen, the waist-high water began to slowly recede. The rain had finally stopped. It took a very long time and I wasn’t able to open the front door until the sun was setting that evening, but I have never been so thankful to turn a knob and push a door open.

The clean-up is still in progress two weeks later, and Poor John has been a big help, although he isn’t always the most reliable. I have learned that as soon as I pay him, he will quickly drop the rake, machete, or whatever is in his hand at the moment to race to the store and buy a bottle of rum. Then he comes back a few days later and usually points to a large knot on the top of his head caused by, he claims, a falling coconut. “It’s not healing, Jennifer. I need medicine. I work now. You pay me 200 Florin. I respect you.”

In the aftermath of each and every storm that has hit the island this season, construction on a cunucu house continues at a roundabout I pass through everyday to and from work. Decorating roundabouts by building some sort of festive structure strung to the hilt with lights is all part of a holiday tradition on the island. This particular roundabout also gets a lot of traffic because a herd of goats gathers there during rush hours most days. Something about that roundabout and those goats and the cunucu house makes me incredibly happy.

aruba-roundabout-2

Maybe it is in the way the island goats take over and block traffic, doing whatever they damn well please in spite of all of these humans and their moving machines. Or perhaps it is also how Arubans just patiently wait for the goats to move along without honking horns or running them over. Once the goats are gone, you can amuse yourself by driving around and around to check out the progress on the house. On Monday, they have carved designs onto the outside columns, by Friday they have painted the whole thing blue, and the next week the inside is completely furnished with tables and chairs and such. There is even a Christmas tree inside. They built a house from the ground up in the middle of a busy intersection where four lanes of  traffic constantly merge around and around in every direction. Why? Because it is Christmas in Aruba and nothing is going to stand in the way of that, no matter how much rain falls from the sky. 

aruba-roundabout

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Tiffany Lewis

About Tiffany Lewis

Arriving well after sunset, Tiffany's first adventure on the island of Aruba was a haphazard lesson on how to drive a stick shift in the Queen Beatrix airport parking lot. She never planned to move to Aruba, as in it wasn't some lifelong dream she had to live on a tiny island in the Caribbean sea. She simply clicked every region on a world map while applying online to teach overseas. She was willing to go anywhere, yet destiny carried her to a small rock in the middle of nowhere, some 2,196 miles away from a very large expanse of land in Texas. Brave and foolish enough to accept the offer, she sold everything she owned and packed what she deemed would be essential to survive her new shipwrecked existence into six oversized suitcases. She would quickly acquire a living-with-less, minimalist mantra and learn to love it.

Tiffany now resides in the small neighborhood of Tanki Flip where chickens and goats cross dirt roads and her neighbor, Poor John, brings his catch of the day. Weekdays are spent teaching multiple grade levels of students from all over the world. They are all teenagers, so everyday at work is an adventure aside from island living. During the weekends, you can find her trekking island terrain in flip flops with a camera bag slung over her shoulder, striving to capture all of the magic inside frame after frame. She also attempts to record experiences with words so as to never forget her time in paradise, but also to keep friends and family updated. She has quickly discovered that Aruba is a multicultural precious jewel of an island on planet Earth and wants everyone to know that as well. You can read more about Aruba and her adventures at www.tankiflip.wordpress.com.

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9 thoughts on “A Green Christmas in Aruba

  1. While visiting St. Lucia residents described a storm that dumped 100″ of rain in 24 hours on the island. I cannot even imagine that much rain in a year let alone 24 hours.
    Proves how resilient Island people are.

    • Yes, they are definitely resilient and never let a sudden storm rain on their parade. They jump right back into action as soon as the rain stops. Love that about living on an island. Always something to celebrate.

  2. a very delightful and well written piece– as well as telling a story typical of many islands ( and newcomers to these islands) here. in the Caribbean.

    It took me year to learn to read about the weather every day and to take “flash flood ” warnings seriously. I was very scared the day my tires lost contact with the road in a big flash flood “puddle”. I had not taken that morning’s warning seriously or known exactly what it could portend. I could easily have floated off the cliff, on the other side of the road, but luckily my tires touched ground before that happened.

    take care and enjoy this lovely sunny Christmas in Paradise!

    • Thank you. I appreciate the comment. I am happy to have made a few local friends who now send me alerts after the fiasco!

  3. Bon Dia Tiffany and Greetings from the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

    I’ve made five visits to Aruba, the most recent one being back in early September of this year, and one of the things that I always heard and witnessed was the very short rainfall. It would be dark and overcast like it would be an all day downpour of rain, it would fall for about five minutes then the sky would clear up like nothing happened. The only way you would know there was any rainfall was by looking at the ground.

    I was really surprised by the amount of flooding on Aruba last month, that was way more than when Hurricane Matthew. Seeing the departure area of the airport under water was a major surprise, then seeing Oranjestad and the main road in Noord under so much water was an even bigger shock. During my first and second visit to Aruba I stayed at the Caribbean Palm Village (CPV) out in Noord, and I would often make the walk to the Valero Gas Station to buy snacks and stuff. Seeing it under all that water had me wondering what happened out at CPV and the other restaurants on that stretch of road.

    Hopefully this will encourage the local authorities to get a jump of improving the drainage system on the island. Here in Trinidad I have experienced my fair share of flooding due to heavy rain. My family’s business was flooded out on two occasions before we stockpiled sand bags which helped a great deal. Where I used to live was flooded out and I wound up loosing a lot of books and stuff, there were a few close calls after that one, thankfully we were able to make some improvements to the drainage system at the house which helped to keep a lot of water out of the yard. There have been times while running errands in Port of Spain I have found myself stranded due to flooding in the city and had to find an alternate route home. There is a joke that we have here, all it takes if for two vagrants having a water fight for the city to flood.

    Hope that all is well with you. Enjoy your Christmas on the island, at least it will be a warm and sunny one.

    • Hi Vallon, Thank you for the comment. Yes, most of the time it is as you describe, which is helpful when you happen to be at the beach because you know it will just blow over in a few moments. But these last few months, it has lingered all morning long. I would love to visit Trinidad and Tobago. I had a colleague from there when I worked in Texas, and he encouraged the move to Aruba. We are actually trying to decide what Caribbean Island we want to visit over Spring Break, so we could quite possible land there. Happy New Year and let us know the next time you are in Aruba!

  4. I really loved reading this 🙂 I certainly hope the rainy season is over now… we’ve had enough!
    That little blue house looks so sweet!

  5. Pingback: A Green Christmas in Aruba | the tanki flip settlement

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