Phenomenon

Glug! Glug! Glug! I think I should refer to my kids as swimmers this year instead of walkers. The rain just keeps on coming, and so I thought another rain blog would be suitable. I figured I’d share the story I referred to in a comment I made on the “Thunderstorm” blog.

I was visiting my sister in Japan (it rains a lot there too, hee hee) when the letter arrived. I excitedly ripped into it as the family gathered around and we called our parents in the states. “You have been called,” I read, “to serve in the Antofagasta, Chile Mission.” Squeals of excitement exploded and I realized that my two years of French in high school were really not going to do me much good. Dad was excited and immediately located as much information on the area he could find and mailed it to me. One thing stuck out the most: my entire mission was located in the northern region of Chile in the middle of the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world. Driest desert in the world? Oregon girl, lover of the rain, going to a place where it doesn’t rain for years and decades on end.


I remember stepping off the plane in Antofagasta and seeing nothing but brown as far as the eye can see. It wasn’t pretty shades of red like Arizona, it was just plain brown. How many shades of dirt can you get? Nothing grew unless they forced it. I came to love that area and it became beautiful in a fascinating ugly sort of way. (even the Chileans agree that it is ugly) 🙂

This story takes place after I had been in Chile for over a year. I was serving in the southern end of the mission, don’t be fooled it was still in the middle of the desert, in a town called Copiapo. In my mission we lived with families and we called the parents our “papitos.” Houses were small and crowded but the people were happy, loving and kind. We had a small room in the back of the house. The bathroom belonged to the family and we ate all our meals with the family.

It seemed like I had just barely drifted off to sleep when voices and shouts invaded my dreams. One of the sisters ran into our room, “Hermana! Hermana! Esta lluviendo!” “Sister, Sister, it is raining!”

“Yeah right,” I say, “you are playing a joke on me.” and I try to roll over to sleep, when another sister runs in, “come see the rain!” Now I am convinced and my companion and I run out to see this strange phenomenon. The rain is coming down in droves. I run out, being from Oregon, and do my “excited to see the rain for the first time in over a year” dance.
“This is the first rain in over 30 years,” they tell me and I am amazed.

A number of hours later we are awakened again by voices. This time they are unsure, frantic voices. We rappidly emerge from our room and begin to help the family mop up water flooding into the home. Papito is outside with his army buddies digging a trench so the rain will have a place to go. It is still dark and we can not see the street, but we can hear the water.

Morning comes and it is still raining. The street out front is a wild rushing river. There are no drains, there is no need for it never rains. The water has but one course as it rushes toward downtown. We leave to visit people we know may be having a hard time, our feet slugging through the muck. Many homes have leaks in their roofs and we help them set out pots to catch the drips. Children are mystified, they have never seen the likes of this before. The rain finally stops after it is dark again. We fall asleep to the sound of a rushing river.

We emerge the next morning to find the sun glaring down once more and mud everywhere. We are called to meet at the church to be sent to places where we can help. First we dig an adobe house out of the mud so it won’t collapse, then we build small houses for those who lost theirs. They don’t seem like much, but they are nicer than what they had in the first place.

We go downtown to help clean up garbage and debris. With no place to go the water completely wiped out the streets. Just small pillars remain where the man holes were. We can sit with our legs dangling down into where the street should have been. We also work in the destroyed cemetaries; repairing sepulcures and cleaning off mud.

A week later there is another amazing phenomenon. You are considered lucky if you see it; after all it only happens once every 30-50 years or so. It is called, “El Desierto Florido”, the “Blooming Desert”. Seeds from all over are carried to the desert but never take root because there is no rain, but with the rain they take root. The desert thrives and becomes a blooming thriving thing.

8 Comments

Filed under Chile, Personal History, Religion, Youth

8 responses to “Phenomenon

  1. Wow, what an amazing story and experience. You are so lucky to have experienced something so uncommon in that area.

    My favorite time of year while living in Arizona was the spring after a wet winter. We’d drive through the desert absolutely amazed by the beautiful color sweeping across the horizon.

    I can just imagine how beautiful it must have been in Chile when it started to bloom there, especially after nearly 30 years without it happening.

  2. Wow. Thanks for sharing.

  3. So, in the pictures, are you the blondie with pigtails?

    The whole “blooming desert” thing is fantastic, but I find myself wondering what your hosts must have thought about your Oregon rain dance of joy?

  4. Karen – Yes, I am the blondie in the pigtails, and everyone was excited about the rain – at first 🙂 They actually got a kick out of it 🙂

  5. man, that gave me chills. i can’t imagine such a barren place, and then with one mighty shift of nature, it changing the entire scope of things.

    how long does the foilage last? i mean… it can’t be that long, can it?

  6. I honestly don’t remember how long it lasted, a couple of weaks or so I imagine. I’d be surprised if it lasted much longer than that.

  7. I just finished a blog on my recent trip to Chile and am just discovering what others have to say about the same places I’ve seen. Great story about the rain in Copiapo. I had no idea about the rain. Even in Arizona it rains. If you like vacation photos, my blog is at
    http://paralleltravel.blogspot.com/
    I’d be interested in hearing more about norther Chile and any refinement/comments to my brief observations of Chile and Chileans.

  8. Dan – thanks for stopping by and should you stop by again, I checked out your blog and really enjoyed it. Boy do I miss Chile. I dream of going back, especially as a tourist. I didn’t get much of a chance to tour while I was there. But I got to know the people. I love the chilean people. I loved your pictures of Valle de la Luna (always wished I had made it there and am determined to go back some day). Did you make it as for north as Arica? Your translation was good too. Oh, and porotos granados, such memories . . . not all good . . . but that is a blog for another day . . . (I’ll do some more chilean posts in the near future)

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