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Floods, nuns and river-crossing

Timor Leste is notoriously flood-prone but I had not experienced it first-hand until recently. The rains started on the way back to Dili, after a visit to Daudere and Afabubu, two villages where Concern is working with partners on income generation, food security and disaster preparedness.

Wind rocked the car and bent the banana trees backwards as a morning drizzle turned into a violent storm that did not let up for several hours.

We continued toward Dili but soon ran into a Timorese police truck. Officers standing in the middle of the muddy road waved their hands above their heads, signaling to us to stop. A depression in the land ahead of us had turned into a fast-moving river, complete with whitecaps and waves. Despite the police warning, we decided to proceed on and check for ourselves.

A short drive ahead, a string of vehicles stood parked on either side of the flood waters, unable to pass. Large crowds of Timorese stood around gawking at the rain-swollen river, a few of them attempting to swim across! A car full of Catholic nuns revved its engine and prepared to take its chances. But the nuns decided to wait after Ashutosh Dey, a Concern disaster risk advisor from Bangladesh, suggested they not place themselves in danger by attempting to cross.

We milled around like everyone else for over an hour, watched the spectacle in front of us, and pondered what to do. Eventually, the flood waters began to recede a little and a Cherokee Jeep made a go for it. About halfway through the river, the Jeep appeared to stall but the driver gunned the engine and the truck made it across. The crowd cheered and gave high-fives to the Jeep’s occupants. We decided to go next.

I held my breath as Duarte, our driver, put the vehicle in four-wheel drive and lowered his foot on the accelerator. The Land Cruiser took off, swayed a little in the water, held its grip to the river bottom and safely took us across. As the vehicle climbed up the bank on the opposite side onto dry ground, the onlookers clapped wildly for us and yelled expression of congratulations. For a brief moment, I felt like a celebrity! A few miles later, we saw the Jeep stalled by the side of the road, its engine flooded.

The rest of the journey was uneventful, save for spectacular vistas of steep mountains cascading into the ocean. When we got back to Dili, the weather was as usual: hot and sunny, with an orange sunset.