One minute we were laughing in the outdoor kitchen, appreciating the rain for the break in the heavy, humid heat. Then came the water. All it took was a glance upstream, and suddenly there was too much. The rain turned from friend to enemy.
I grew up in New Mexico, where the problems I faced with water revolved around wondering if there would be enough to water the trees this year, or if the Rio Grade would run dry. 3,650 miles south, I was faced with a phenomenon I had never dreamed of experiencing. Tena, Ecuador lies in the middle of the rainforest, barely accessible by road and rich with culture. In the week that my exchange group lived here, I was exposed to more plant variety than nearly anywhere else on the planet, more monkeys trying to steal my school utensils than anywhere else I have every been, and the largest flood in this part of Ecuador in 36 years.
The water did not rise gradually; instead it came as a wall ripping out trees as it went. The inconspicuous creek, usually around five feet deep, rose by ten in an instant. I watched, beyond words, as the hungry water swallowed the steps from the beach to the kitchen one at a time, creeping its way to my feet. I felt no fear, only awe at this point. Floods were something I had never experienced before.
The rain did not stop.
The next morning I looked at all that was left of the brown swirling flood the night before. Our harmless river was still swollen, it had left silt as a slick carpet across everywhere it had covered, six inches in some places. Rocks had been pushed to new locations, plants uprooted, and a tree, twenty feet tall had been placed across the steps to the kitchen. This is an annual flood in Tena.
This flood was the excited gossip of our group for the next month, until we encountered a sobering reality.
January, two years ago Macu Piccu Peru made international news as floods pushed the side of a nearby mountain down into the tourist village of Aguascalientes. The surrounding lowland, the lost farmland, buildings, bridges, houses, schools, crops, livelihoods, and people to the same floods did not even make Peruvian news. The small indigenous village of Qoqocullo is built literally on the side of a hill, and lost their entire savings of seeds for planting when their community center was washed away. The three computers in the village were also lost. Our flood seemed like a joke compared to what these beautiful people had endured. The hardest part of their tearful story to hear, was that though the government had sent swift and efficient aid to Aguascalientes, the population of Qoqucullo had been living in plastic tents with no clean water for close to three months. Their hope for the next years crop had vanished with the seeds.
Both floods were caused as a result of global warming, which led to heavier rains, and therefore landslides. These experiences impacted me into action, working with people to protect the environment and those who are severely impacted by it. This experience led me to the Environmental Center at FLC. I hope I can make a difference, because reading about global warming is informative, but experiencing it personally, is a whole different story.
~ Hallie Taylor Wright