Waiting for Gillian

We are on cyclone watch. Tropical cyclone Gillian is due to come over Elcho Island on Sunday around lunchtime. Everyone I have spoken to said “Where are you living? Oh, that donga? Yeah, don’t stay in the donga during the cyclone!”

Kay, who I have been working with, kindly invited me to stay over Saturday night. But the cyclone’s due date got later and Kay’s daughter Faith asked me over for Sunday lunch. In any case, I would rather be in company for my first cyclone.

The Teacher-Linguist handed me a print-out of the Galiwin’ku guide to cyclones. I skipped through the 30 pages. The only part I could see as relevant to me was putting plastic bags over the computers. “Are we doing this?” I asked Teacher-Linguist, but he was preoccupied. He bagged all the computers after I had left. I only know because I came back for something I’d forgotten. I felt guilty, and a little left out, that I hadn’t helped with the preparations.

After I had finished work, I was having a chat in the staff room and Faith was telling me all about how to prepare for a cyclone. Stock up on water. Fill your bathtub. Fill your sink. Fill every water receptacle. Because when the power is out, the water can’t be pumped. And if there is damage to the pipes, the water can get mixed with sewerage and then the town will be out of water for who knows how long.

The problem is that I only have two bottles to put water in, and I don’t have a bathtub, or even a shower recess that can be plugged. And I have been boiling all my water before drinking it because it comes out of the tap a bit sketchy. I don’t understand the filling the sinks with water thing. Am I then going to drink that water? Yes I’ll clean my sinks beforehand, but am I really going to drink that water? Should I boil pots and pots of water and put it in my sinks?

You may have gathered that I am a little overwhelmed by this cyclone preparation thing. Maybe my best bet is just to go over and hang out with the people who know what’s what.

“Is this the cyclone coming now?” I asked Faith as a deluge poured on the staff room roof.

“No, this is the cyclone pulling all the rain from Darwin,” she said. “Tomorrow the weather will be fine, and that’s when you know the cyclone is coming. The calm before the storm.”

So I went to sleep last night to the calming sound of rain on the tin roof, and woke up to the sound of gunshots. Except it wasn’t gunshots. I checked my phone. Two messages from Max, Faith’s husband. Message one: “Sorry about the noise.” Message two: “When you get up, can we use a powerpoint?”

How intriguing. I modestyfied and went outside to investigate. It was only 8:30 – I hadn’t slept in to my satisfaction – but the fact that there were people outside my house made me feel like a lazy toad. Just like Faith had predicted, the morning was still and fine.

“Oh hey!” the group of men called out when I found them, around the side of my house, at a campfire space. Other than Max, they were mostly teachers from the school, whom I knew by sight. They had a roaring fire going and were wrapping potatoes in al foil and throwing them into it. The gunshot noise I had heard was the rocks they were throwing, I think. One of the teachers explained to me that it was his son’s 1st birthday and they were cooking a pig for the party. It was all very exciting, a hub of activity in my usually quiet neighbourhood.

“Did you want a powerpoint?” I asked.

“Oh yes!”

The powerpoint was needed to plug the music in. I took the extension cord inside and plugged it in. The men might have thought they were humbugging, but I liked the music blasting. I sat outside with my cooked breakfast and coffee and the men chatted and worked and moved behind the shade cloth that envelops my ridiculously huge verandah.

I went out after breakfast to check on progress, and they were well on their way to building a buried oven. There were palms involved, and injuries incurred. One of the men had been shot twice. “What by?” A rock flying out of the fire, I was told. “You have to be careful!” someone said earnestly. They were building a little protective fence around the fire.

The men have gone now, and taken their sound system with them. What was a roaring fire now resembles a mound of dirt. It’s all happening underneath, though. A feast in the making, just waiting to be revealed.

I will update you on what happens with the cyclone.


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