While sleeping, I had a dream about my landlord. I saw my landlord suddenly passed away in my dream, and I was helping his family install the black cloth in the street in front of the house as part of the funeral decoration custom in Timor-Leste. I started to feel shocked at his sudden death, and it awoke me. I could hear the noisy sound of the rain crashed on top of the zinc roof. The rain has been pouring heavily since last night at around 8.00 pm. “How come it still rain like this?” I asked myself in sleepy mode. Someone came and knocked on the door of my room. It was one of the landlord’s niece.
“Mana, maun, the water is getting into the house,” she said and moved to another tenant’s room to warn them.
In shock, we quickly got up from the bed. As we put our feet on the floor, it was no longer the dry floor we usually stepped on but a wet floor covered to our ankle level. Damn it! We realized that we were having some of our stuff put on the floor, and they must have been soaking wet. The books in the paper box, groceries we purchased last night were still kept in the cloth bag and kept on the floor—a suitcase with our essential documents maintained under the bedroom. Fortunately, we stored the rice in a plastic box. The water must have been getting into the room for about an hour ago. If it remained, we should find an upper place to keep our stuff. We quickly move all things to the upper-level object such as bedroom, table, or high-legged chairs as soon as possible and ensuring nothing was missing. We went out to check the surrounding. To our shock, the interior of the house has turned to a pool. The water level was reaching our shank.
Soaking wet and cold, we try moved to check the entrance of the house. As soon as we open the entrance door, the water came like a river. The water has covered the gate entirely, and as we got through, the water level has reached our knees. It is due to the entrance part of the house is shallow. Trying to calm our hearts, we moved forward to check the outdoor surrounding. Although the place is close to the street, we no longer see the road but only a stream of muddy brown rainwater flowing like a river in front of us. We were in flood.
We have been living in this rental house for almost eight years, but this was the first time we experience the worst flood. Although this area is prone to flood, unlike last year, we could manage to prevent water from getting into the house by quickly taking out the water with a bucket many times at the entrance until it dried. But this year, the water stream was strong, and no matter how hard we try to take out the water, it kept coming into the entrance and the house. It was already six o clock in the morning, yet the heavy rain and flood showed no sign to stop yet. The heavy rain had been pouring since last night. As we could not do much at that moment, the least we could do was to help each other keeping the stuff and belongings in a safe, dry place. The upper-level objects like a table, chairs, or upper part of the cabinet would be helpful for us to put the staff for the time being. Meanwhile, we were hoping that the rain would stop instantly and the water level would not rise higher.
Gathered outside the house with our feed soaked in the floodwater, we observed how water had covered our neighborhood street with its muddy brown color. On the other side of the road were our neighbors and some of the student tenants. They were also soaking wet upon trying to save their stuff and belongings from the flood water that infiltrate their rooms. Some of them were trying to reduce the water level by persistently taking out the water with buckets or sweeping out the water, although the water level remains. Some children and youth who might not be much affected by the flood were merrily playing in the floodwater and enjoying the rain shower in the flooded streets. One of the neighbors even took out his balloon mattress and put it on the streaming water, pretending to ride a boat in a river.
On the other side of the neighborhood, a tree was broken and falling, blocking the main road. Since our neighborhood street can be an alternative road, the cars and motorbike passing by our street and their driving gave added pressure to the water and made it getting into the house even worse. To minimize the water getting into the house, we blocked the road with two empty drums put on each side of the road as a sign that they should drive slow when passing by our street.
The rain has not stopped yet while the water kept flowing. The electricity was off. With the remaining battery in the smartphones and a weak internet connection, we tried to log in to Facebook to check how others were doing that day. To our shock, it broke our hearts to see friends and other people posted a live video about how severely they were affected by the flood in their areas/neighborhood. There were also posts about how water covered many roads in Dili in brown muddy water. Meanwhile, some other roads collapsed. Many houses located at the edge of the rivers collapsed and were carried away by the water current and people watching these views in horror.
From Becora Terminal (bus station), Bidau, Caicoli, Villa Verde, Palapasso, Aitarak Laran, Fatuhada, Comoro until Tasi Tolu, all these populated areas in Dili areas were all in flood. Many people from these affected area immediately evacuated themselves to the nearest evacuation centers. Unfortunately, many of them claimed that they could not even save their household belongings and important personal stuff. The live videos shown people shocked, scared and crying. We could only saw these posts in silence while the floodwater soaked our feet. In our hearts, we prayed that the rain should stop soon, but as we saw the sky above the hills of Dare at the northern side of Dili, it was still a grey cloud covering the mountain, which meant the rain remained heavy there and the flood will remain as well.
Suddenly one of our fellow tenant neighbors told us that he needed to go to Comoro to see his relative, a police officer, who just died in a flood. The police officer was trying to save someone who was carried away by the flood, but after getting the person to the safe edge of the river, he got carried away instead. The body was found quite some miles from his original place. Soon after leaving with a motorbike, our tenant neighbor immediately returned because roads were difficult to pass through. Again we heard another news that a family lost their babies and other adult family member during the flood. Some were lost in the water current and not yet found.
Hearing this news was so saddening that even looking that even the coldness and muddiness of the floodwater were less cold and muddy than our sorrow. We could not imagine how hard it must be for the family who lost their loved ones on this day. Even though this day was the Resurrection Sunday, which many Timorese catholic suppose to celebrate through morning mass (amidst COVID19 and mass are held online), instead of celebrating it with joy that morning, we celebrated in sorrow.
Until around 10.00 o’clock in the morning, the rain eventually stopped, and the water level started to diminish. We gathered up, and everyone took a bucket to help each other take out the dirty muddy floodwater from the house’s entrance little by little. Extremely exhausted, it took us almost the whole afternoon o finally get the water out and thus allow the water level inside the house to diminish and dried out. Although we had to suffer cramp and back pain for taking out the water many times, the next thing we still got to do was to clean the house thoroughly by sweeping out the remaining water and mopping and rinsing the floor almost six times to get every room adequately cleaned. Until lunchtime, we could not cook because there was no electricity and inside the house it was dark. The landlord bought us each a pack of biscuits and a small bottle of cola drink for lunch as his token of appreciation and solidarity. We ate with no appetite, our legs were sore, and our back felt so much pain when sitting. Upon finishing with the cleaning and leaving them to dry, we went out and sat outside with our fellow neighbors. The street surface was then able to be seen after the floodwater has dried. Upon experiencing the flood on that morning, I learned that seeing the road clean and dry without floodwater covered it was indeed a blessing. Seeing a clear sky is a blessing. Seeing things in the house clean and dry with floodwater coming in is a blessing. Usually, we never appreciate this and see those aspects as trivial matters in our daily life.
Later in the evening, the electricity was back to normal; however, as the night came, we no longer feel safe like the other regular nights before. Still, we were worried that the tropical cyclone of Seroja might not have passed yet, that the heavy rain may come again, and that the flood might appear again. We saw the post about thousands of people staying in the evacuation centers that night. We believed they too must have missing to be in their own house, and they must have been worried about the situation at their homes. That night, I found many of my fellow tenants and neighbors slept late for the sake of anticipating the heavy rain that may come again. Would the heavy rain come again? We hoped not. May it passed soon.