Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ashed Rain

Merapi may not have officially erupted today but the volcano sent up several large ash clouds and we finally got a taste of the mountain this afternoon here in my corner of South Magelang. A short, insistent afternoon shower brought with it a wet coating of ash on everything outside my window. The classroom roof kitty-corner across the parking lot, the fat-leaved trees straightaway down the drive, the sandy parking lot itself, turned from red-brown to white-gray in minutes. I stepped out to take some pictures and the rain splat on my arms and head. Dirty rain, dark on the skin, light when it dries. My forearms and blue t-shirt speckled like a painter's.

Eleventh-graders wash down an ashed bike.

Volcanologists quoted in today's paper said Merapi could conceivably keep this up for two more months: ( That's bad news for the people waiting in those temporary shelters inside high school auditoriums and at tent camps like the one in Sawangan for permission to return to their homes. Two months of sleeping on the floor or the ground--they had no cots at either shelter I visited last week, just blankets and thin sleeping pads--without access to their homes or farms or livestock. Two months of dirty rain, sometimes several times a day.

UPDATE: The roads tonight were a mess. Turns out wet volcanic ash is about as slick as black ice, and it has a roadway consistency something like slush. When I first turned the corner near my house tonight and saw the road stretch out with fresh, wet tire tracks leading out into the dark, it felt a little like home: Hitting the roads after a good snow, before the plows are out. But then I'm not usually hitting those roads on two wheels, exposed to all elements.

The bike was tippy and fishtaily and not at all fun to ride. At red lights, I'd put my foot down and it would just keep going--slipping out and away, unable to plant. The rain came lazily but left streaks on my visor, grit in my teeth. I was soon sorry I'd gone out. As the rain let up and traffic picked up, some roads dried up quickly. Good for traction but in some ways worse--at least the water holds the ash down. Dry, it is in your eyes and into your lungs, burning both. Not like snow. Not for fun.

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