#flashfictionfriday: Hope in the Desert of Plenty

Sunset_in_Dubai_desert_12I dreamed of a green oasis, and woke this evening, feeling disoriented at the normality of our desert home. A little voice in my head kept saying this is wrong, this is not how it’s supposed to be. The voice was mistaken because this is how it is, and what it is.

Grandfather frequently moans that it wasn’t always this way, blaming this and that technology we can no longer use, but it doesn’t matter. Yes, I remember those days, and maybe it’s not supposed to be, but it’s life, and we live with it.

At sunset, I went out to work in the garden and found the wind had blown the muslin sun shield off the dandelions. I replaced it, but don’t know if they were harmed by the direct sunlight. The wind usually rises later in the day, so perhaps they weren’t exposed to too much. I don’t know what will happen if they don’t make it.  I do have plenty of the leaves dried and have saved every seed, but fresh greens are essential, and dandelions are the faithful greens that produce all year round and keep us alive no matter what happens to the other vegetables.

Other plants frequently fail when the temperature reaches the high 120s. With luck, we’ll get one more crop of beans harvested before the rains.

The Himalaya blackberries are covered with small berries and with constant care they might survive the drought. The berries are a staple, lending sweetness to our food and blackberry wine makes life pleasant. They’re also attractive to the wasps that pollinate our crops, so we desperately need them.

But it’s been a hard, hot year, and even the Scotch broom, which we’ve come to depend on for everything from fuel, to building materials and fibers for cloth, is struggling. Hopefully, I’ll have enough water to keep the plantation alive. My fog traps have grown steadily less productive, as they do every year at the peak of the heat, but we’re not going thirsty yet.

Water is an issue, but when is it not? It’s always darkest before the dawn, someone once said. I like to think of it as “driest before the monsoon.” November is coming, and the downpour will begin, those brief weeks of dangerous weather and devastation, fearfully clinging to hope we won’t be washed away in the floods.

But this year, if we make it through the winds, it will be a blessing and not a catastrophe. Yes, it’s too much water all at once, but we’ve adapted. Where we once lived on the ground, we have raised our shacks on tall stilts. Our dandelion, blackberry, and broom plantations are situated on high, raised platforms, with muslin sun filters, as are our goat pens. I know, it seems odd when for eight months out of the year there is no water for many miles, but we’re safe from the wildcats and feral dogs, and they can’t get to our goats. The wild rabbits can’t destroy our farms.

Our village of twenty families has survived when the others failed because we learned how to shield our crops from the both the broiling sun and the punishing downpour with sturdy awnings. This year, the moment the rain stops, we’ll be more than an island of shacks on stilts in a shallow sea. This year we will become an oasis.

Every year until now, we’ve struggled to save that water, as within a month the sea becomes large puddles and within another month we’re left with scant barrels of water and our fog traps to get us by for the rest of the year.

This year we’re prepared for the monsoon, and will be able to save the runoff in a cistern. It’s impossible to labor outside during the day, but we spent our chilly nights building it, covering it with soil to insulate it from the heat, so it resembles a small, perfect hill. We lined the interior with fired ceramic tiles, and made sure every roof is pitched and has gutters to channel the water into it. This last year there was no rest for the wicked, as they say, but it will be worth it. Next year we won’t have to choose between thirst and watering the livestock and plants.

Grandfather is filled with doom and gloom, but not me. Next year will be a year of lush gardens, of cool, sweet blackberry wine at sunrise when the work-night has ended. Next year all our babies may survive.

Next year.

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