About 30 years ago, I was in a blizzard and wrote this reflection. I found it recently when cleaning out closets. I think it has some relevance to other types of storms besides weather storms, so I’d like to share it with you.
This wasn’t a snow blizzard. This was a real bad sandstorm that was a blizzard of a storm. It was so intense we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us. We had no way to get out of the relentless storm and very little protection.
It was in Juarez, Mexico. We were there with a group of teenagers on spring break. Our goal was to build two small houses for a couple of families who were living in homes cobbled together from old wood pallets, cardboard, and anything else they had could scrounge from the near-by dump. During our week in Juarez, we lived in tents pitched on hard ground in an open field. In the center of our campground was a gazebo-like structure with a 4-foot wall surrounding it. That allowed us to set up an outdoor kitchen with a bit of protection from the elements. Around the campground was a fence topped with barbwire. Our camp was on the outskirts of the city, on the edge of the dessert, not much protection, few trees, no grass, hard ground.
It was the second day of work. Everyone had worked really hard the first day and we were all eager to get back to the work-site since we had only five days to build the two small houses. Just after breakfast, as we were loading tools in the vans, the wind picked up. The sky turned a dark, dirty brown and the sand came in with a vengence. Relentless. Penetrating. Constant. We could see only dimly through the brown-out. Like looking through a veil. Dark shapes. Shapes of tents being buffeted in the wind. Shapes of people scurrying to find protection. Some went to their tents where the sand filtered through the porous walls and swirled in tiny particles all around them. Some of us huddled in the gazebo, using the wall as a wind block. We found a box of protective eye goggles and put them on. We turned our jacket collars up in an attempt to keep the sand from seeping down our shirts. We watched as the tents strained against their moorings. A dome tent came loose and rolled end over end like a tumbleweed.
We huddled by the wall, every few minutes checking our watches. How long would this go on? Time stretched. The wind. The sand. Our impatience. Our goals. Our plans. All was suspended. Another dome tent came loose and rolled away.
These spring break trips were always hard in different ways. We camped outdoors in whatever weather came to Juarez in March or April – hot, cold, rain, wind, and beautiful sunshine. Challenges were different every year and we usually weathered them, learned from them. But this was a set-back for sure. We were losing a whole morning of work and each day’s work set the stage for the following day.
Our two main rules for the week were always: 1) be flexible, and 2) no complaining. Quite logical and reasonable rules when you’re sitting it out in a sandstorm. If we opened our mouths to complain, our teeth got gritty. Since we couldn’t follow our work plan, there was nothing else to do but be flexible. When we quit fighting the facts, we settled down to wait. In spite of the grit in our ears and the sand in our hair, we began to 1) be flexible and 2) not complain. What else was there to do? We laughed at our new spiked hairstyles, turned up collars, and big glasses. And we realized how very lucky we were. After a week of living in the hard, hard weather of Juarez, we would go home to running water, green grass and temperature-controlled houses. We would sleep this one week with dirt and sand knowing for us it was temporary. We would think even more thoughtfully about the people in the neighborhood who would still be here when we went home.
Finally, about noon, the wind died down and the sand settled. The tent people emerged. The homeless went to retrieve their dome-tents. A festive mood enveloped the group. We had survived! We were twice as determined to finish the houses and doubled our efforts to make up for the lost time. With everyone focused, working hard and overtime, I’m happy to report that the houses were finished in the five-day time frame.
Reflecting on that storm, I realize I learned a few things that come back to tap me on the shoulder in other situations:
- In a storm, it’s hard for me to think about anything except getting through.
- Storms obscure everything except what’s right in front of me.
- Sometimes there’s nothing to do but wait.
- When in storms, it helps to be with friends.
- Even a little protection is better than none.
- In the long run, personal appearances don’t matter much.
- Some people experience much worse storms than others.
- Some people can’t get out of the storm.
- It’s good to remember the things I take for granted.