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Ile Jowhor

Fourth Floor in Hurricane Harvey

Every thing is big in Texas. That's what they say. Wide motorways, massive cars, burgers, and a huge amount of guns too. These are not things I particularly seek out when on holiday, but I came to Houston all the same. I ignored the warnings of a possible hurricane; tickets were already booked and I'm not the sort of traveller who takes weather warnings seriously. Foolish, I know. I grew up in Port Harcourt, southern Nigeria where we enjoy two seasons, wet and dry, our rainstorms drain quickly into the Atlantic Ocean.

I spent the last year in Boston University as a fellow and scholar in the creative writing program. I finished there in mid August and wanted to see a bit of the US before heading back home. An old friend from Nigeria was in Houston for work and I thought why not stop over for a day or two before going west to California. Houston is hot and humid in summer. There is a pool and Jacuzzi in the courtyard of the apartment complex my friend stays in. On my first day, I stand on the balcony, four floors high, looking down at the courtyard, the water sparkling in the sunlight, and palm trees still as statuary.  A man is in the water. He's as big as a house, floating belly up, tiny swimming trunks, his skin the colour of boiled lobsters. The air is stifling and he barely moves in the water, stunned listless by the heat.

The rainstorms began the next day; flights got cancelled because the runways were flooded. I spent long afternoons sitting on the balcony, watching the watery world and the mighty wind twisting and breaking the palm branches below. The waters rose. An alarm went off somewhere in the building and news outlets reported flash flood warning and hurricane alerts. I had never seen anything like it.

By the third day news reports showed videos of flooded suburbs, people chest-high in water, some clutching a few of their possessions, many holding children. It would take a few days for us to know the degree of devastation.

There was also a flood happening in Niger, another in central Nigeria, and the downpours since the month of June had wrought catastrophic results in Bangladesh. Thousands of people displaced, lives lost.

It is obvious that we all live in the same world, under the same skies, and it's about time we start acting like it. Hurricanes and floods have no respect of borders. We are told we ought not to politicise human suffering of this nature. I'm never sure if people who say those things actually mean well. If something can be done to prevent or reduce human suffering, we ought to be working towards that now.

This morning as the city of Houston goes about rebuilding itself and as people find the strength to overcome the effects of this disaster, I sit on the balcony overlooking the debris below courtyard. No one is there. Three of the palm trees lay on the floor, torn from their roots. A man arrives, short even for a Mexican, wearing sunglasses and a sombrero hat. He begins to clean the pool. I watch him work and in about an hour the pool begins to sparkle again. He looks up at some point and I wave at him. He waves back.