We were fortunate in the Mekong Delta. Although the land was built up from deposits of silt carried down from the Himalayan Plateau, wells only twenty-five feet deep provided plenty of sweet, clear water.
When I first arrived in Vietnam, we lived and worked in wabtoks; wood-frames lifted off the ground atop used artillery shell shipping containers, covered in screening and topped by canvas tents. Unfortunately, the canvas had rotted by the time the monsoons arrived and they easily tore open wherever the tents sagged and water pooled. We used to send a man around with a broom to push up from inside to spill the water off. However, one young genius used the handle end of the brook and popped the sagging tent like a water balloon. He got very wet and we had a good laugh.
The first time I experienced a monsoon I was walking towards my hootch (the wabtok where I lived) as a wall of rainwater approached. I was fascinated by the sight and neglected to pick up my pace. Although I was able to reach the screen door before the rain arrived, I stepped inside thoroughly soaked.
The engineers had prepared for the monsoon season by digging a network of deep, wide trenches throughout our base camp and leading away from it. It was a good idea but hardly adequate. They quickly filled with each storm and we found ourselves walking on a thin lake with hidden pitfalls. Using the radio tower as a reference point, we learned to navigate between the mess hall, our workplaces, and our living quarters while avoiding the ditches. Someone had laid down pallets like sidewalks in preparation for the coming of the rains, but these drifted with the winds and the currents and often led over the abysmal depths of the drainage system.
Our roads were compacted laterite, a clay-like material, that became as slick as oil in the rain. All vehicles, especially jeeps, slid across roads as though driving on black ice. One day as we were sliding sideways past a colonel on foot, I saluted, and he stepped into a ditch as we passed. I hope that he survived. We could not stop to help him, and I was still laughing much further down the road.