Analysis of 'And We Sold the Rain' by Carmen Naranjo

A Story of Corruption and Drought

Rain in Costa Rican jungle.
Image courtesy of Sarah Oosterveld.

Carmen Naranjo (1928 - 2012) was an award-winning Costa Rican poet and author whose many public roles included minister of culture, ambassador to Israel, director of the Museum of Costa Rican Art, and chief editor of Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana (EDUCA).

"And We Sold the Rain" (translated by Jo Anne Engelbert, 1988) is a brilliant satire and ought to be more widely known. I can't find any authorized copies online, but the story is included in several anthologies, such as And We Sold the Rain: Contemporary Fiction from Central America, that are still available from booksellers.

 You can also try searching for a copy in a library near you.

Plot

The story takes place in the near future in an unnamed Central American country. The country has sunk irreparably into debt, but while "hunger and poverty could no longer be concealed," corruption has resulted in a "growing number of Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs and a whole alphabet of trade names of gleaming new cars." In a country with daily rainfall, the government raises water bills but is unable to deliver drinking water to its citizens.

As the story continues, organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) engage in practices that perpetuate a cycle of poverty and debt instead of offering relief. The inept president and other public officials have no solutions except to hope that a "compliant public" will accept a "tax on air."

When a young woman from the "prosperous Emirate of the Emirs" visits the county to compete in a beauty pageant, she is amazed by the abundant rainfall.

She returns to her native country and convinces the sultan to enter into an agreement to buy the unnamed country's rain. Deeply in debt and not recognizing the rain as its most important resource, the unnamed country agrees. Giant funnels and an aqueduct are installed.

Soon the unnamed country becomes parched and ruined.

The IMF seizes all the payments for the rain in order to pay the interest on previous loans. Eventually the citizens of the unnamed country travel via the aqueduct to the Emirate of the Emirs, where they are treated "as second-class citizens, something we were already accustomed to."

When the price of oil plunges, the Emirate of the Emirs has to start taking out loans. The IMF takes control of the aqueducts and shuts off the water because of a default in payments, and the cycle of debt and poverty continues.

Humor with a Purpose

I admit that "funny" might not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of stories about poverty, corruption, and ecological disaster. But Naranjo's satire is about as bleakly, darkly funny as you can imagine.

Some of the humorous moments point out the low standards that have, of necessity, become accepted in the unnamed country and other developing nations. For example, a government minister frets when heavy rains flood the TV stations, radio stations, and newspaper plants because

"A people without news is a lost people, because they don't know that everywhere else, or almost everywhere else, things are even worse."

At first we assume the news outlets are important because they create an informed citizenry and foster debate and discussion.

Instead, it turns out, the news outlets are important because they make sure the citizens will gratefully accept their hardships.

Similarly, when the sultan phones the trade minister, he asks,

"Hello, am I speaking with the country of rain, not the rain of marijuana or cocaine, not that of laundered dollars, but the rain that falls naturally from the sky and makes the sandy desert green?"

The matter-of-fact discussion of drugs, money laundering, and environmental pillaging highlights the dearth of legitimate economic options available to developing nations.

In other places, Naranjo uses humor to emphasize the stark contrast between developing and developed nations. The unnamed country organizes

"the Third World contest to choose 'Miss Underdeveloped,' to be elected, naturally, from the multitudes of skinny, dusky, round-shouldered, short-legged, half-bald girls with cavity-pocked smiles, girls suffering from parasites and God knows what else."

Here, beauty pageants can be seen as an absurd luxury of developed nations -- something possible only when basic necessities like nutrition and healthcare have been met.

Preservation of Dignity

"And We Sold the Rain" is unflinching satire. Naranjo doesn't shy away from profanity, and she doesn't spare anyone she considers guilty -- not international relief agencies, not the government, not developed nations. Her use of humor makes all of these powerful institutions look petty, foolish, and incompetent. At the same time, her humor helps preserve the dignity of the ordinary citizens of the country -- the people "living on radish tops, bananas, and garbage" -- by letting the rest of us know they see through us.