It rained today, long and heavy, for the first time this year. The sky darkened and the wind blew hard, heralding the downpour for at least half an hour before the heavens finally opened. COTN, Banta is a great place to be when it rains. The leisurely pace of life means that you are often in a position to stop what you are doing and enjoy the torrent rather than cursing it for slowing you down or soaking you through when you were in the middle of some busyness. And so today, as the deluge began just as I had reached my house after work, I replaced my office nonsense with a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops and dashed out in the rain with Phillip who had been standing on my veranda when I arrived. Kids waved excitedly from the safety of their own verandas and for a few moments we all just watched the sky and the impact it was making around us.
“Phillo, the windows!” We dashed through the house closing all the windows as the rain gained ferocity. The hatches battened, we smiled at each other and enjoyed the fresh feeling in the air and that particular cosiness which makes its presence felt when you are in a place of shelter from externally raging elements. I was about to sit down to some food when I glimpsed inside my bedroom. My room is at the front of the house, the side which at that point was baring the brunt of the watery onslaught, and due to a defect in the design of the windows its defences had been breached. A growing pool was forming in the middle of the room as water streamed down the walls beneath the two front facing windows. Phillip and I spun in to action and before you could say, “Uncle, there’s a swimming pool in your room”, we had moved everything out of harms way.
The rain was still showing no sign of letting up so Phillip and I quickly lined up five buckets outside to gather water and give me a break from pumping and carrying for a few days. Then we took the plunge to see what other people were up to. Behind House Nine a team of girls were taking advantage of the abundant water to scrub the drains that run around and behind each of our houses. They were laughing and, their eyes squinting in the wet, trying to encourage me to show them a film that evening. House Two were washing their veranda. The boys at House Five were out front in their underwear aiming karate kicks at the sheets of rain. Now soaked through I decided I may as well go the whole hog and washed my hair. Phillip had grabbed Amidu and the two of them were saving my room from destruction and by the time they were done a few others would arrive as the buzz of excited, opportunist industry would build to a crescendo. In typical acts of respect and affection two girls fought over who would wash my flip flops, another asked if she could wash my door mat, a fourth started to wipe my veranda, a fifth and sixth would collect the full buckets, empty them into the barrel in my bathroom and replace them. Amidu and Phillip would move on to wash the picnic table at the front of my house and that done scrub the walls, a task which Joseph also joined in to help with.
Slowly the rain began to ease and then stop all together. Little insects I had never seen before started to buzz around in the cool air and the kids told me how good they taste when fried or parched. With an, “I’ll show you”, Massah jumped down from my veranda and ran after something she could see but I could not. After a short but amusing chase she darted back and, having pulled the wings, popped the little guy in her mouth. She chewed for a second before sticking out her tongue where the remains of a bug rested. “If I fry some would you eat them, Uncle?”
Of course I will Massah.
As so often is the case with times like yesterday in a place like this there is another side of the coin. Because as we excitedly enjoyed the change of weather and made the most of the abundance, some others in the villages were hoping this would not happen.
People have had time to burn their farms as this rain is far from early. Using machetes (called cutlasses here) and rudimentary axes, farmers go in to areas of bush in teams and, felling trees at an impressive rate, hack out an area which they then burn and plant. It is hard work and with poisonous plants, falling wood and flying machetes, far from safe. A friend of mine recently visited our clinic with a large gash of a machete wound in his hand. I observed and assisted at the clinic as this strong farmer winced through the stinging, cleaning process and the nurse struggled to get the needle through the tough skin of his palm as she stitched him up. But the rains held off for a decent length of time and so every day for weeks, on at least one place on the sky line, a grey pillar has been seen rising up. On Saturday a ferocious fire raged behind a thick section of bush visible from my house. The fire reds and yellows could be seen through and on both side of the bush green and the smoke streamed up in shades of grey, purple and black.
So it was not the farms that I was so concerned about but something a lot simpler, more basic. The last time I was in Ngolala my friend Brima had pointed to the top of his house where the thatch had fallen away. “I am praying that it won’t rain tonight or everything will be soaked”, he said. Again, the time should have been there for Brima and his grandfather to sort out their thatch but, as my own window showed, this was the kind of rain that tested every defence and, where that was found wanting, would take no prisoners. The rainy season will pose this kind of question throughout so it won’t come as any surprise to anyone in the villages. But it is just another one of the things on a fairly lengthy list that can make life uncomfortable, and at times darn right deadly, for the people around me.