Holy Cats and Dogs (or should that be Rhinos and Hippos?)

These days we are actually relishing a marvel of nature with the arrival of the long rains, in Swahili called Masika.

To see photos of our children revelling in tropical rain click here or go to:


Here in the late afternoon, the swirling grey clouds have massed around the bulk ofMount Kilimanjaro, followed by blustering winds, a reliable precursor of the deluge to come.A grey curtain of water, unloaded from saturated clouds, limits the visibility and the sheer force of the downpour creates a thundering on the roof.Chris and Eva have just tumbled in the door sodden and laughing, caught by rain in the course of their run.Sasha and Eva head back out to be showered in it.

Every evening around dinner we look out from under the eaves as sheets of water cascade off the corrugated metal roofing, each trough spewing a thin ribbon of white water along the sides of the buildings, like zebra stripes.  Under the roof, the sound of raindrops crescendos quickly from gentle tapping to an alarming rumble, causing us to both wonder and fret about the villages and families out there with much inferior housing.  Flashes of lightening illuminate hospital buildings and surrounding hills and roars of thunder above reminded me of God at the bowling alley.

After dinner we all run home from Sister’s Private where dinner is served , splashing ankle deep in rapidly forming puddles and covering our heads with platters, plastic bags, coats and cartons.The smarter ones now arrive to dinner with an umbrella.  Rushing water floods the path to our house, though Chris’ hand dug trenches are quite successful at redirecting the flow into the nearby vegetable garden.I’m reminded of the stubborn father in Poisonwood Bible who planted without consulting the local Africans only to have his garden washed away by the rains.  Here too the Africans mound up the sides of the beds with soil but even still run- off has broken through some of the mounds, uprooting plants and leaving a fan of debris. The remainder thrives and as Grandpa Ross, visiting here with Grandma Judy recently, commented, “I can see those plants growing!”

One damp night Eva heard a strange noise and in the morning we found a small slope had given way sending a mound of sod and dirt slouching up against the house, the walkway impassable.  The curriculum that day was focused on erosion, the causes of landslides and the fine art of shoveling.  A few days later we woke to a huge tree collapsed across the pathway to our house, requiring further detours.  The fallen trunk missed the power line and our new chicken house (fortunately, I say, though not so sure  Chris agrees).  A worker with calloused hands and one sharp panga had it cleared by noon.

Beyond our village evidence of the rain is everywhere; in the swollen red rivers, in the deep cut gorges, and in the transformation of roads from day to day. I’m grateful to have made so many village visits in January knowing now how precarious the roads have become.  This week we weighed the safety of a trip to Legho, a remote hilltop village, but chose to give it a try after a day of sunshine.  Down the gorge and up the next slope we eventually lost traction and started to slide back, the clay filling in the tread until the tires were smooth.  Briefly, of course, I looked at this clay and just wanted to get some on a pottery wheel!  But soon gunning it got us to the top where we quickly surveyed a village house for repairs all the while glancing at the skies for rain.While the sun shines the track will dry and the road will improve, but even a little rain and the road becomes slick like ice.  Lately I wish for Canadian winter tires! Any other hilltop visits will require hiking boots.

Despite its hazards, the rain is celebrated.It is deeply ingrained in people to plant during this season.Fields have been readied since January and maize is seeded just in time for the moisture.  The rains have arrived amply and on schedule and the overflowing irrigation channels supply water to shamba plots all over the mountain.  Early every morning a stream of village people, women with hoes balanced on their heads and men with them hoisted upon shoulders, head down to the fields.  People have their own plots but larger farms employ village labour for about two dollars per day. There is a lot of work around and the pace and mood is upbeat.Working in fields, men and women, stained to radiance by the auburn soil, move between young maize plants, seeding beans and removing weeds with hand hoes. The young corn is iridescent.It’s really a vision, compared to the land that we arrived to in September which had one mediating on global warming, deforestation, overgrazing, and desertification all in one.  The capacity of the land to recover seems boundless.

The rains have brought a dump of snow to Kilimanjaro as well.Yesterday, driving toward Marangu with Mama Nyaki she called the mountain “her beautiful girl”, all blanketed in whiteness with glaciers hopefully plumping up.  One glance at that sparkling vista felt like a relief, a good news story. The rain is here and therefore so is the snow on Kilimanjaro.

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