"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

6.10.2007

restless when you are the rain falling down

Something is wrong with the rains in Africa.

It did not rain while I was in Kenya, but it was unseasonably cool, and everyone told me that the dry season was late. Riding down from Kigali yesterday, it rained and rained and rained from just past Ruhengheri down to Goma.

No one believes me when I say that it is cold in this part of the Congo. We are just a few degrees south of the Equator, at the same latitude as the hot, aird plains of western Tanzania. But we are also in some of the highest of Africa's highlands, surrounded by mountains on three sides and a lake on the fourth. And when it is raining, it is cold. There's a reason the Belgians settled here in such large numbers; it's possible for an outsider to survive in this temperate climate, there aren't many malarial mosquitos, and the fertile volcanic soil made it relatively easy to turn a profit.

The fact that it is raining here means that it is not raining somewhere else; namely, those points just on the other side of the Equator. Normally, the rains flip-flop. When it's dry here, it rains there, and vice-versa. This is why the Congo River is one of the few rivers in Africa to have a consistently strong flow of water. It always has a source.

During the rainy season in Goma, the weather follows a very predictable pattern. Mornings are sunny and warm, often without a cloud in the sky. Clouds begin to build in the early afternoon, and sometime between noon and 4pm, the sky bursts open for an hour or so. Then it usually tapers off to make way for a beautiful sunset. Occasionally, there's a late-night thunderstorm.

Yesterday and today we've had hours of slow rain. This is not normal. It's not just that the rains should have ended in May; N said that the dry season started early this year, that for more than a month, they had no rain. And now the rain has returned, off-schedule. No one knows why. A theory I've heard more than once suggests that it might have something to do with the gasses from the volcano.

That doesn't explain why it's still raining in Kigali and Nairobi, though. Or why the rain is lasting for hours on end, with lightning and thunder at times.

As my friend at the Happiness Hotel in Kigali said, "You know, the climate is changing." We know when a summer is particularly hot back home, but our lifestyles have changed to the point that we can mitigate its effects. Put simply, our lives don't change that much, which makes it easy for us to ignore potentially catastrophic changes in the environment. Those people in this world whose life and livlihood depends so directly on the predictable cycles of rain and drought don't need Al Gore to explain it.

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