Wednesday, December 1, 2010


And time drags on here. Without work I am a fidgety, indolent blob of flesh. School is effectively over, some minor administrative paperwork remains. All I have to do is sign gradesheets. Maybe 30 minutes of real work in a day.

So all I can say is that my life is pretty plain, so I sit around my house and pray for rain.

The hot season is also the planting season, because it is also the wet season. The wet season is erratic in Africa, one year having three times as much rainfall as the next. The rain is vital, the most common profession—or rather way of life—here in Mozambique is subsistence farming. Almost everyone has a machamba (garden/farm) to “supplement their diets” as we say, or sell some extra goods in the market. Even I have a small machamba in my front yard to get the green veggies I so dearly miss. And while I have water at the mission, the vast majority of Mozambicans rely on rainfall.

Small talk these days revolves around how hot it is and the lack of rain. It rained last night, one of the first major rains of the season. It’s a promising sign. And in Mozambique when it rains it pours.

It can start in a matter of seconds. Literally seconds: when the drops start to fall people run for cover, women with buckets full of fish on their heads, men in ties, little kids, everyone. When I first saw this I laughed, what’s the matter with a few raindrops? But moments later it started raining, I mean really raining, and I understood.

It’s severe. The rain falls in sheets, in buckets, in pools. Within moments your shirt is soaked. In two minutes your thick khakis are drenched through, like someone just pushed you into the pool on your birthday. If you’re caught in it you’re screwed.

So you walk around armed with an umbrella, always. The problem is that the rain is wholly unpredictable. Dark rain clouds will hang overhead for days, staring down at you waiting for the one time you run to the market just to pick up toilet paper, you won’t be gone more than ten minutes. You learn this lesson only once—it takes forever for your clothes to dry without direct sunlight—and you are forever after vigilant with your umbrella. But you’ll learn the hard way, arriving at your front door pitiful, relieved and sopping like a wet kitten.

The roof on my house is sheets of zinc. Every huge raindrop that smacks onto my roof echoes down into my house. When the sheets, buckets, pools fall the sound is huge, like machine-gun clad battalions firing outside my windows. You can be sitting next to someone and almost shouting just for them to hear you.

Every joint, every nail and screw-hole is an opportunity for the rain to get in. In the middle of night I awoke with my pillow soaked in the midst of the deafening rain. I arose with a start and moved my bed, only to find that the rain was leaking everywhere. I used every bucket and basin I had to collect the leaks around my house. I draped several garbage bags over my mosquito net to protect myself. My mattress was wet, so I slept on my thermarest atop my bed.

The most spectacular thing about the rainy season isn’t the rain itself. I have never seen, never imagined, lightning like I have seen in Mozambique. It cracks down from the heavens in awesome bolts, dwarfing us tiny humans below. The bolts dart sideways between clouds, and dance across the horizon. The huge spikes of electricity remind you how tall the sky is. More amazing than any fireworks I have seen.

And the thunder. The thunder is unbelievable. The rain pounding my roof is nothing compared to the boom of thunder. The sound is vast, almost painful, and as I sit alone in my house the gigantic blast fills me with an irrational, awed fear. My cat and I sit together, grateful for each other’s company, the hackles raised on our necks, on edge for the next thunder crack.

It stops just as quickly. Without warning the rain slows and stops as if some great god was simply turning off the faucet. The silence rings in your ears, and you can feel your heart beat gratefully but tentatively slowing down. After all, it could start again at any moment.

20 days until my family arrives.