Day 331: When the Rains Come
The rain we desperately arrived. Photo: PixaBay
Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.
RAINY season is here. After seeing the sea last night, Mweda told Megan that there would be no sun today. She teased him, saying that there would be 30 minutes of rain and then the blazing glory of the sun to which we've all become accustomed.
It was moments after dawn when the sky's lips split, first just wide enough to spew a whisper of rain. However, it's enough rain to force me out from under the sky and downstairs.
Baby Dada is asleep on a mattress that she dragged out of one of the bedrooms onto the dirt floor of the common area. I place my mat down near her feet and curl up in my sleeping bag. I zip it all the way up so that only my nose is protruding in an attempt to escape the flies. Their numbers are multiplying every other day. Their feet dance on any patch of skin they can find, making it impossible to sleep in the morning unless I'm completely covered.
Today, the flies are bad, but the air is cool from the rain.
The rain continues as the daylight rolls through all 50 shades of gray.
The showers ease as I pour what's left of the hot water Megan boiled for tea this morning into a cup of instant coffee. I've avoided coffee in the morning since I arrived at The House of Giggles, preferring to get straight to work to wake myself, as well as to get an hour or two of honest labor out of the way while it's still cool outside. However, this morning, I'm feeling a hard-chill vibe. Sipping on coffee, I dive further into Uwem Akpan's Say You're One of Them the collection of African short stories that I'm borrowing from Twiga Hostel.
“Where needs more fence?” Baby Dada asks shortly after joining the waking world. These last couple of days she keeps claiming that she wants to help with the fence, but has ended up chilling super hard instead – not that there's anything wrong with that.
“Give me like five minutes and I'll come do it with you,” I say from the depths of the big hammock.
The rain starts back up as Baby Dada and I begin to collect bunches of the thorniest acacia branches we can wield in our battle against the neighbor's chickens.
The shower turns into a deluge as buckets of water crash against the ground. If I was alone, I'd call it a day. However, with Baby Dada happily weaving the sharp needled branches into the wooden fence, we're having too much fun to stop.
My tongue tastes the salt that drips down my face onto my lips.
“It's strange that even the rain is salty here,” I think, before realizing that salt is more likely being washed from my hair or face than magically coming from the thick, dark storm clouds above.
“This is probably going to be the cleanest we've been since getting here,” I tell Baby Dada.
“Yeah, for sure.”
We're making solid progress as we shore up breaches in the fence that the chickens are sneaking through.
Megan, wearing a pink waterproof jacket with a hood over a top bun, looks a bit like a Conehead as she makes her way into the village to pick up two new volunteers.
“Winter's coming,” I tell Baby Dada as we prepare our fort against the chicken's imminent offensive.
“Yeah, it feels like we're back in Germany. It's nice.”
The weather has cooled completely, the rain comes in waves. Blankets of hard rain sheets crash against us before taking a breather, letting silkier sheets of rain caresses are bared arms, a moment of reprieve.
I'm on the other side of the fence collecting branches that have been cut by someone. I toss a bundle over the fence to Baby Dada so she can plug a hole in the section of fence she's working on.
“It's so fun. It feels like we are preparing for war,” Baby Dada says in her usual, jubilant, rising tone, which always makes it sound as if she's surprised by the beauty of reality.
With the last section of the fence patched up on this side, we head back to the House of Giggles to change into dry clothes.
“Can I tell you a secret?” I ask Baby Dada as we flop onto the mattress in the common room.
“Yes, of course.”
“Mau killed and cooked one of the chickens last night for dinner. It's supposed to be a big secret though.”
“What are you two talking about?” Flora asks.
I guess this is why secrets are hard to keep in such a small community.
With the stove now broken – the nozzle on the gas tank needs to be replaced – and buckets of rain coming down outside, and dribbles of rain coming down inside, it seems that our only hope for fire is getting some charcoal from town.
“I'll go get charcoal,” Flora says.
“I'll come with you,” I say.
The rain gathers momentum as we all pick at a large bucket of cabbage salad that Flora whipped up for lunch.
“I wouldn't blame you if you didn't want to go,” Megan tells Flora as the rain.
“I wouldn't be Flora if I didn't do what I said I'd do,” Flora says with something between a grimace and a smile on her face.
“She just wants to go so she can have some chips mayai,” I say.
A guilty little smile flashes across Flora's face.
“You're cheeky,” Megan says, her elfish eyes bouncing between Flora and me.
Chips mayai are the main reason I'm interested in walking with Flora into town. Of course, it will be interesting to see what the village looks like when the rain is coming down hard like this. To see how it transforms for the rainy season. But more importantly, chips and eggs sound like an ideal encore to the salad.
“I think I'll leave my phone at Ibraham's to charge,” Flora says as we start preparing to walk into the village.
“He's already got one of my phones, so I think I won't,” I say with a smile as I start to put on my rain gear.
Flora and Ibraham have become pretty close since the disappearance of my stuff. It's easy to think that his kindness is an attempt save face. However, I think a lot of it simply has to do with Flora being a beautiful, interesting woman.
Flora and I happily trudge through the bush until it spills out onto the main road. We walk down to Ibraham's restaurant and lodge. He's not there, but his wife opens their door to allow us in.
Unable to easily remove my boots I linger at the intricately carved doorway. Ibraham's little girl has her hair teased out and is playing with toys in the clean, modern little home. His wife allows Flora to charge her phone. With the door open, I scan the table tops inside for any sign of my bag and its contents. I picture his daughter holding my phone like a new toy. However, there's nothing, as I expected. It would be a silly slip for him to still have anything, assuming he had it at all.
Flora joins me back outside, where the tropical storm continues to pound the coconut trees and the coral rag bedrock. The road has been transformed into a muddy stream.
Large fishing nets are still spread out in the grass of the open field at the beginning of the village, though there is nobody out in the rain mending them.
“I hope nobody is out at sea,” Flora says as a huge gust of wind blasts us with rain.
The raindrops, propelled by the wind sting our faces as we walk toward Hassan's, the chips place a few meters down the road from the roundabout. Two dala-dalas are parked in the grass. A couple men are constructing a large cement building near the central baobab. However, most people have taken cover.
At Hassan's, we're able to order two plates of the last round of chips. It turns out that what I had previously thought was a large dark room where he cooked the chips is simply a small, open-air shelter outside.
A small wood fire keeps oil boiling beneath the tarp of the makeshift structure. He returns with a load of chips and slings them into the glass display case.
We order chips mayai.
Brown flood waters begin to drown the fire in the shelter and sweep it away.
Hassan shakes his head.
We all laugh.
“Okay, just chipsies,” we say.
The sauces are so hot today that my lips and tongue are on fire. My saliva thickens in my mouth. I step outside and shoot a viscus wade of spit out my mouth into the small stream that's running on two sides of the building.
“All the places are closed this time of the day,” Flora informs me after discovering the two places she knows of that sell charcoal are shuttered. “They don't usually open back up until 6pm.”
I thought that perhaps they were closed because of the rain.
Another restaurant that the girls normally get food seems to not have even bothered to make food today. Most of the kitchens in the village are outdoor kitchens.
“There will be two months of this weather, so they must have some sort of sustainable solution for weathering the storm,” I think.
With my lips still on fire, I wander out into the rain as Hassan searches for change for the 10,000 Shilling note I handed him.
A few boys are laughing and playing the rain. One of them speeds by on a bicycle.
I feel beyond the world around me as I stride up the mostly empty road in my rain gear. A few people clustered at a general store wave to me. The banana trees are heavy with rain. A small one has broken and fallen into the stream that follows the road, heading for the ocean.
A young boy perhaps four or five years old stands near tears on the far side of the stream. The water is neither deep nor moving so swiftly as to be dangerous, but you can see the speed of the dirty water twisting the surface of the stream as it rushes by him. His brother, thin and perhaps ten years old, stands halfway through the road, waiting for the little one to join him.
The little boy's round, soft brown face is twisted, tears welling up in his eyes.
I clap my hands and smile at him as if calling a dog. I chide myself every time I find myself doing this, calling to the children in the same way I would call a small animal.
I stride through the little river, picking the boy up once I reach him.
His legs and arms wrap tightly around me as I put him on my hip and walk him across the stream, placing him down on the road with his brother. I feel like a hero. Not a superhero. But a small hero; the kind of hero that rescues cat's from trees.
Further down the road, a couple young men sit under a sheet metal roof that protrudes from their house to make a small front porch. They're cooking a pot of something over coals.
“Where can I buy charcoal?” I ask one of them with enough gesticulating to get my idea across.
He understands the English just fine, repeating the word back to me. He points back, not to the mud and plaster house next to us, but the next one down.
“Mkaa,” he says, giving me the Swahili word for charcoal.
In front of the house he indicated, there are a couple onions, tomatoes, and veggies that might be for sale. There is also a child-sized white bag. The top is covered, though without a doubt it's full of coal. A couple loose pieces of blackened coal sit nearby.
I don't have any money, as I gave the only money I had with me to Hassan. Once, I confirm that there's coal, I walk back through the rain, feeling quite accomplished.
“You're really good at this,” Flora says, surprised that I managed to track it down.
With a small bag of coal in tow, which we probably overpaid for, given the swiftness in which the woman slipped back into the compound after taking the 1,000 Shilling, we stop at the general store.
The bag of charcoal is shoved up under my raincoat, making my stomach bulge. Though the rain has managed to sneak down my collar and wet my shirt, the extra protection should be enough to keep it dry
“It's a charcoal baby,” Flora says with a big smile.
“That's the most racist thing I've heard all day,” I say.
We both start laughing.
It's still raining, but not so hard at the moment.
“I'll buy your biscuits,” Flora offers, as I paid for the chips. I feel a little guilty allowing her to buy me the cookies, as I wanted to two packs. Misunderstanding, she buys two chocolates and two packs of biscuits. Apparently, one of the bars of chocolate is for me.
Separately, I buy a toothbrush. I've not had mine since Paje. I don't want to think too hard about how bad my breath must smell.
Under the largest of the baobab tree in the village, not far from the grassy field, there is a pair of woven songbird nests that the storm has ripped from the nearby palm trees.
I place them on top of a large container that looks like it should be full of ugali or rice, but is in fact what we brought along to keep the coal dry.
A few steps later, in a large puddle, I find an entire palm frown dotted with the elegant weaver nests.
With the palm frown over one shoulder, dragging behind me, a charcoal baby in my belly, and a pot of what looks like ugali under one arm, I happily march homeward with Flora.
“A bite of that apple the Finnish girls had would have made me so happy,” Flora says. It's probably been almost a year since she's tasted an apple.
“That and the pack of Pringles too,” I say as we think back to the food that was eaten in the community area, but not shared shortly after the new girls arrived. “Maybe they don't know how things work here yet.”
“I thought about that, but I think you either are that kind of person or aren't. When I first got here, I had some plantain chips and immediately started to share with everyone.”
In another puddle on the road, we find Paul, the largest snail I've ever met in my life. Thailand has enormous snails, but Paul is on another level. Larger than my hand, his wet foot scoots him through the muddy water, his little eyes dangling from tentacles poking out of the top of his head like alien antenna.
“You should put him on your shoulder,” Flora suggests with a giggle.
“Or on my head,” I say, after spending the better part of a minute staring at the amazingly large creature.
Sitting down next to the wall to Ibraham's place, I begin to gobble up my chocolate so I don't have to share it when I get back. I'm eating it almost too fast to enjoy it, but it's so sweet and so smooth. It's been a long time since I've had a piece of chocolate.
This is ridiculous, I tell myself, saving the last couple of pieces of chocolate in the ugali container with my biscuits. I'm better off enjoying every bite, letting the chocolate slowly melt in my mouth as I suck the sweetness out of it, and then share what's left rather than woofing it down like this.
Back home, there's the smell of smoke. Mwanzi, a magician of the practical sorts, has managed to build a small fire inside the common area. Wrist-thick logs smolder among the three rocks that make up the fireplace.
Everyone is sitting at the dinner table, finishing off the last few bites of stewed cabbage and fat white chunks of ugali. I join them, enjoying the feel of soft ugali in my mouth, as Flora goes to the bedroom to change out of her wet clothes. It's the fourth time she's had to change out of wet clothes today. Home is lovely, but not a dry place at all.
“Do you want to try Finnish bread,” one of the new girls asks, standing up to go to the room.
She returns with two loaves of dark brown bread. The German and Austrian – Baby Dada and Flora – are ecstatic; this is the bread of their homeland as well.
I enjoy a couple slices, but am more happy with the soft warmth of the ugali.
The rain continues to leak into The House of Giggles as we eat.
“It penetrates like through a tree,” Mau says, watching water coming through the thatch roof, muddying our kitchen floor.
And now that rainy season is here, the rainwater will probably continue to be a damp guest at The House of Giggles.