the rains

I spent some of my childhood in East Africa. The seasons were punctuated by two periods of rain, the long rains in March and April and the short rains in November. Sandwiched in between the rains were periods of complete drought which slowly turned all the vegetation from a lush green to an arid scorched brown. As the rains approached there was a tremendous perennial sense of anticipation. You always got a feel for when the change in the weather was imminent, either by the smell in the air or the strange and irrational behaviour of otherwise sensible pets; even animals in the wild would start to exhibit abnormal behaviour. Then finally the heavens would open. The first huge drops of rain would hit the ground like miniature hand grenades creating their own little damp craters in a sea of dust. Before long networks of little streams would be running in all directions as the ground struggled to cope with the sudden mass of water landing on the sun baked topsoil. The air would fill with a unique and fantastic smell of earth and water mixing for the first time in months.

I remember the start of the rains as an overwhelmingly happy occasion. Instead of seeking shelter, local families would leave their homes and revel in becoming drenched for the first time in months. Here in England we are lucky enough to be able to be much more complacent about the importance of the reliability of seasonal changes in the weather. Fortunately for us our wealth, technology and farming practices have enabled us to reduce (but not overcome) our reliance on nature. For most of us the rain is a fairly dreary condition that comes with being British and most of the year we would gladly trade it for some prolonged sunshine. It was therefore quite surprising last week to stand on the farm under the first drops of rain for over 6 weeks and feel a tiny bit of the joy I remember from my childhood. As I look out of the window 5 days later it is still raining, and I know this won