- December 19, 2009 -
Christmas is just around the corner (the lack of Christmas carols here is deceiving!), which means that here in Zambia, rainy season is just getting into full swing! Unlike America, where rainfall is scattered throughout the year, Zambia's rainfall is entirely concentrated in a six-month period between November and April. (from May to October, there literally won't be a single cloud in the sky!). And the rain here is absolutely fascinating to watch! Thunderstorms take their sweet time rolling in (I can see the storm clouds by mid-morning, but it might not rain until late afternoon), and offer spectacular 360-degree lightning shows accompanied by thunder that rumbles for 30 seconds or a minute from one side to the other across the sky. And the storms come from any direction, defying the influence of any jet streams that may be around.
This wacky weather has a huge impact on my farmers and on how life operates here in Zambia. Without irrigation or farm equipment, neither of which are found in rural Zambia, farming revolves completely around the rains. During the dry season, the ground is too hard to plow by hand, and too dry to plant anything. Thus nowadays my farmers are working double-time to prepare, plow, and plant their fields before too much of the rain has gone by. The Bemba name for the month of December, "Mpundu milimo"( meaning "twin jobs"), reflects this hardworking time of year. After the maize is planted, the workload eases up a bit, but then the "hungry season" kicks in for the months of January and February. During these two months supplies of food from the last harvest are running low, but it's still to early to harvest this year's crop. And the rain wreaks havoc on many vegetable crops like tomato and onions. Thus food will be scarce, right at the time when people are working the hardest. It's no surprise then, to hear that villagers often lose significant weight this time of year.
The start of rainy season is also an adjustment for me. Biking back from Kasama with 50lbs of clothes and food is no longer a convenient endeavor, since the road now has a foot or two of mud and knee-deep pothole-lakes in many places. Grass and weeds grow like crazy now - a foot per week is not unusual, which means I'm constantly having to dig my house and yard out from under a mountain of weeds. People don't like to go anywhere or do anything while it's raining, so I'm always left guessing whether or not I should travel through the rain to a scheduled meeting. And I'm not very good at predicting the rains just yet (after all, they do come from every direction), so getting stranded in faraway villages is a constant threat. Just yesterday (probably my worst day at site thus far), I was biking home from a village 35km away. Our introductory meeting had run waaaay late, and it started to downpour almost immediately after we left. My counterpart, Ba Elias, and I ended up biking/walking almost 20km in the dark and rain, which took us several hours. It's been a long time since I've been that soaked and miserable. But luckily I used the opportunity for some cultural exchange: I was riding behind Ba Elias and kept losing sight of the road and his outline in the dark. So I taught him how to play Marco-Polo! He'd say "Marco", I'd say "Polo", and we could both keep track of each other while biking home in the dark/rain! So rainy season definitely will require an adjustment, and is full of various inconveniences and annoyances, but I realize that this rainfall is what brings life to the land and allows my farmers' crops to grow.
But because Christmas is coming up, and because my farmers are all busy in the fields, now seemed like a good time to use a few vacation days and see a bit more of Southern Africa. So I'm heading down from Kasama today to meet up with some Central and Eastern volunteers, and we're heading down to Mozambique for Christmas and New Years!