I've said already it gets dry here. Roads crack, fields turn brown and even baboons start appearing on ever higher ground each day, escaping the even more severe drought down in the lowlands.
The other day I Mwakitau, a good way on the lowlands towards to border of Tanzania, we stopped for a soda when on our way to the market in Taveta for shopping (you can guess if that was my idea or not: it’s more than a three-hour drive there). An old lady sat down next to me in the shade and started conversing in a low voice and in a language I only understand a few words of. But I think I asked her about the weather and whether or not there had been any rain around. It goes without saying that I didn't understand the answer, but the length and tone of it said more than a thousand understood words.
The cliche of water being the very essence of life and death takes a whole new weight for a guy from a place like where I am from in a place like this. Drought, flooding and all other problems related with H₂O are for a University student in Helsinki little more than theoretical issues and headlines in the pages on foreign news in the newspaper, however concerned each and every one might be on a personal level.
Even at the station, which is way better equipped in these matters than most buildings in Wundanyi, we ran out of water just at the end of October. For me, that only added to the exotics of being away (bottled drinking water can always be bought, although at a high price for local standards, from the market) and gave an excuse to not bother taking showers every day, but it tells volumes of how badly off many other households around here are. No rain means no water means not only lack of hygiene and drink but also future lack of food. It was put with shocking calm to me: ‘One year from now, you can expect famines around here’.
It wasn't always this bad. There used to be big dams both in Wundanyi and Mwatate, courtesy of the colonial government, providing water for many purposes throughout the year. Then something happened. Independence came, and people understandably wanted to get rid of features representing or reminding of the colonial times, however useful they were. Children drowned in the dams. So they were emptied and converted to farmland and very productive farmland indeed. Only that now, once things get dry, the dams are not there to provided water anymore. No more buffer for hard times. Rational behavior at first glance? Yes. Understandable feelings and solutions based on them? Yes. Long-term planning?
|There it comes|
And then the rains came properly one Wednesday, when I was again left “alone” as the only guest on the station. Now they come not with occasional sound of thunder, but with a constant rumbling for tens of minutes. They come with plenty of warning (the sound, the sudden darkness, the hot wind, the smell) just minutes ahead of the first drops, and they come hard.
Brown turns to green, dust turns to mud. Roads get slippery, shoes and socks get ruined and off this author goes, skipping through higher terrain to find cheap boots at the market. One shower surprised on me on a run, and I’m not exaggerating too much when I say I really had to work hard to climb up the slopes from a valley in which I didn't want to be at the moment.
In addition, they come with blackouts to add some effect to the feeling, which is annoying since I do have some office-work to do and no, I don’t have one of those fancy laptops that work even when not plugged in.
What I don’t get, is that the next morning everything is as if there had been no rain. You still hear people complaining about the lack of rain. The puddles of mud don’t stick around for days, as they would back home. The clouds, the moisture and all other signs of rain disappear just as quickly as they appeared, and dust is back. Thirsty land?
Not thirsty enough, it appears, since ironically the rains are, when they come, even too hard. Instead of irrigation for shambas, you get floods, erosion and further impoverished soils. Nature has a really cruel and twisted sense of humor around here!