What can I say about my first year in Africa that won’t make me come off as a holier-than-thou jerk and won’t be easily misinterpreted? It is very hot here. I can say that with confidence. Direct sunlight, no matter if it’s seven in the morning or four o’clock in the afternoon, will make you uncomfortable. Hot season is the worst. It is also misleadingly named, because it suggests the existence of a cold season. It begins in March and relents when the rains begin for real in July. For a month or two it was 95 degrees Fahrenheit inside my house, 100 in the shade, and 110 in the sun. During the hottest hours of the day, approximately eleven to three, no one accomplished anything. During the afternoons, when the heat peaked, I’d get angry at my thermometer. There was no one else to blame. I slept outside on a bed made of woven string every night. My house was a sauna, without the formidable cold of Finnish winter to complement it. The climate was miserable. I’d get teary eyed thinking about cold Coca-Cola. About cold anything.
But then it started to rain. It rained a little in April, maybe once a week. Technically, this marks the beginning of the rainy season, but I think that’s a bunch of bullshit. It was just as hot as before, with an occasional downpour to get your hopes up. Every morning I’d go outside and look to the northeast for any clouds, wisps, or mists that might possibly maybe be coming my way. It was torture. And it was definitely still hot.
Only when the rain started coming regularly in July, every other day or so, did things cool down. There were clouds in the sky, a cool breeze in the air, and green things sprouting. The fine layer of dust coating everyone and everything was washed off and tamped down. Entire days passed without the sun penetrating the dreary, grey clouds of the overcast sky. It was heavenly. Lightening was on display nightly. Occasionally a tremendous thunder storm would roll through, keeping everyone locked quietly in their houses for a few blissful hours, during which I could relax on my porch and enjoy the show, knowing that no one expected anything of me and that it was all worth it. Storms here don’t begin gradually. They begin in a matter of seconds. Sometimes, I’d hear a communal scream rise from the neighborhood to the northeast, followed by the increasingly loud sound of torrential rain beating on corrugated iron roofs as the storm rushed up to engulf me. Little rivulets running in eroded channels became raging rivers for fifteen minute bursts. Twice the air was so charged with water and electricity that I was mildly shocked by lightening striking over a kilometer away. I loved rainy season.
But now it’s over, and the sun has returned, unkind as ever. Even worse, it now shines in on my porch, breaching my fortress of shade, heating a few inches of my string bed to an uncomfortable temperature. This is the forgotten, unfortunate stretch of time between the end of the rain and the beginning of the harmattan, when a cool, dusty wind from the Sahara chills the bones of Africans with sub-70 degree mornings. I’m guilty of intolerance to any cold at all now, too. A while back, after a morning rainstorm, it was 64 degrees. I had on shoes, socks, jeans, a long-sleeve shirt, a cashmere sweater, and a windbreaker. I was comfortable.
I’m sad that the rain is gone, sadder than I thought I’d be. Everything green has turned brown, and just yesterday someone began to set the mountainside aflame. Pretty soon the air will be filled with choking dust and falling ash. Seattle’s ten months of mostly unbroken overcast sky have never looked better. The sun isn’t friendly here like it was in California. It doesn’t caress you softly; it slams you in the face and sends you scrambling for the nearest mango tree. But while I bemoan the lack of air-conditioning and refrigeration, one of my favorite things about living here has been living outside. I have had my windows open all day every day, have learned to read the clouds, and have noticed my surroundings like never before. I’ve felt the unadulterated effects of this country’s climate, and I’ve learned to deal with them. It hasn’t always been pleasant, but it has been enlightening.