Monday, September 4, 2017

The Rains of East Africa

Annamaria on Monday

Author’s Note: I wrote the piece below just as it stands and collected the photos you see here the week before Hurricane Harvey began to threaten the Gulf Coast.  The forces behind the disasters I describe and the ones in Texas and Louisiana are the same.  Our planet needs more than prayer.  It needs us to behave as if we care about it.  And about one another!

Unlike the Fall/Winter/Spring/Summer weather pattern that most of are used to, Equatorial East Africa ordinarily has two seasons: wet and dry.

People going on safari and keen to see animals are ordinarily advised to go in a dry season.  This is when thirsty animals are guaranteed to visit water holes.  Most camps provide a water source so animals will come and put on show for their guests.  In this situation, the dry periods are considered optimum.

Back during the time I write about in my historical mysteries, attitudes were different.  Almost all the early European memoirists of British East Africa expressed longing for the rains.  Most of them were farmers, and farmers have always fussed over rainfall.  Those early Twentieth Century newcomers adopted the attitudes of their tribal neighbors—early and plentiful rains were a joyous event.  In Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen expresses a continual worry over failing rains, which would lead to failing crops, which would mean bankruptcy, forcing her to return to Denmark.  She characterizes the rains as a potential perpetrator of a fearsome crime.  A misery that eventually befell her.

My settler characters have a similar relationship with the weather.

In East Africa, from Somalia far down into South Africa, the vagaries of the rains were then and still are potentially life threatening.


The climate of the area is alternately dry and wet.  Two rainy periods are expected (actually, hoped and prayed for) every year: the Long Rains and the Short Rains.  The first ordinarily begin in March or April and end in May or June.  This is followed by a dusty period until October, when the short rains are supposed to begin and last into November, perhaps December.

A major factor in Mother Nature’s properly delivering the vital water is the temperature of the Indian Ocean, which—no surprise—has been rising.  This makes the rains even more unpredictable.  The warmer ocean is what climatologists call “anthropogenic”—caused by the activities of human beings.  It is a direct result of greenhouse gasses collecting in our sacred planet’s atmosphere.  We used to call it “global warming,” but that is too simple a moniker.  What’s really happening is that climate change ramps up the extremes: wet areas get wetter and dry ones get drier, bringing floods and droughts.  These phenomena are more pronounced in East Africa with its ordinarily alternating dry and wet seasons.  Sudden heavy rains on parched earth mean flash floods, when bridges and animals and people are carried away.  Drought conditions mean no food—not for the people and not for the animals.  Flooded fields mean rotted crops.

Tragedy has struck in these past few years.   Millions of people in the area are threatened with starvation.  They are not the people who have created the current situation.  But they the ones paying the price.

I end with a hymn—a prayer, for beautiful rain—in just the right amount—for the suffering animals and people of Africa.



  1. Rain is so important in Southern Africa that Botswana named its currency after it - pula means rain in Setswana.

    1. Stan, I remember last February, when you were counting down the number of days left in Cape Town's water supply. And the reports on the news of flooding in places and severe drought in others further north. On my worst days, I think it is too late to fix it. That Armageddon is inevitable. I have long thought that human beings have become an infection on this planet, multiplying out of control, eating up parts of it and spewing out poison to its natural environment. And that these disastrous events are the planet's way of fighting back. And as in all such battles, the innocent die first.

  2. I like the music. It's just a shame who'll be left to pay the piper. :(