In Zambia, the smell of the first rains is emotional. Essentially, it's just the smell of dust. But after months of unbearable dry heat, it is an immense relief. You can usually smell the rain before it comes as the land around you gets wet. It is like putting down something heavy after carrying it for a long time. The air is clear, albeit briefly, from the oppressive heat.
It has it's downsides. Cars accidents happen just after the first downpour, skidding on the roads which are slippy with grease and water and mud. Nobody comes to work because they don't want to get cholera from the now overflowing sewers. You'll discover that your house has 4 new holes in the roof since last year and in the evening you won't be able to breathe without swallowing one of the millions of flying ants that fill the air. But it's glorious.
The rains aren't quite as dramatic. That big clap of thunder is wonderful. Lying in bed listening to the heavy rains is comforting. It's bizarrely dark. End of the world dark. But there is little relief from the heat. It is not as cleansing as it can feel in Zambia. As soon as the rain stops, the air seems hotter and thicker than ever. People still potter around, because it's not cold. Motorcyclists put bin bags on as jackets and even people that you thought were homeless seem to have wet gear. Even the Maasai are prepared. There is no first rains build up. Just hot and raining, instead of hot and not raining. I didn't get that lovely smell of rain, what I did get was a stink in my car because the back window is stuck open by about 2 inches and the back seat is soaked and the brakes are a bit funny because I drove into what I thought was a puddle but turned out to be a metre deep pothole full of wet grit.
|Young Maasai in the rain - on his mobile, as usual|
None the less, I'm enjoying it. It's hard to capture the level of respite one gets from those torrential rains. For my last rainy season in Zambia I mentioned how lovely the rains were to a friend who had recently left the country. Even from far away, he knew exactly the refreshment I was feeling. 'I remember that from last year,' he wrote, 'It lashed one afternoon. Got soaked. Came home and it was still raining and cool. Quickly threw on the kettle and had the best cup of tea in months.'
He was so right about the tea. For just those few minutes, that most basic part of your day is more enjoyable. Fresher, cleaner, easier. And that's why I love the rain.