The rainy season has started in The Gambia again, which means two things:
1) really bad, muddy roads whenever it rains all night. Last time it did an all-nighter there was a news item on TV showing people being flooded out of their houses, and roads being swamped, cars being washed away.
2) more varied weather conversation with strangers on the street (instead of having only the one topic of conversation concerning the weather [i.e. the heat, the almost-unendurable, turning everyone's life into hell but we have to put up with it, damn I wish I could afford an Air Conditioner heat], now there's also the rain to talk about. Including how unpredictable it is, how we don't really need it here in the city and the people upcountry need it more, how August is always like this, etc.).
Yesterday the clouds gathered into a massive party, making the sky go black and overcast, and everyone looked up fearfully and started walking faster to wherever they were going. Then the clouds decided they didn't want to hang out after all, and after throwing down a few uncaring drops, they dispersed and went their separate ways. I was at a Nawetaan match when it happened, the football field still wet from the previous night's rains. The ball got caught in mud when the players kicked it, and the players themselves flopped about like fish, flapping their arms, splashing mud every which way. When the clouds gathered, people put up their umbrellas. Then nothing happened, and they put them down again. The team I was rooting for lost.
Every year, people start talking about the rainy season a few months before it gets here. The more affluent ones repair roofs (the less affluent complain loudly about how their roofs leak). Then, a month before the rains come, everyone starts talking about how the rains are late yet again. The Imams have a field day, giving long sermons about how the rains are being held back by God because of the sinful ways of our times, how we must repent, etc. Two weeks before the rains come, everyone's panicking, and all the mosques and churches offer up prayers to God to forgive our transgressions and release the waters. It's not quite as exciting, but it's almost like ancient tribal dances to the rain god.
Then the rains come. At first, there are a few experimental trickles, which get people in a huff because they have to pack up and run indoors every-time the sky becomes overcast, only to discover that there isn't going to be a big storm after all. A week or two later, the huge rains come, the big ones which last all night long, their voices huge thunderclaps which send people running for cover. There is damage to property: trees fall down on roofs, smashing them in; leaky roofs let water into warehouses, thoroughly making everything wet and ruining it; mini-floods wash into hovels, clearing everything in their path away and leaving behind a giant patch of mud; roads become unnavigable. People do the reverse rain dance, praying that the rains will stop, or at least come down in moderation. Imams seize the opportunity to lecture everyone on the might of God: we ask him for something, but when He gives it to us we discover we are not strong enough to receive it after all.
The rains are not usually a bad thing, though. After the heat of the rest of the year, in fact, they are rather a relief: nothing beats the breeze that travels on the wake of a storm. Sometimes when it rains in Banjul people strip down to a pair of shorts and a shirt and go out into the streets. Everyone stands around in the middle of the street, the water coming down in whole tub-fuls, smiling and talking. There is usually a high building with a pipe set up on the roof so the water doesn't stay up there, and this acts as an improvised shower, with people taking turns to stand under it. Some people bring out soap and take a proper bath in the rain. The gutters overflow, their black depths forming a mess on their edges, topped with all the things that have been thrown into them during the dry season, from used condoms to cigarette packets, plastic bags, someone's used toothbrush. Maybe one of the guys brings out a ball, and we split into sides and play each other, someone taking a nasty spill every now and then, no worries, it's all part of the game, let's laugh and say sorry and play on. Once we ran to the beach during a storm, and it was beautiful. It was right after the beach reclamation project had been completed, and little palm trees had been planted on the sand to stop the water advancing, when they grew (they are gone now, ruined in the hundreds of football matches that are played on the beach every week). The water was choppy, and it seemed like a frisky puppy, jumping up again and again to play with the rain, which was coming down in sheets. Afterwards I went home and changed, then I ate a heavy lunch, and wrapped myself up in a warm blanket and slept for hours.
Enjoy the rainy season whilst it lasts: afterwards come the lean, hungry days of the Ramadan, the heat resuming its job full-time.