Wednesday, July 08, 2009

In Burkina Faso, life stops when it rains. The clouds gather, the drops start and suddenly the roads are empty of all bikes and mopeds. Off to the edges of the nearly empty streets, you see everyone huddled under whatever shelter they can find.
Maybe you see a few pedestrians, really desperate to get where they're going- nearly all of them slogging through the mud wearing a garbage bag as a poncho, or a small plastic bag as a hat.

The rain is noisy. It falls hard, pounding down on metal roofs and the hard-packed ground.
But other than that, everything is strangely quiet.
All the normal noises of the neighborhood are gone. The deafening hammering of the metal-smith's workshop down the street completely stops. The voices of the dozens of the children that play in the street just outside your front gate have vanished. The tailor's shop courtyard nearby, usually full of whirling pedal sewing machines and chatting, joking, arguing appprentices is silent.

It may rain for a few minutes.. or a few hours, but while it does, time stops. Nothing gets done, nobody goes anywhere. And that makes sense. The rains are usually hard and blinding, making it impossible to safely travel. Even in a car, visibility can be reduced to nearly nothing.
And most of life's daily activities in Burkina are carried out outdoors. Places like mechanics' garages, tailors' shops and carpenters' workshops might have a small shack or some kind of shelter, but certainly not enough covered space for everyone to work out of the rain.
Even in homes, not much can be done. A kitchen , for most Burkinabé people, is simply a corner outside with a fire and a branch or rock to sit on. No tables, no countertops, no cupboards, no roof.

Everyone rushes to shelter- maybe first pausing to get all the drying laundry and other vulnerable items gathered up and out of the wet. At our house, our guardians Salif and Rasmane would run to grab the patio furniture and pile it up next to the house, well under the terrace roof and out of the reach of the driving rain that would sometimes seem to fall nearly sideways.
People do what they have to do, then wait for it to pass.

And it always does.

It stops suddenly, like someone turing off a fire hose. Then the big West African sun pops out and everything seems to dry out in an instant. Cooking pots go back outside, the laundry is re-hung on walls and across shrubs, commuters get back on their bikes and mopeds and the smith's apprentices start hammering away again. The chairs are once more nicely arranged on the patio. And everything goes on like usual until tomorrow, when it will rain again.
The rain here in France is so...strange. It's hard for me to get used to gray and drizzly skies for days on end. I feel like everything should just stop. But it can't. This is Europe. If everyone stopped moving the minute rain fell, doom and disaster would result. At least, I guess so...

I took a "rain day" yesterday. I had decided that the rain wouldn't stop because it wasn't getting the respect it deserved. Maybe a moment of silence and stillness was all it wanted from us?
I didn't go anywhere. I didn't do any laundry. In fact, I didn't do anything terribly useful except for cook a couple of meals. I played games with the kids, read a novel, surfed the internet and watched tv on my computer. It was, in fact, a great day.
It did not, however, stop the rain.

So, today I'm back to rainy days, Euro-style. It's nearly noon and still pouring rain, but I've already been to the dump with a load of bad junk, the recycling center with my good junk, the public treasury to pay the water bill, the store to buy cat litter, etc. I guess that's how they do it here. But I miss the strange peacefullness of the Burkina rain...


TeacherMommy said...

Oh, I miss those rains too. Are you familiar with the Toto song about it? I think I must have played that song fifty times a day when I was a freshman in college and knew I wasn't going to be back in W. Africa for a looooong time. My roommate was thrilled.

Kelly said...

It's hard to be motivated in the rain.

We finally have sunshine over here.

Beth said...

TM- It's so funny.... back in about 1983, when that song was on the radio every five minutes, I had NO clue that it would ever have anything relevant to say to me.
Boy, was I ever wrong.

babzee said...

O, best beloved. Do you realize that with this eloquent passage you have the opening paragraphs of your BOOK? I'm stunned. I know how brilliant a writer you are, but I forget sometimes when you are telling cute stories about adorable children, smuggling cats or waiting in official queues. I'm in love!

Beth said...

Ms. B-
Many thanks for the kind, kind words.
"Brilliant writer"?!
My day is SO made.

I wrote exactly what I was feeling and I so glad you sensed that. I composed it very quickly and totally unfiltered- no fiddling with phrases and carefully choosing words. They were all there already.

La Framéricaine said...

I too believe that this was a wonderful, robust, highly evocative post. I could just see and feel it all and it slowed me down.

I am now going to have to go find this Toto song that you and TeacherMommy intoned.


Nashville provided Le F's initiation into the rainstorms of the South, and how!

Here's That Rainy Day

Maybe I should have saved
that left-over dream
funny, but here's that rainy day!

Here's that rainy day
they told me about
and I laughed at the thought
that it might turn out this way!

Where is that worn-out wish
that I threw aside,
after it brought my lover near?

Funny how love becomes
a cold rainy day
funny, that rainy day is here

Funny how love becomes
a cold rainy day
funny . . .
that rainy day is here

Music by Jimmy Van Heusen with lyrics by Johnny Burke , 1953
Burke & Van-Heusen Inc.

Beth said...

Thank you, Ms.P. All this praise from people I respect so much is going straight to my head - well, maybe more to my heart...
I am certainly resolving to take the time more often to write what I'm thinking about, rather than just a quick summary of the events of the day.

Whose version of the song do you favor? There seem to be so many covers of it available. I just checked on itunes and was overwhelmed!