Indra’s revenge*

They say that this is the most rain in 36 years in Rwanda.  All I know is that it never stops.  Indra, the Hindu god of the heavens, lightning, thunder, storms, rains and river flows appears to want us to take notice of him, to what end I do not know.

The world outside my cement and brick-floored compound is awash with silken, sticky, rich red mud and greenery bursting forth in any and every plot of open land.  Ironically, water in my home only runs occasionally, and usually in the middle of the night, and electricity outages are the norm rather than the exception because, unlike everywhere else in the town of Huye, electricity cables run underground in the area where I live, located just south of it.

Forget doing laundry, rarely do I have water and sun available at the same time.  I have fantasies about my washer and dryer in Florida.  Dreams of fluffy clothes that  magically appear at the press of a button tempt me to leave this land and return to a world filled with mechanical conveniences, not to mention consistent electricity, high-speed internet, and an unlimited supply of water indoors.

I worry that the mud brick houses in my neighborhood will dissolve and melt into the mud surrounding them and people will be left homeless.  News has come that, in another part of the country, 12 people died and another 120 were injured when a mudslide occurred at night and buried them while they slept in their homes.   A multitude of terraces, meticulously dug out of the hillside, had apparently collapsed under their burden of moisture.

I am, on the one hand, grateful that I live at the top of a hill, and on the other hand, distressed at what might happen if my hill collapsed onto the houses below it.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to be suffocated by a sea of mud any more than I can imagine what it would be like to be riding atop the flood as it poured down the slope.

Water is a curious thing.  We cannot live without it and yet with too much and our lives can be forever changed, if not lost.  Unlike in tropical African climes, is cool and damp here.  There is a chill in the air and the sky can remain gray for hours on end.  I speculate on what would happen if it got cold enough here to snow.  No one would have any idea what to do.  We do not have shovels to dig ourselves  out of drifts of beautiful white fluff.  The children would be enchanted; adults would be stunned.  Certainly the electricity would go out, and water in our houses would become but a distant memory when frozen pipes cracked.

Occasionally, patches of bright blue sky peak through dancing white clouds, only to be overcome once again by dark, billowing masses of water and ice particles that have settled on dust in the atmosphere in anticipation of unleashing yet another deluge of pure, clear water.   I keep thinking that I should put pots outside to collect the rain to supplement my water stores in the house but, for some reason, I never do.  I think I am still hoping that it will stop.

Unlike when it rains in the United States, where people whip out a colorful array of umbrellas, or hop into their cars, or dive into the nearest subway station, to carry on as if the skies above them were still clear, people here, more often than not, simply stop where they are and seek shelter, in a shop, or on a veranda, and watch and wait until the water surge subsides.  There are umbrellas, of course, but they are used as much for protection from the sun (if it appears) as from the rain.   Private motor vehicles are relatively rare.  The mini-buses that run between town and my neighborhood are overflowing with passengers while the ubiquitous motorcycle (moto)   and bicycle “taxis” stand pitifully by the side of the road while their riders endure the rain in the hopes of finding the rare passenger willing to risk the wet in order to get to their destination sooner rather than later.

Any yet, life goes on.  Friends and family members are undoubtedly helping those who lost their homes.    I hear the sound of music in the distance, voices of children playing outside between the downpours.   Everyone comes out of hiding to trekking to wherever they were going.  When they get home, they clean off their shoes, because having clean shoes is very important here, and ready themselves to clean them again after the next excursion into the wilds of mud and water.

I have no idea if, or when, people do their laundry.  Perhaps they, as I, wash one or two pieces at a time and festoon their living space with wet clothes, and wait for them to dry over a day or two, instead of the hour or two it would take in the sun.

Often, when I stay at my preferred hotel in Kigali, I notice that the neatly folded towels placed in my bathroom are slightly damp and occasionally, upon climbing into bed, I realize that the sheets are still damp.   Fantasies of warm clothes bursting out of the dryer dissolve into visions of something much simpler, yet oh so elusive  – fresh, sun-dried sheets.

*The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Rwandan government.

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