Tag Archives: deluge

In which the heavens open.

29 Jun

I make no pretence of being a scientist.  Technology baffles me, and l’m simply not one of those people who had to know ‘how things work’; as far as I’m concerned what happens when one turns one’s key in the ignition is magic (or, with my car, nothing whatsoever).  Over the last few weeks I have, however, been pondering a scientific problem or, more accurately, a meteorological problem:


How is it possible that the sky can hold as much rain as has fallen on the baking streets of Freetown in the last month or so?  HOW?  I simply do not understand how it can be non-stop sunny for 8 months, and then non-stop rainy for 4.  Where is the evaporated water being stored?  And, more importantly, WHY? 


I read somewhere that in the UK we have 13 commonly used words for precipitation, but none of them are apposite for rainy season in West Africa.  Deluge probably comes closest, but this to me implies a sort of brevity of phenomenon which is fundamentally lacking from weather patterns here.  Compared to Sierra Leone the UK of my memory is an arid wasteland.  Probably the most helpful analogy here is that of the shower.  The power shower.  Imagine a state-of-the-art showerhead that is about 300 miles across, and you’ll have some idea about Sierra Leone in from June to September.  Yup, that’s right.  This is just the beginning…  August is, apparently, far worse.


At the moment it does not rain every day, and only about one day in five is a complete right off.  Most days involve just an hour long shower in the morning, and then rain in the evening and/or during the night…  A welcome side-effect of the rain is that sunsets, having simply involved the sun vanishing behind a haze or dust for the last six months, have suddenly become a spectacular riot of blues, golds and pinks.  I have taken, of an evening, to strolling the 3-4km along Lumley Beach and back to enjoy the breeze and marvel over the daily gift that is the sinking of our life-giving ball of flaming gas.  This routine change is proving to be both good for the soul, and may even end of being good for the waistline.  It is, however, also hazardous.  Last week as I walked, eyes fixed on the glorious horizon (I think I was attempting to spot cloud dragons), I reflected on how wonderful life was.  Sierra Leone, however, was reluctant to let me wallow in self-congratulation regarding my life decisions… I suddenly became aware of ‘a presence’ at my back, and turned to see an entirely different world behind me – where the sky to the west was lit with a soft, gentle powder pink light, that to the east was as menacing a prospect as I have ever seen.  The sky was a harsh powder grey, and liberally dashed with black clouds that were definitely heading in my direction.  The sky was, well, brooding.  I was exactly half way along the beach, and had therefore virtually no chance of getting any sort of lift.  In a stunning volte face, I reflected that life well and truly sucked.  But, yet again, Sierra Leone had other ideas – the rain that had seemed so inevitable simply and unbelievably melted away, leaving a sky that was once again placid.  This happens so frequently (though not frequently enough!) that there is a phrase for it in Krio – “di rehn mek magigi”, which means “the rain looks like it’s going to come but doesn’t”.  Rather neat, I think.


The uber-deluge poses all sorts of day-to-day difficulties – one has to learn to be incredibly flexible about meetings and social arrangements, spaces in a taxi become much rarer than precious stones (this is, after all, the land of Blood Diamond) and it’s almost impossible to take a step indoors without tripping over a drying umbrella or slipping in its accompanying puddle.  More serious (obviously) is that the change of season requires a significant wardrobe adjustment… 

  • It is suicide to leave the house without a waterproof jacket and/or umbrella.  Particularly if wearing a white shirt.  (And yes, I do speak from experience).
  • Footwear decisions become impossible.  Normal (leather) shoes quickly become ruined, but flip-flops simply spray mud and water of questionable cleanliness all over the back of one’s legs.  Many resort of the wellington boot, but these are rather warm (rain does not mean cold, but instead that dry heat is swapped for a lovely sauna type heat), and walking sandals are both horrid and not kosher for work.  I recently found the perfect pair of plastic jelly-shoe type slip-ons, which I have been wearing everywhere, but yesterday I spotted a little tear in the plastic and I fear they’ve on their way out, and that I shall therefore be plunged back into the abyss of lack-of-suitable-footwear-gloom.
  • The problem is not just confined to the clothes that one does wear… the clothes that one does not wear present similar difficulties.  Such is the level of humidity that anything made of natural fabrics (ie leather, silk, wool, untreated cotton)is inclined to grow a charming layer of mould.  MOULD.  I love my belts a borderline unhealthy amount, and it is therefore torture for me to see them suffer and sicken in this way.  I plan to take all non-essential items home with me next month, and to bring back litres of protective spray for the remainder.  Until then I must simply continue to fight off the nightmares of disintegrating clothes that plague my sleep.


All of the above may seem rather depressing, but (with the exception of the mould, which has no silver lining whatsoever) I am rather enjoying the challenges of the new season.  The mood of plucky optimism has been considerably enhanced by a recent purchase; one of my standard ‘junks’ perusals last week hit the jackpot – I spotted a promising corner of canvas, which I pounced on and, after removing the approximately 2 tonnes of clothing on top of it, I was soon the proud owner of a bright yellow hooded mackintosh with a lining of green spouting whales on navy blue.   This garment is, if I may say so myself, both functional and adorable, and I now feel ready to face whatever rain this country can throw at me.


And if this new purchase optimism should begin to fade I can always comfort myself with the thought that current weather conditions seems to be even worse in the UK…