I'd Forgotten About the Rains

This article was published in the Houghton Lake Resorter on May 3, 1990.  It is re-printed here with permission of the owner and publisher.

The Rainy Season

When we first arrived in Nairobi, the sky was overcast every morning.  But by 9 a.m. the sun would peek from behind the clouds, find the coast clear and race out in full strength by 10:30.  The days were gorgeous.  Nairobi is a beautiful city.  Looking out our apartment window, you see a Jacaranda tree, which when in bloom, is full of beautiful bright purple flowers.  Now there is a tree with clusters of yellow flowers in bloom.

There are vines with purple, orange, yellow and pink flowers which get entwined in tree branches and grow in a cascade. (I know now that those were bougainvillea.)  They look like miniature waterfalls of color.  Nairobi seems to always be green.

The reason for that is the rain.  We had read about Kenya's rainy season before moving.  The short rains come in December, we read, and the long rains were from Feb. 20 through April.  February 20 exactly?  That's what we were told.  The old-timers in town said their grandparents could predict the rains within a day or two.  Impressive!

Not any more, though.  Mother Nature has gotten confused it seems.  The "short" rains started the middle of October this year and lasted through most of December.  During the short rains, it typically only rains after sunset.  Not this year.  It rained at least every other day...all day.

January, February and March were beautiful.  The sun shined brightly almost every day.  It was warm and wonderful (it was especially wonderful whenever I thought of Michigan's snow during these months!).  Then came April.  It poured the evening of April 1st.  It rained the afternoon of April 2nd.  Through April 3rd.  And every day from there.  There were only four days of sun all month.

Honestly, learning about the rains was a "cost" to me moving here.  Although I don't like cold, I do love snow in comparison to rain.  I wondered just how it would affect things during those months.  Actually, I thought that while it would be an adjustment for me, Kenyans would be so used to it that nothing would change.

How wrong I was.

If it rains, no one goes to lunch.  When it rains, everyone goes straight home after work and they don't appear again until the next day.  Not everyone can afford an umbrella, so it is not uncommon to see sheets of plastic with legs sticking out running around town.  We don't get mail in our complex when it rains because none of the workers wants to travel to the post office to pick it up. (Mail is not delivered house to house here.)

And you wouldn't believe the mud and ponds of water that collect over pathways and on the roads.  Just trying to avoid these new waterways adds an extra 10 to 15 minutes travel time to wherever you are going.

Not only does the rain cause delays, it can also be quite expensive.  Shoes are very expensive in Nairobi.  No one just goes out and gets a new pair of shoes to match a new outfit.  Instead, everyone has their shoes repaired - often.  Men are lined up on every major street calling out, "Question, Madame.  Just one question today."  If you hesitate even one second they start grilling you about your shoes.  "Where did you get them?  How much did they cost?  They need a shine...repair."

One pair of my shoes has been re-heeled at least six times since we've moved (seven months ago).  Rain spells disaster for shoes.  The best material they have to re-heel shoes is double thick leather.  The mud and water dissolves it very quickly, especially since as they get saturated, every pound of me is pressing on them.  One day walking in the rain means spending another KSh 45 ($2.50 U.S.) to get them fixed.  I now have one pair of shoes designated my "rain boots."

The mud is also a problem.  It's red.  It stains everything it touches unless it's washed immediately.  Last week Tom and were walking home down a hill.  A truck passed us and we were splattered before we knew what hit us.  So, off to the dry cleaners we went.  Now, that wouldn't be bad under normal circumstances, but think about it.  If it rains every day...

The rains won't last forever, though.  By May the sun will again find the coast clear and race out to warm the ground.  By the second week in May I'll probably be writing about how uncomfortable the hot weather is.

Lori ZieglerComment