After a long, and incredibly hot and dry, season the rains are finally here! Whereas, in the States rain is a possibility year round, the rains here only come between the months of June and October (roughly) and spark a slew of activity among Malians living in villages across the country.
Malians have a sixth sense for predicting rain. It is typical that someone will tell me in the early morning that the rain will come midday or not until the evening. And I’m always impressed by their accuracy. But, right before the rain comes, even the novice eye (read: me) can tell it’s coming. Dark clouds collect and the sky turns to a deep blue. With the clouds, come incredible winds that pick up and scatter dust along with plastic bags and other trash in waves of intensity. Sometimes the windstorm settles and the clouds linger to douse the land with rain. Other times, the wind will remain and a spectacular show of lightning and the pounding of thunder will fill up the sky.
These rains have altered the familiar terrain of my frequent morning bike rides. Dry, barren, and almost uniformly brown space has been replaced by full, green trees, spots of grass and freshly plowed fields. The dry season’s cloudless skies have been replaced by bright blue skies scattered with fluffy, white clouds looming above, heavy with rain.
Every morning, the men of each family (from young boys to middle-aged men) mount donkey carts and head toward their fields. They work all day, pausing only for lunch, tea and prayer, and return home in the early evenings.
On my bike rides, I usually pass by groups of several men with their plows hooked to the back of large, working cows, which do the work that people in the West reserve for machines. Others spend their time removing brush from the fields and preparing them for the planting of their main crops – millet, field corn, peanuts and watermelon.
When I pass by, the workers are always quick to say hello, wish me a good day and inquire about where I’m going (because why would I be on a bike if I wasn’t going somewhere?). Unless I am going to a specific village to visit my association women, my response is always, “Yoro si, n be yala yala!” (Nowhere, I am just walking around). I think they get a kick out of this, and it’s easy to see why. If my bike was in the condition of their bikes – usually one-speed, with a rickety chain and a beat-up seat – I would certainly not just yala yala on my bike for the fun of it either!
The rainy season’s role in the life of Malians is paramount, as they are largely sustenance farmers. If the rains are plentiful and the crops grow well, my neighbors will be able to harvest almost as much grain as they will need to feed their families in the coming year.
In a questionnaire I completed early in my service, nine of the 10 people I surveyed said that the grains they grow for themselves start to run out around May each year, and they have to buy supplementary grains at market or borrow from friends or family until the next harvesting season – October-December. Only the very few who are wealthy enough to have large fields and surplus might have extra grain or other crops to sell at market.
It goes without saying that if disease or drought strike their fields, the year ahead could be even more difficult. For this reason, most of my recent conversations with farmers usually end with farming blessings for a lot of rain, “Ala ka san ji caman be na,” and a hearty harvest, “Ala ka no kaba ani tiga caman soro.”
So it seems like the rain and rainy season is fantastic, right? The rains make it cooler, they spruce up the land, and you can feel the sense of purpose that this time of year inspires in the boys and men whose work will help feed their families during the year ahead. But, the rainy season also has its drawbacks.
Without paved roads or proper sewage systems, the rains create a muddy mess of roads and form long-lasting puddles that serve as the perfect breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. As mentioned in an earlier post, the rain can also be inhibitive to project progress. For this reason, I won’t be holding any more formal trainings or workshops until after the harvest. The constant threat of rain, and the demands that rainy season work places on my community members, makes this time of year the worst time to schedule and carryout successful formations.
Traveling during rainy season is always an adventure, too. You might remember, from one of my very early posts, a reference to it raining inside the bus. Simply put, if it’s raining outside it’s at least dripping inside and your seat, clothing and bags are the victims of the inconvenient wetness.
Now that I’ve experienced all of the seasons of Mali, I’d have to say my favorite season is the “cold season” (not surprising, huh?). The temperature is comfortable to cool, the market is plentiful, and people have time to participate in activities outside of their obligations. I’m certain that this season will arrive here again sooner than I can imagine, but until then, I’m enjoying rainy season – taking the bad with the good and enjoying the scenery.