This being the second day this quarter (and in a long time) with some rain in usually sunny San Diego,
I thought I should take the time to share some memories of rain in East Africa. And by rain, I actually mean rain.
I don't think I knew proper rain before coming to Kenya. And that should mean something considering the fact that I grew up in Germany.
My first encounter with Kenyan rain must have been during my first week there – rainy season! When I arrived in late August, it rained almost daily in the afternoon. It doesn't last to long but if you happen to be outside, prepare to be COMPLETELY soaked.
Here are two general rules I have learned to follow when it rains in East Africa:
1. If I don't bring my rain jacket, it will most definitely rain.
2. Whatever was planned to happen (especially outside), has to wait. You have a scheduled meeting, need to leave or get somewhere quickly? It's raining, so pole pole (slowly slowly). No one would ever expect you to leave a place/arrive on time once it starts pouring.
Pouring. That describes it more accurately.
I had read online before that the "everything stops when it rains"-rule applies to teaching in Uganda as well. I discovered this to be the truth shortly after coming to Uganda during the rainy season in November. Teaching Primary Six class (second highest level in primary school – kids aged 12-17), I ignored the smiles and "Aunt, it will rain soon"s, about to commence with a lesson on music. This was interrupted only few minutes later, when the sky opened up. Dropping what sounded like small stones onto our metal roof, the rain made teaching absolutely impossible. No one was able to hear my voice.
As a new, improvising and untrained teacher I was not sure whether rain excused class in general (although no one would leave the classroom in that weather anyway), whether I should just let everyone sleep or do their own thing or whether I should attempt to teach. Again, being the inexperienced volunteer teacher, I decided on the latter. Since talking would not work, I proceeded with the lesson by turning it into an art lesson and wrote "Draw your favorite instrument" and "Write your name on your paper" on the blackboard.
By the end of the lesson, I received 24 sheets saying "Draw your favorite instrument" and "Write your name on your paper". Most of them had started to draw musical instruments, only few had actually written their names instead of the instruction of writing their names on the paper.
That day, I learned not only that rain in Uganda literally means that everything stops and that the children can predict rain much better than Karen from Mean Girls (and in advance!) but also that teaching in Uganda primarily focuses on copying what is written on the board.
After describing how everything stops during the rain, let me tell you some stories of when I decided to go against this rule and got soaked to the bone.
My best friend since I was three years old, Lara, came to visit me in Kenya for a week in February. Broke as I was, I tried to come up with fun things to do on a budget in Kenya (thereby excluding safaris, etc). I had met a guy from Germany a couple of weeks earlier who lived near Lake Bogoria with his wife. He had invited me to come stay with them and as I had still not been to Lake Bogoria and seen its flamingos (due to another interesting series of events I shall share another time), I thought having Lara in Kenya would be the perfect weekend to take him up on the offer.
We were meant to take a minibus, a matatu, to the nearest town and then figuring out our way to their house and the lake. I had not considered the fact that the lake is actually part of a National Reserve thus forgotten that accessing it includes a high entrance fee.
It was already cloudy but hadn't rained yet and after a coffee-stop at Java Coffeehouse, Lara and I met our piki piki (motorbike) driver Stanley who took us back to my place to get our things together. On the way I told Stanley about our plans and my concern that not having a car would limit us when going to see the lake. He commented saying "I can take you for cheap".
The lake was about two hours away, his price was good and we'd be able to get into the park with him and the motorbike so... the decision was made before we got to our apartment. We agreed to pay him for the way there as well as the park, he'd then go back to Nakuru and we'd stay overnight at the German guy's place and take the matatu back in the morning.
A quick change of clothes into our rainjackets, listening to Sally playing "Ghosts" and off we went.
It started raining. No, it started pouring about 10 minutes out of Nakuru.
We stopped to get out the umbrella Stanley usually carries with his motorbike but being three people and considering our speed and the amount of rain, we quickly decided that it was completely useless. By the time we got to the equator it had stopped raining but we were properly soaked.
Getting lost only once or twice, we made it to the entrance of Lake Bogoria National Reserve after approximately three hours instead of the expected two, a fairly reasonable amount of time to sit on a motorbike. At the gate we were asked for the entrance fee of $50. I had about $10. Fortunately, basic Swahili knowledge helped in convincing the guard I was a Kenyan citizen, leaving us to pay $5 each. Visiting the park on a motorbike didn't seem to be very common as the guard's face and tone expressed disbelief and confusion about why two wazungu had decided to take a piki piki to see a lake and flamingos (in the rain!). Flamingos, we were told, were only few as the lake had been flooded for quite a while.
The flooding had not only affected the flamingos, many of which we found dead on the lakeshore but the entire park and roads meant for vehicle use. Some ended in the lake, some were too muddy to use. We had to get off the motorbike a couple of times and walk around because the mud was too slippery for the bike. Stanley was fairly confident in driving us through the difficult terrain until...
... we crashed in the mud. All three of us were taken by surprise as we fell onto the wet, brown ground. We remained there for a second, all wondering what had just happened. Since our driving speed had been very slow and it was more of a "tilt" than a "crash", everyone was fine. Fine but wet and dirty. We took it with humour and proceeded our search not only for flamingos but the hot springs that are said to be at Lake Bogoria.
Lara and I had decided to come back to Nakuru with Stanley that night since we were cold and did not want to show up at someone's house covered in mud. The day had been eventful and fun but all we wanted was to get off the motorbike, get home, take a shower and curl up in bed (on our mattresses/couchcushions). It was getting dark and we still hadn't found any hot springs. We still hadn't turned around to get out of the park, either. Eventually, we ran into a park ranger who told us to get out of the park. We gave up on the hot springs and turned around, hoping we'd find our way back since we couldn't just follow the roads as those were gone.
It was pitch black by the time we left the park. We needed fuel and the villagers helping us in the first village outside the park were properly surprised by our intention of driving all the way back to Nakuru.
With limited lighting (only the motorbike's lighting which only enabled us to see what was right in front of us), we started driving back. Darkness, numerous potholes, high speed and hurting limbs pretty much sum up most of the way back. Too tired and aching from sitting on the bike, also too aware of what allowing myself to question what we were doing might do, I decided to disregard the risks we had put ourselves in. We drove by a police check, afraid of them fining us or threatening to take Stanley to jail again for driving two people (or rather for not using us to bribe them and not having money to pay them) which had happened some other time. Whether thanks to the rain or just luck, we weren't stopped.
Hats off to Stanley driving all the way.
Hats off to his motorbike Simba for not collapsing sooner.
In the outskirts of Nakuru we got a flat tire. By that time, it was 9pm and pouring again. With our bags (we had packed to stay overnight and Lara had her SLR in a bigger bag along with her purse) on the motorbike, we proceeded on foot until we realized that Lara's big bag was gone, probably fallen off as we had just put it on top of the bike. Stanley left to find it and actually did. Lara and I were laughing about the situation because it got more and more ridiculous. Pushing the motorbike, walking through the Kenyan night in the rain, we eventually reached a gas station just outside of Nakuru town. Stanley arranged to leave Simba there and we found a tuk tuk to take us home where Irene, being the amazing person that she is, had cooked us vegetable curry. Another adventure in Kenya, this time not counting hours or days on public transport but hours sitting on a motorbike – about 8-9 hours yay!
Also, rain does not stop everything. Although maybe it should have. But then again, this random series of events would not have happened.
*Now imagine this beautiful road at night while it's raining.