Friday, May 13, 2011

Weather and other surprises

I thought the hot, dry season would last through May, but I was wrong. We have had several showers and the other day there was a big storm, with lots of wind blowing the dust around before the rain. There were big storm clouds with lightning and thunder. It was very dramatic storm with a good downpour of rain. The path in front of my house turned into a little stream. Unfortunately, I have discovered drainage problems with my new wall around the courtyard. I had to wade through about 3 inches of water to get to my gate. My friend Prosper and his friend Basolé saw what had happened and made a drain hole at the base of the wall that pretty much solved the problem. They even found a rock about the right size to close off the hole to keep out snakes, which people worry about here. Since then we have had another big downpour and one night with a gentle rain that lasted for hours. There were only a few puddles n the courtyard. Prosper says he will find some dirt to fill them in because you do not want puddles during the rainy season as mosquito breeding grounds.

When it rains, things cool off temporarily, but it often returns to the 100 degree mark shortly after the rain stops. Other days there may be cloud cover and highs in the low 90s. I am not sure how long these rains will last. I think they will be pretty irregular for a while. People do not start working in the fields for a while yet, and I understand you have to time the planting of your crops so that there is rain consistently when you do plant your seeds. Since the rain has started the weeds growing, however, and there is a carpet of green in each low lying area. The sheep, goats and pigs are happy to have fresh shoots to munch on.

Trees in the dry season
In the fall some of the trees lost their leaves and I had expected most of them, except for the mango, to follow suit. Wrong again. Most of the trees not only kept their leaves, but grew lots of new shoots where folks had cut off branches for building and fire wood. The ones that did lose their leaves started to put out flowers and then seeds in the middle of the hot, dry season. Before the rain began most of the trees had put out leaves again. I don’t know how they can be growing with no rain. I had expected them to be dormant until the rain started. They must have tremendously deep roots to get the water they need to grow like this.

Other odds and ends

I live rather close to a major highway. It is a paved, two lane road between two big towns. The locals ride bicycles and motos on it, but I even get off my bicycle to cross it. Most of the traffic consists of busses going between the two towns, bush taxies, big trucks transporting gas, wood for cooking, or other products, and some private cars. You can often stand at the road, look both ways, and see nothing but bike and moto traffic, but when the trucks and busses come, they fly by. The drivers, especially of the busses, love to use their horns, which are loud and may play a tune instead of just beeping. All this is fine if they are letting bikes and motos know they are coming and another vehicle is coming toward them, so get off the road. Most beep at anybody they see on the road. This is not so bad during the day, but it goes on all night, too. I am a good sleeper, but sometimes it takes a while to go to sleep because of the sudden sharp sounds of the horns.

Most of the bicycles here are simple single speed bikes, although you occasionally see a three speed or a 10 speed. It is amazing what people carry on bicycles. You may see baskets of goats with their feet tied together on the way to market, or chickens hanging from the handle bars. More often than not the women have babies on their backs and something balanced on their heads. The men often have huge loads of boxes, bags, or lumber, tied on with stretchy black bands made from old inner tubes. I brought bungee cords with me, but these black bands work much better. You stretch them tight and easily adjust them to any size load. Some people have baskets on the front of their bikes, but I have not been able to get one because my mountain bike has a bigger frame than the local ones and I have not found anyone who knows how to put one on for me.

Bicycles are often used for fetching water in the plastic jerrycans I showed you in a previous blog. A couple of these make a pretty heavy load, and it is not surprising the bicycles break down pretty often. It is rare for me to ride into town without seeing someone replacing the chin that has slipped off their bike. Peddles tend to get broken and fall off, and tires go flat. Because bikes are the main means of transportation here, there are a lot of places to get help if you have a flat tire or just need some air. New peddles and new seats are on display at boutiques all along the road.

Cadeau? Cadeau?
When I am riding my bicycle kids tend to chase me and try to keep up for a while. Some are really good runners. The ones that bother me are the ones who catch hold of the luggage rack on the back of my bike, or my back pack that is strapped to it, and either pull or push. I don’t have great balance, so when they do this, I put on the brakes (which takes them by surprise) and chew them out. Most of the kids along my regular route have figured out that I don’t like it and leave it at yelling “nassara, pas de cadeau,” that is, “foreigner, no present?” I guess tourists sometimes respond to this phrase by giving small coins or candy, but I have a strict policy of “pas de cadeau” because if I start giving things to kids (or adults who often ask the same thing) it will never end. I am not here to give physical gifts, but, hopefully, the gift of knowledge. I also think that this may be the only French phrase kids know. They see a foreigner and figure they will not understand the local language, so yell the only French phrase they know. I am trying to teach them some other things to say, by following “pas de cadeau” with some other French greetings. We shall see if I have made any progress on that front after two years.

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