Friday, April 21, 2006

It came, after much anticipation--everyone had been talking about it for weeks, seeking refuge in any shade that could be found from the scorching sun, that came at us with a force that helped us understand the phrase “sun beating down on you.” The earth became so dry and dusty that a small gust of wind could lift a layer of it and carry it through the door of your home. And at night, mattresses and their sleepers fled their chambers for the outdoors, where a bit of breeze made the heat sleepable. And then, finally, it came, the Rain of Mangoes.

I woke around six, as I usually do, but this time to an unfamiliar touch, a drop on my forehead, then on my hand, then another on my chest. Unsure whether the skies would yield, I undid my mosquito net and stuck a hand out toward the heaven. I heard the pace of the drops quicken slightly against the corrugated tin roof, and decided it was time to get my mattress back into my room in a hurry. Within a minute, it was pouring, the first rain, the Rain of Mangoes that knocks the ripe mangoes off of their high perches at the height of their season, that foretells the rainy season to come.

I stood at the door of my room and watched it come down, smelling that host misty thunderstorm scent I had not experienced for months. When it calmed a bit, I crossed to Nana’s room, where she was in the doorway cooking breakfast, a huge smile on her face: la pluit viens! Ca va casser la chaleur. The rain has come, this will break the heat! Aminata, my three year old little sister, was the first to venture out, totally naked, into the rain. Fatimata, her slightly older sister, ran out after her, Na Sokono! Come inside!

Inside my room,, I discovered all the cracks that had been hiding in the roof of my room, and rearranged my bags to keep important things from getting too wet. The rainy season, which will come within a month or so, brings so much here. It brings relief from the intense heat of the dry season, it brings water, always scarce in Yirimadjo, it brings the season of farming, where many families work to see what life they can coax out of the land, it brings collapsing roofs and families fleeing into the city in search of dryer refuge. It brings soaring rates of malaria: another one of my little sisters had her fever spike up to 40C today. She is one of many of my friends, family, and neighbors here I have seen fight malaria, and the rainy season has not yet even begun.

Though many things here seem far from the roots I know, somehow, they help me know those roots better by that very merit. In Israel, this is the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the dry season—in Mali, the opposite, so just as we stop praying for rain in Israel, the rain comes in Mali. Yet living in the midst of this dry-season-wet-season rhythm, however inversed, has helped me understand how embedded life is with the rhythm of the rain. In the height of the dry season, women and girls at all hours of the night wait at the water pump to gather water for their families…pumps break, sometimes people spend hours searching, sometimes fights break out as people get frantic in their search for water for their families. Praying for rain has these resonances for me now. Washing hands has also taken on new resonances: with the ease of soap dispensers and running water at every juncture in the US, I have taken this holy act too often for granted; here, where water is scarce and hardfought, where diarrheal and parasitic diseases are pervasive, I see this mitzvah with new eyes and feel it with new hands.