Friday, 27 November 2009

Contrasts


Adrian and I have just returned from a much-needed holiday in East Africa, touring in Kenya and Tanzania, with a spell at the beach on the Tanzanian coast. Beaches are not my natural habitat, but this one was lovely, a classic sweep of palm-fringed white sand around a kingfisher-blue bay. It was hot, the sort of temperature I'd usually complain about, but the heat was moderated most of the time by a brisk onshore breeze, and if it was really too much one could be in the sea in thirty seconds to cool down.

November is usually the period of the kaskazi, the north-east monsoon that blows southwards and brings the short rains to East Africa - formerly it also brought the trading fleet of dhows from Arabian ports on their seasonal circulation around the Indian Ocean. This year it is late in coming, but the premonitions were evident one morning with a change in the wind direction and a brisk shower of rain. Falling on hot dry sand this released a heady draught of the most delicious of fragrances - petrichor, 'the scent of rain on dry earth.' In Africa, rain is the most precious of commodities, however contrary its appearance and abundance may be.

In 1919, Karen Blixen wrote to her mother 'I have a feeling that wherever I may be in the future, I will be wondering whether there is rain at Ngong.' There has indeed been rain at Ngong in recent days, and the countryside thereabouts is lush and green, but the kaskazi has yet to do its work and relieve the drought elsewhere in East Africa. 'My' village, Lerang'wa, on the northern slope of Kilimanjaro, remains desperately dry, a dustbowl where the cattle are mostly dead and the people very hungry.

Compare that to the situation here. Rain has fallen in Colesbourne almost every day in November, and is coming coldly down as I write. Everywhere is wet and squishy, and water is lying in the field below the cottage. Very beneficial for the aquifer no doubt, and we shall be glad of that next summer, but at the moment it is very unpleasant indeed.

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