The First Rains

Storm clouds accumulate over a grey Lake Malawi
By Katy Burr
Jan. 10, 2018
It has been stifling hot for days. The kind of hot where you can’t tell where your skin ends and the hot dusty air begins.

The only thing that separates you from the dry, caked earth is the constant trickle of sweat. A fountain really, streaming down your face, your back, your fingertips. Day and night. Then, a few days ago, the first rainstorm came.

I was sitting in my house, absorbed in a novel, trying to escape the hot beating of the high afternoon sun. It had been cloudy all day but that seemed to do little to break the heat. And then I heard it, the loud crash of thunder. At first I thought it was the familiar clanging of the metal gate of my compound, but then with another vibrating clap it echoed across the bare land….it was close. It did not start off far away and hazy sounding as I was used to thunderstorms starting, this was practically on my back doorstep. I snapped up alert, awake from the daydream of my novel.

Suddenly, I realized I was no longer sweating. My skin was dry and sticky with the leftover salt crust. Outside I was greeted with a cool refreshing breeze, and another loud crack of thunder. This time all the neighborhood kids had gathered together in excitement, and the dangerous roar from the clouds sent them screaming, giggling, and scattering. My neighbor informed me the thunder is called chimpaliwali in Chichewa as I helped her pack up her produce from the small makeshift roadside stand she tends every day.

I sat on my porch in anticipation of the deluge and a few neighbors came to join me, curious about what the azungu (foreigner) plans to do outside in such inclement weather. I sit and realize how excited this Pacific Northwest girl is for a small familiar piece of home. The storm starts to build around us. The wind picks up and suddenly the air is full of the parched sand that covers the ground as far as the eye can see. It stings our eyes as it dances around, as if it is frantic for a long drink of water that it knows is coming.

The dusty, dry, dead landscape of a Malawian village that has not seen rain in many months.
Soon this dry and dusy field will be filled with green

I invite my neighbors inside to escape the rebellion of the eager dust. We talk and laugh inside as the wind howls outside, and after a bit some of my neighbors run back home before the worst of it. But four of us bunker down in my house. My living room is completely empty, so I bring out a blanket for us to sit on and a packet of cookies to snack on. All my Malawian neighbors need to put them at ease is the hospitality of a new friend to feel right at home.

Outside the clouds open, and all at once the rains descend with the force of a waterfall, quite unlike the delicate rains I am used to in the Pacific Northwest. I stand in awe for a minute from my doorway, listening to the pounding rain on my tin roof and enjoying the cool moist air filling my lungs. As the rain continues its torrent for the next hour we are cozy in my house, me and three children from my neighborhood.

 We eat cookies, play on my phone, and I even bring out a few of my glow sticks–channeling my best inner Jedi—keeping them entertained with light saber fights. Though, I’m quite sure they could not fathom why the azungu was making those weird noises and swiping the glow stick around that way, but they played along nonetheless.

We listened to my favorite music that reminds me of the rainy autumn days at home, and I sighed in utter contentedness at the moment. I hadn’t appreciated how much my heart ached for autumn with old friends and old comforts. The rain had brought in a new refreshing energy and a calming sense of familiarity all at the same time.

As the storm wrapped up we tidied up, and I sent my friends on their way, brandishing their new glowing trophies (the next day they were all rather disappointed when they came back to report they were all broken and no longer lighting up, and I tried to explain they were only temporary fun!)One girl, a smart and sweet soul named Marvelous, stayed behind shyly protesting her departure, chirping “Sindikufuna” which means “I don’t want to” in reply to my requests for her to head back home. She smiled sweetly and squirmed nervously. I reply to her in Chichewa, saying “I know, but we can play together another time.” Her grin widens and she asks excitedly, “You will come visit me!?” I nod in agreement, and she flies out the door to catch up with her friends, delighted with the day’s events. I turn back to my house, heart full, mind at ease. I have found a little piece of home here in Malawi.

A white, female Volunteer stands on steps infront of a building that says Peace Corps Malawi on it.