Thursday, April 20, 2017

"Hey, Looks Like the Rain is Coming on the Other Side!"

This blog discusses rains quite a lot, and perhaps that is unsurprising given how central rain patterns are to the agriculture-centered local economy.  Indeed, when in villages, one of the most common topics of conversations is whether or not rains have come, when did it come, how long it was, and how strong was the downpour.  In a place where motorcycles are the chief mode of transport, the coming and going of rains is not just important to gauge the success of crops, but when and how long trips to the next village or market town can be.

To that effect, locals have developed quite sophisticate method of understanding just when and where rains will occur in the vicinity of their villages.  Simply, it consists of a villager looking out from the village into the distance and finding patches of dark clouds on the horizon.  The experienced villager can easily point out in which direction the rains are currently occur, about to occur, and to which direction the rains are moving.  The more experienced can even predict just how hard and how long the rains will last before stopping.  For a people that rarely carry umbrella, such ability to discern the rain movements is surprising.

That ability is all the more amazing considering just minuscule of changes in the atmosphere the villagers are trying to decode.  For the inexperienced, honestly, a village that is about to hit with a bout of heavy rains looks the same in all directions.  Everywhere, the sky is misty, the winds are cold, moisture can be felt in the air.  Dark clouds surround all directions, not just any particular one.  The rains can come from anywhere, fall anytime, and it would not be surprising.  But for villagers, they can say with confidence that rains will not fall in the east but is falling hard 20 minutes by motorcycle to the west.

And almost inevitably, they would be correct.  If one refuses to listen and hope on the motorcycle to the west, nine of ten times they would be stuck under a roof for an hour or two to wait for heavy rains to pass through.  As the villagers would say, it would have been better just to wait it out in the village itself rather than apologetically borrowing some random farm family's roof to avoid getting completely soaked.  Even if one is quite used to the concept of getting slightly wet from rainwater, the sheer strength of uninhibited downpours in the blowing wind is enough to make the whole body painful in matter of minutes.

Not having to choose between getting soaked and sick or having to delay one's trip for hours waiting out the rains is but one reason that the ability to "see" rains in the distance is so valuable.  The other, and just as important, is the road conditions.  Shoddy infrastructure is the number one reason for not just transport delays but accidents that break both vehicles and people.  This is particularly true in villages where even main roads are nothing but a bed of soil.  In heavy downpours, what was suitable for heavy trucks to pass through are quickly reduced to mud-pools where walking is already difficult.

In those mud-pools, trucks and cars are stuck for hours, as their wheels grind into newly formed holes in the soft dirt.  Efforts by driver and passengers to dig the wheel out in heavy rain is complete futile, as each shovel of dirt to help the wheels find traction is quickly replaced with more running mud to negate the friction.  One-hour journeys quickly turn into all day events as many can do nothing beyond just waiting for the soil underneath to dry up after rains pass and the sun comes out.  Had the passengers knew about the rains beforehand, they probably would have never left the origin.

Given just how inconvenient rains can be for daily life, it makes sense that the villagers have passed on the ability to predict the rains as a valuable skill.  It helps that from the outskirts of villages, it is so easy to see far into the distance.  The lack of large buildings, tall vegetation, and visibility-reducing pollution mean that on a good day, one can see hundreds of kilometers away for any sign of rainclouds.  Such is not possible in a big city, where buildings block the view and moisture in the air can be industrial or car emissions just as likely as signs of rains nearby.

Who knows?  Once upon a time, maybe all humans had the ability to "see" the rains like Tanzanian villagers do so skillfully.  As people moved to locations and professions where knowing when and where it rains is not so pivotal to daily survival, that skill is gradually lost.  In the world's biggest metropolises, roofed walkways and connected buildings already link whole neighborhoods together where one does not even need to venture outside to reach intended destinations.  People in such places would see rains as romantic rather than annoying.  It would be nice if those people can spend a bit more time to comprehend how a small force of nature like rains can still mire some people's daily lives in great difficulties.

No comments:

Post a Comment