Recent rains have brought many challenges to the lives of those who dwell in the fair city of Dar es Salaam. When I say ‘fair city’, maybe I am being slightly generous in my praise. Only last week, I cycled over a squashed rodent (can I bring myself to write ‘rat’?) not too far from my apartment block and buried my foot in mud and squalor of dubious scent outside my local fruit and vegetable stall. I’m also the favoured foot stuff of myriad sub-Saharan flying, jumping, buzzing insects at present but, frankly, who can blame them? I like to think I’m tasty….
Digression: my greatest flaw. Rain. Rain of such intensity and force, of such admirable determination and intent to cause chaos, that even cats and dogs could not compete were they to join the thundering chorus of this season’s torrents. One afternoon, I was so hypnotized by the roar of egg-cup sized drops smashing onto every available tin, concrete and mud surface available that I left my office at CCBRT to simply stand and stare and poke my fascinated face into the wonder of it all. It was noisy, boisterous, defiant, mighty and – yes – wet.
My latest wonderful discovery is that, despite the degrees of wetness that certainly exist, there is a certain level of wetness that exists which, once achieved, means that there really is no chance of becoming any wetter. Provided that the water-to-body transfer continues at a consistently intense rate, it is simply impossible to either dry out in any significant manner or, importantly, to get any more soaked than you already are.
Making this discovery was exceptionally fun and, ultimately, freeing. As I cycled (ah yes, the adventures on a bike continue), brimming with the kind of false optimism which comes in handy in these parts, the sky was quite suddenly churning: clouds the colour of slate blocking the sun. A voice, perhaps that of Thor, clamoured ‘silly woman, seek shelter somewhere. Anywhere!!!!’, split seconds before the nimbus cracked and released its remorse.
(What followed reminded me somehow of what happens to me when I have been striding through life for months without an emotional outpouring. Once a solitary tear falls, I am wont to tumbling into such heaving mounds of distress that I hardly recognise myself. The last time this happened, I buried myself in bed for an entire day – timing the moments I needed to rehydrate with tea and juice to coincide with housemates being in the shower, or at the shops. I cannot bear to cry in public any more…)
So, yes, there I was merrily going about my business when the rain started. Now, let me explain that rain here does not necessarily start with a few light, teasing tastes of what is to follow. It does not always commence with a barely perceptible, dancing introduction. Oh no: and why should it, when it has been off stage for so many months and creating such a stir about when its grand performance will finally begin? So here it came at last; crashing into the spotlight; outperforming every other player so that they fled to cower in the wings and leaving no doubt as to its role which was, quite simply, to make everything (human, animal, vegetable, mineral, road, roof, yard and – notably – bike (plus one)) intensely, passionately, completely, incontrovertibly WET.
A magical thing occurred that day two weeks ago. I encountered a whole new experience and, with it, a rather fabulous physical and mental state. Probably rain-phobic for many years thanks to the legacy of a father who simply loathes the grey, drizzle-strewn days that seem to occur in depressing multitude in England, the experience of being transformed within minutes from dry to immeasurably drenched was surprisingly cleansing and uplifting. At first, as ample, bulbous drops commenced their descent from the sky, I cursed the heavens. I scanned the scene, searching for a place to shelter. Scarf over my head, I guess I resembled some kind of Virgin Mary figure (!), only with bike, not donkey!
As sobbing drops became heaving, grieving, inconsolable weeping, I found myself (quite logically!) getting wetter and wetter and wetter and wetter. No tree, no matter how magnificent, could offer me respite. No scarf, for sure, was going to keep my hair dry. My shorts and t-shirt were defenceless, thin cotton and were soon glued intimately to my body. There was nowhere to hide and I stopped trying! It seemed, suddenly, not only futile to seek respite from this rather astounding display of nature’s will, but actually peevish. Prudish. I was struck, quite plainly, by the irrefutable harmlessness of the rain soaking me through and through and, parking my bike under the boughs of a nearby tree, strolled out and stood still – face to the sky – exposed to the full force of torrential, tremendous downpour. It was a real Andy Dufresne moment.
Once wet, once absolutely, fundamentally, every-nook-and-cranny sodden, it dawned on me that – as I could not get any more wet, and had no close chance of getting drier – I had reached saturation point and may as well linger a while longer in the place between sky and earth. I was entranced by the solitude of the moment, for no one else beyond a few bemused drivers passed by, and heard only the symphonic splendour of drums into which the roar of the rain somehow morphed.
Joy: in a dripping moment of commune with the rainy season.
Ah yes: where was I? The challenges! It’s not easy to describe the state of some of the roads in my adopted home town but let’s just say that drainage is…. well………… drainage does not really happen.
The relationship between unpaved roads, significant quantities of soil and dust, piles of litter constructed as though they were castles, and a rainy season that makes Victoria Falls blush, is not so much symbiotic as antibiotic (yes, yes, it makes sense!): that is to say, chaotic and destructive.
We all know relationships like this, and they are messy. In this instance, they create mud and mayhem: rivers of silty, filthy water whirl down the streets, carrying not only the muck of the land but also the grime of the street be it plastic, latex (…..), paper, animal or (flinch) human waste. And, like an overflowing brook, it breaches its banks and creeps its way into ditches, potholes, back yards, lower floor flats….. carrying with it not only its dirt but also, I am certain, a grubby smirk.
What all of this metaphor and word play really boils down to is this: when it rains in Dar, streets flood. Streets flood not only with water but with disgusting, unidentifiable, reeking, rotten slicks of grimness. What look like puddles could be three feet deep. What looks like mud is probably not only mud but, honestly, mud and shit and piss and dead rats and frogs legs. Yes, really: frogs legs….. Cycling through this kind of foulness is idiotic to such a degree that even I do not attempt it. Well, OK, I did once try to get down the mud track that leads to CCBRT en-velo, but once I had experienced the sideways topple that squelched my entire lower leg in that mud-shit-piss combo, I decided my legs were worthy of more nurturing treatment.
Something more charming is called for......
I’m feeling like an extraordinarily lucky woman right now. It’s an astonishing thing to say as, to be candid, there have been times life when I have not exactly grasped this whole being alive thing with both hands. But really. Absolutely. Incredibly. Amazingly. Right now I’m feeling ecstatically blessed beyond words. I’m not sure where I was in my twenties. I mean, I know I was getting my degrees, living in Leeds, buying a house, trying to be a girlfriend/ wife…..oh, and that in my very early thirties I went to New Zealand in an attempt to rescue something…..but, really, where the hell was I?
Dar has been, by turn, malignant and benign; warm and chilly; soothing and terrorising; affectionate and loathing. I myself have been forced to grow in ways I never dreamt I would or could, and some of it has felt painful and wrong and unwanted. At times, I have hidden in my room, wrapped myself in a sheet, stroked photographs of my family and silently screamed. At others, I have resolved to take the next flight out of here. Yes, it has been extremely hard, mostly because I knew nothing of the world and learning about it has not always been pleasant.
Yet magical things really do happen. Never in my life have I been so massively blessed by the people I meet, with all their vagaries and shades. Never before have I been so committed to the people around me, in particular a number of friends who, for some strange reason that cannot to be explained, have entered my heart with such aplomb that I love them without condition and unchangeably. Never before have I been more open to these phenomenal people, nor more ready to jump for them. Never before have I felt this kind of depth of affection for a motley bunch who come from such different places and change my perspectives on pretty much everything.
It’s simply breath-taking: the richness of the human race and the bloody brilliance of it. Yes, I get hurt at times. Yes, I get raging mad. But, woweee, I will not deign to use words to describe the people I love here. They are, simply, immense.
So, how lucky am I?
Two and a half years since my formal separation, I find myself not only making my way career wise (I’m a writer, as you should know, for www.ccbrt.or.tz.... as well as an ad hoc teacher, cake maker and, ermmmmmm, karaoke queen of the Irish pub. This causes much amusement – the day I tell my parents that my education led to me running a pub night, heckling singers, making lewd innuendos, kicking my legs to New York New York…. I think I can kiss my inheritance goodbye!), but also – and much more importantly – making my way as an unattached, ‘independent’ girl. And the wonder of ‘independence’ is that, in reality, one never is.
Being single, I have come to see, does not mean being alone. I have girlfriends with whom I can share anything without fear of judgment, and I have male friends who tell me quite brutally how it is and make me roar with laughter. And, just when you think you have your friends and need no more, someone totally unanticipated flurries in like a snowstorm and turns the entire scene on its head. White out.
Life is truly beautiful.
I want to live forever.