Sunday, April 13, 2008

Rainy Season

It started raining as I was on my way to Swahili class. (Actually, the course had ended, but the director of the school was so perturbed by the lack of progress of my classmate and I, she held remedial Swahili class. She called it a “review” so it wouldn’t sound like we were in the “special” class, but we knew where we stood.)

When it rains here, somehow, it rains in far more biblical ways than it does in the States. Gallons of water fall, overwhelming roads, creating instant lakes, drenching pedestrians.

En route I stopped at Shoppers Plaza, a new modern mall with a supermarket. A half-dozen men were squeegying water off the tiled promenade. They couldn’t keep up with the downpour. I thought to myself – why don’t we see squeegee men keeping promenades clear in the U.S.?, and then realized that in the U.S, walkways are built with a slight slope so that rain water runs off. I thought that this was an insight worth sharing with someone involved with the Ministry of the Approval of Architectural Plans or some such, even if it meant reducing the squeegying economy.

The roads quickly become rivers. Not just remote rural roads, but the main roads in Dar have no sewers, no place for water to run off, no drainage system whatsoever. So water simply piles up. (Hillary’s colleague Alex corrected me and said that a drainage system does in fact exist, it just doesn’t work.)

Driving back from class, people were wading from storefront to storefront, water above knee level. Cars drove leaving a wake of water from mid-wheel. Road boundaries become somewhat moot at this point, so the two-lane road had turned into a five-lane free-for-all. Cars were angling on the sidewalk sides of telephone poles, crisscrossing to drive on the opposite shoulder, so traffic comes at you from both sides, drivers steeled to forge across rivers like Washington crossing the Delaware. It was complete and utter chaos. It took me an hour and twenty minutes to drive the five miles back from class. And this happens every time it rains, which is almost every day for a few months in rainy season.

The rains continued through the night. The next day, there were deep new trenches and car length potholes in the roads. Many parts of Dar, of course the poorer parts, end up below water. A story in the local newspaper reported that four people in Dar had died as a result of walls collapsing.

We are often told that the key to happiness is to learn to appreciate the little things. I am starting with a profound appreciation of sewers and drainage systems.

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