It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
- Toto, “Africa”
In case there’s any confusion, Toto is the 80’s rock group, not Dorothy’s dog from The Wizard of Oz, although he probably could better sing lines like:
The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what's right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
It’s only now, sitting in Africa, that I can appreciate how ridiculous that song is. I’m still not sure how a dog (or anyone, for that matter) is ever going to find solitary company, but the band gets full marks for trying to find a word to rhyme with “Serengeti”, though I would have personally gone with “spaghetti”. My guess is that the band didn’t spend much time in Africa during the rainy season before they penned this song, because if they had, they likely wouldn’t be blessing the rain.
Of course, this is just the grouchy batauri in me speaking. The local residents do bless the rains, because they are dependent on them for survival. Despite the immense wealth that Nigeria enjoys from its oil reserves, it remains essentially an agrarian society, its citizens relying on subsistence agriculture to carry them from year to year. If you had told me in March that the parched landscape around me would soon produce more than dust devils and my chronic cough, I would have reckoned you were crazier than a cactus cuddler. Nuttier than a one-armed rattlesnake milker. Loonier than a coyote…..you get the idea.
But the rains did come, and it would be difficult to overstate the dramatic transformation of the countryside. If you blindfold me now and drop me 200 feet from my house, it would take me some time to recognize where I am. Of course, the same was true before the rain began, so this might not be the best gauge. But the speed of the growth of the grass and other plants is startling, as though they’ve been conditioned to maximize their existence before the rain disappears. Left to grow as it chooses, the greenery has even overtaken roads, reducing passing lanes to a single track in some places. I’m sure if I stood in one place long enough, I could grow another couple of inches taller. And gain some moss on my willy.
Not all of the growth is unplanned. As soon as the weather hinted at a change, people headed for their fields to prepare them for planting. Wielding a tool that’s a cross between a shovel and a hoe, the men dig their fields by hand, an extraordinary thing to witness. No tractor. No horse or oxen. Not even a plow. Just a shovel swung into the ground, acre after backbreaking acre. I wouldn’t last five minutes. Every morning as drove to the office, I would watch the men at work, already hours into their labour. Somewhat uncharitably, the one thought that dominated all others was not an admiration for their effort but rather a sense that there must be an easier way for them to farm the land. And the short answer to this is “Of course”. But the farming techniques we take for granted in Canada all come with a price tag that few people here can afford. With 90% of the population living on less than $2 per day, a plow might as well be a Cadillac.
Whether these men take the same amount of satisfaction in seeing their crops grow as people do with their hobby gardens back home, I don’t know. Given the stakes involved, I suspect the overwhelming feeling is rather one of relief. Whatever the case, the corn has now grown as high as an elephant’s eye, to paraphrase the old song (not from Toto, thankfully), so the first harvest will soon take place and the ground quickly replanted in an effort to make the most of the growing season, due to end in the early Fall with the final drop of rain.
The odd thing about the rain at the beginning of the season was its regularity. In Canada, storms blow in and out with little predictability. An early morning shower might not repeat itself for a week or a month. Here, I could set my watch by the approaching clouds. Almost invariably, the morning offered no clue to what would happen in the afternoon, with bright sunshine and warm temperatures befitting a brilliant summer’s day. By mid-afternoon, the clouds would slide in as though they were punching a clock and by four, one would swear the apocalypse had descended. Thunder, lightning, torrential rain and wind blowing like a hurricane’s nasty little brother. And within an hour, it was all over; any birds not blown to Cameroon tentatively resumed their songs and the storm was reduced to a memory to be replayed as déjà vu the following day.
Now that the rainy season is fully underway, that predictability is gone, replaced by a simple likelihood that the rain will fall at least once during the course of the day. This consistency has turned the dirt roads to muddy wallows, and the dampness in the air has people running to their closets to dig out the same jackets they wore during the height of the Harmattan. Perhaps it’s a sign of my adjustment to life here that I’ve also been favouring my waterproof coat lately, much to the amusement of my coworkers, who call me fully Nigerian now. The worst of the rain is still expected, as August tends to produce days of unrelenting drizzle, broken only by the occasional downpour. This makes everyday living a different kind of challenge, as even a quick trip to the store on the back of a motorbike will leave one soggy and sad. A planned trip to the South in a couple of weeks will likely exhaust my supply of garbage bags to keep everything dry. If Toto ever reunites for a tour of Nigeria, my guess is they’ll be seeking our solitary company during the dry season. It’s much easier to bless the rains when they’re not soaking you through to the skin.