The rainy season has started here. It has been anticipated for many weeks, as the time when the dry brown landscape will become green and lush, the maize will grow, the roads will flood, and it will cool down a bit. “The rains” have been alluded to by locals in casual conversation, with an implicit respect suggesting the approach of something tangible and unavoidable, like death and taxes. Rob warned us that any problems we have had with electricity and water would likely become more frequent during the rainy season, when much of Malawi is brought to a standstill. It has become a bit cooler sometimes and moister, and the sugar and salt have started to clump. But most of the time, despite the talk, it has been hard to imagine loads of rain while baking in the dry heat and walking on the dusty parched earth.

The first rain caught Sue and I unawares. We had walked down to get lunch

The first rain caught Sue and I unawares some time ago when walking back to the hospital one lunchtime. This was merely a taster of what was to come, I learnt.

So after much anticipation and a couple of heavy but isolated showers in the past few weeks, we had our first real taste of “the rains” in Zomba yesterday, and in Liwonde the day before. The morning started very hot and bright as usual, and I fully expected another scorching day as we’ve been having the past few weeks. I had seen a few patients in the morning with the students. Around lunch time the wind started, flinging the trees about in listless gusts, blowing carefully swept piles of leaves into the hospital corridors. I only noticed that it had become grey and foreboding well into the afternoon ward round when it started pattering a few drops on the tin roof outside the window. It was cooler also, and a bit “close”. We continued relentlessly trying to uncover and dissect the psychopathology behind our patients’ “beating people” and other apparently senseless acts. The pattering turned slowly to drumming, and thence to battering. We could still hear over the noise, but in other rooms with tin roofs a ward round would be impossible. We finished soon anyway, and I commented on the rain to one of the Clinical Officer students, who shrugged and smiled and said that it was just beginning. I stood outside under the eaves of the Conference Room and watched the water pour in streams from the roof, falling like waterfalls into the large concrete gutters.
Rain batters the ground


Suddenly all the oversized concrete gutters and sluices I had seen around well-built Malawian buildings made sense. Anything smaller would overflow. I wandered down to the admin block, and as I did so the rain did indeed get harder. The brown ground outside the admin block, previously merely battered, was now pummelled, smashed and thrashed by the massive drops. Within a few minutes small trickles became rivulets and then streams as they consolidated their course, eroding ever deeper channels in the dirt. It was really exciting. “Now this is weather!”, said Rob over the din. On the way home, the dirt roads around the hospital seemed to throw Rob’s car around more than usual from the increased rutting and erosions. I did wonder why they don’t tar some of the roads around the hospital during the dry season, rather than see them slowly wash away with the rains.

The area outside the admin block, a maze of rivers and small lakes.

The area outside the admin block, a maze of rivers and small lakes.

Rob met that evening at Annie’s Lodge with our VSO Health Director for Malawi, and I sat waiting at an outside table under the eaves drinking tea and trying to protect my psychiatry textbook from wayward drops blown under the eaves. The rain eased up a bit, but still fell heavily. In front of me the driveway to Annie’s cottages (apparently nice) still looked like a gleaming river in the dark, and the run-off in the gutter at my feet carried small branches and the odd mango which had fallen from the trees. It’s difficult to concentrate when there’s so much action around one. I got very little reading done, but the tea was good.

Steph, Pennie and I also met individually and together with the VSO Health Director, and talked about the progress, challenges, successes and frustrations in our placement at Zomba Mental Hospital. Perhaps I’ll write about this later!


1 Comment »

  1. […] been almost no rain for six months, and the ground was dusty and dry, hard and hot. I’ve written previously about the rains, and now as I approach the end of my time here, they are already on the wane. But they have […]

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