In American or perhaps all of western culture, rainy days seem to bear an image of bleakness and despondency. Rain-checks stand in for unfulfilled obligation. Sports fans curse the rain and the dreaded delay of game that follows. Sunshine gets all the glory with smiley faced suns. Find me a smiley faced raincloud. Sure, a rainmaker is someone that brings great fortune. But seriously, even the Grumpy Care Bear had a raincloud belly.
Perhaps it is because we are used to running water and impeccably watered lawns even in the deserts of Nevada. Perhaps it’s because such a small percentage of Americans still depend on the land for their living. Whatever it is, living out here in the semi-desert in amongst a population that depends first on agriculture and second on government pensions for survival, I’ve come to despise sunny days and love the rain clouds. The stultifying heat probably also biases my opinion… Sunny days may be nice for the right now but too many and you’re dead. Rain brings renewal. Rain brings hope and nourishment for the future. To be fair, too much rain and you’re also dead. But even a flood can be renewing in a sense (see Noah or Gilgamesh).
When I was struggling, my friend Kelee wrote to me with some words of encouragement. She had faced even more difficult situations than I had and during those times her boyfriend had told her to think of the veld grass. Out on the open veld, you see these stubborn tufts of grass trying to survive heat and goats every day. During the long dry winter, the blades become crisp and turn a light yellow. They seem so weak and dead on the outside, easily crushed by whatever passes their way. But deep down, their roots stay strong. The life of the grass has retreated inwards to the core during those hard times, holding on with stubbornness to the dry earth, fed only by the expectation and hope that sometime in the future, the rains will come again. And when those rains do come, the grass drinks its fill of the sweetest ambrosia the heavens have to offer.
Sprinkles of Expectation (I’ll never be a meteorologist)
Last year, the day after I arrived at site, a huge storm came and opened up over us. The next day the entire salt pan was filled with water. That was towards the end of September. This year, we passed through October with few clouds ever passing the sky. Two weeks ago, I saw the clouds gathering. In the distance, lightning bolts lighted the sky. Soon, the winds picked up. As I inhaled the crisp air, I felt lighter in anticipation. I stood out on my stoop far past sunset waiting for the rain and only begrudgingly went in to sleep. Finally, I heard a few drops of rain begin to fall on my roof but within 5 minutes, it was over. What a tease. No one likes a tease. Or as my friend Erin’s host father puts it. “This is not a rain. It is a baby. It just spits and makes noise.” The next day, I got up and went to work as usual. The rain would come eventually, and until then, one just needs to keep oneself ready to receive it.
Three thousand two hundred books and counting; the library is almost ready. Posters and signs are being made. At least one person on the library committee besides me knows how to do every task apart from myself. Things are looking good. But there have been troubles. The student in charge of library cards gave up the job, adding 500 more tasks to my list. Some of the volunteers have stopped coming as exams started (it’s not because they are studying that much though…). But the big hit was the news that my main principal is transferring at the end of this year and thus goes the guaranteed support and backing of the school and its budget. Furthermore, I’ve begun to hear rumors that my library chair, one of the teachers I’ve worked most closely with, may be leaving next year too. Strangely, I don’t feel too phased. I just need to recalibrate. I’ve still got several months left and will find a new foundation while I in the meantime hold things up. In the end, even if the library fails and the changes I wished to bring to the village don’t come when I want them too, I’ve seen enough here to realize some change will come, on its own time, as a result of what I’ve done. The best I can do in the meantime is to prepare the grounds to best receive it when it does arrive.
Enter the Deluge (Make hay while the sun shines…dance like a fool when the rain falls)
On the Tuesday before last, I tried in vain to sleep at night. Every few hours, I’d wake up, turn over, and check the latest returns on nytimes.com on my phone. By 8am my time, it had happened. Barack Obama had won the election. Not only had America elected someone that wasn’t white but they had elected someone who was unabashedly intellectual. Even though our country had entered dark times, the future is still full of possibility. After years in a drought, I believe America has finally chosen a leader (and I count the drought longer than 8 years because though I think Clinton did a good job, I wouldn’t follow him to the gates of hell and back…) I know for many American’s the election was a moving moment. My teachers congratulated me since they had been aware of whom I was supporting. One sent me a text “Obama is the man”. During the day, as I walked between schools and home, I caught myself unconsciously smiling for the first time in many months. At certain points in the day, as I watched the news or heard people talking about America, I was seriously choking up. It’s not that I think Obama is the savior. He’s got a tall order to fill and there is no way he can do it all. I believe he can do a lot though. What I think had me so emotionally welled up though was something that can’t be taken away no matter what happens during the next administration; the fact that American’s rejected the smear campaigns and attacks. The fact that even Montana was close had me dumbfounded. For me, the heaven’s had opened up and were raining down renewal upon me and my country. For a little while, it was easy to look past all my own problems and believe in my own future. It was pouring down and for a little while, I rejoiced, knowing that all of us as American’s would need to soon put our heads down and get to work to make sure every drop fulfilled its potential for life bringing renewal, just as the farmers know rains bring work, but welcome work.
Over that weekend, I went on a bike ride to a few villages over, riding over the salt pan. I knew soon the real rains would come and traversing the flat would mean fording the lake. Sure enough, that night the clouds were gathering again. The lighting was all around. Surely this would not be another dry light show. Soon, the rain was beating down; so loud on my metal roof that I couldn’t hear my thoughts, but I knew they were happy thoughts.
The past week has been interesting. As I grapple with what I should try to force through while my principal is still around, I am also returning to some of the management work I did early on as schools should now be evaluating to what degree we’ve fulfilled the action plans we created at the beginning of the year. In the library, with my volunteers starting to drop off and internal politics from outside the committee conspiring to turn my partners against each other, I’ve been digging in and preparing for a fight. The heat was on and no relief was in site. Then while I was walking back from the post office two days ago, a little girl walked up to me on the street. “KB, Nkopelela!” “KB, Sing to me!” I had spent most mornings last quarters singing English songs with the primary school kids but had started phasing it out as I tried to hand it off to teachers and got myself caught up in the library again. I stopped in the middle of the street and we sang a few songs before she was satisfied and I continued on my way with a smile on my face. Yesterday, I went to the library to do some work. A group of kids was out front as usual, playing on the weatherproof housed computers out there. As I unlocked the door, I looked over my shoulder at a couple of kids standing behind me expectantly. We hadn’t really officially opened yet but I asked them, “A lo batla go bala?” “Do you want to read?” And they nodded their heads excitedly. I showed them to the Children’s Fiction section and picked out a few short books for them. Soon 6 little boys were sitting and reading intently. Three of them stayed over half an hour, reading different short stories. Whatever fight I need to put up for this library, it’s worth it.
In the burning summer heat, the downpours bring life, but even a little unexpected shower can be life saving.