My sisters and I dance in the first rains of summer. By the time they come we’ve been waiting for weeks. After a hot spring the clouds gather, purring as they rub up against each other. Like wild animals coaxed to a water hole, they’re easily scared away. For days they come every afternoon, only to slink off in the night. Then finally, fat drops falling, hitting the ground. Dark grey splotches on the paving, dark brown on orange red sand. Winds turn cool through open doors.
The rain calls a general truce on sibling wars. We bang on doors in excitement as the quick patter of feet joins the slow beat of rain drops. Splash of drops on bare skin or prickling between strands of hair. Four pairs of feet stamping out a patter on the ground, four pairs of hands stretched up to the sky, heads tilted back to feel the drops run down our cheeks. ‘Pula!’ we cry. ‘Let it rain!’
Sometimes it disappears again leaving us mostly dry. At other times the drops fall faster and faster until it is pouring down in sheets that have our clothes soaked in seconds. One year it comes while we have friends over. Forgetting them, we rush outside. They follow as tourists in Rome, and dance with us in shoes and socks and belted school uniforms.
With the rain comes a paradise of play for children unconcerned about dirt. Standing by the side of the road where the water gathers we wait for taxis to speed past and throw a wave of water over us. Often the storm water ditches, blocked up with months of collected debris, flood, creating rivers of swirling red brown water. Best of all is the swamp in the back garden and a day or so of mud baths, mud cities, mud fights before it bakes into ghost towns.
Some years it doesn’t rain for ages. We just get hotter and hotter. There is no rain to dance in so we do little rain dances outside. ‘Pula!’ we plead. ‘Let it rain!’ As the temperature climbs we make our own rain; running through the sprinklers while the droplets evaporate in the air. We flood the back garden to make our mud cities. We know the rain will come eventually.
A month into high school and my mother is a speck in the sky on her way home to her grandmother’s funeral. When she arrives at her parent’s house in the Midlands she will shake the English mizz off her coat to anxious questions about predicted floods in Botswana. Nonsense of course, it was still dry yesterday, she will say. Two days later there’s an announcement in class. All students who live on the other side of the Tlokweng Bridge should pack their bags, their parents are being called to pick them up. My father’s office is on the other side of that bridge.
Rain, rain go away, come again another day.
In our land-locked semi desert the Navy is called out to rescue people stranded by rising water. Five people die, mostly from huts collapsing under the weight of this blessing.
The rain heads east.
Saturday, sun shining, puddles already drying on the side of the road, we drive out to see water pouring over the dam wall with a roar.
In Mozambique a woman gives birth in a tree.
Is it because we didn’t have Facebook that we didn’t get monthly dam level updates? In a grass green, tree green suburb of Johannesburg I watch the Gaborone dam levels fall. Rain starts falling outside my window. I put a jersey on. At home the October winds will be getting hotter and hotter.
LATEST DAM LEVELS – SEPTEMBER 2014
Molatedi Dam 28.4% (38 months of supply without inflow)
Bokaa Dam 34.4% (6 months of supply without inflow)
Nnywane Dam 52.8% (8 months of supply without inflow)
Letsibogo Dam 77.5.% (19 months of supply without inflow)
Shashe Dam 82.1% (20 months of supply without inflow)
Ntimbale Dam 90.3% (15 months of supply without inflow)
Lotsane Dam 81.8% ( 26 months of supply without inflow)
Gaborone Dam 9.3% (4 months of supply without inflow)
It’s late September and my sister’s wedding has called us all home. The Monday after the big event we wake up early. There’s a rush to get showered, water bottles filled, big pots on the stove for cooking and washing dishes. At eight AM the water goes off until six in the evening.
The use of tap water for construction, car washing, swimming pools, gardens and sports fields is prohibited. Automatic urinals are prohibited and should all be terminated. All defective plumbing and pipe fittings which result in water wastage must be repaired within 24 hours of notice. Use of tap water in hair salons is restricted and will be closely monitored. People with boreholes do a roaring trade on water, P400 for 5000 litres. Leaky water bowsers labour around the city leaving vanishing trails on the roads.
UPDATE: LATEST DAM LEVELS – JANUARY 2015
Molatedi Dam 19.1% (29 Months of supply without inflow)
Bokaa Dam 25.4% (5 Months of supply without inflow)
Nnywane Dam 99.6% (13 Months of supply without inflow)
Letsibogo Dam 74.1% (19 Months of supply without inflow)
Shashe Dam 98.7% (23 Months of supply without inflow)
Ntimbale Dam 87.0% (15 Months of supply without inflow)
Gaborone Dam 5.1% (1 Month of supply without inflow)
The day my nephew is born it’s unbearably hot. The nurses move us to a different room where the air conditioning works. They’re supposed to switch it off when the baby is brought in but they leave it on. When I leave at lunch time the sliding doors open like an automatic oven door.
It’s after nine when I leave the hospital again. This time the doors slide open and I breathe in night air that smells like heaven. It smells like rain. In the morning I wake up cold under my thin sheet. The rain has come and gone, barely reaching the ground before evaporating into thin air.
FEBRUARY 2015 LATEST DAM LEVELS
• Molatedi Dam 5.2% 25 Months of supply without inflow
• Bokaa Dam 20.9% 4 Months of supply without inflow
• Nnywane Dam 93.2% 12 Months of supply without inflow
• Letsibogo Dam 68.1% 18 Months of supply without inflow
• Shashe Dam 95.6% 22 Months of supply without inflow
• Ntimbale Dam 94.5% 15 Months of supply without inflow
• Gaborone Dam 4.1% Failed
Back in Joburg, I empty my rain gauge again. 10 mm overnight. Across the road my neighbour’s sprinklers pop up and begin watering the grass on the verge.