Letter from Botswana: beautiful blue

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Wame Molefhe describes how happy she feels when the first rain comes after winter

Susan came to Botswana from England to work as an engineering consultant on a water development project. During winter, when she arrived at the office, she stood at the window looking at Gaborone’s city centre. I thought she was admiring the new Onion Tower with the city’s drinking water; or the modern building for Botswana’s diamonds; sometimes she smiled. Maybe she found the problems with the new traffic lights funny.

On the first day of rain– a warm September morning – I searched for her at the window, but she was sitting at her desk. She had not noticed the rain. At the window there was a Motswana draughtsman, who was on a break from drawing plans; I went to the window too. ‘Finally, we can start to plough the land,’ he said. We watched workers running across the road; some carried umbrellas; most, not prepared for the storm, ran under bus shelters. Maybe there were a few complaints, but there was much more happiness. We continued with the day’s work. All morning it rained. Pula ya sephai (regular, gentle rain): the drops hit the ground and ended the winter.

In a country where the Kgalagadi desert covers 84 per cent of the land, and there are long droughts, it is not surprising that people wait for summer: it marks the end of the dry winter, and it brings rain. The word ‘pula’ is found often in the Setswana language and means many different things. ‘Pula’ is the name of our currency; it is a word that is used to welcome visitors; it also means goodbye. ‘Pula!’ is a word of triumph that often begins and ends political speeches, prayers, and when people get together.


Illustration: Sarah John

In the past, the first rain of summer rains started the ploughing season. All the people who could walk had to leave their homes and go to the farms. They planted the crops to feed the whole village. After the planting, they waited for more rain – a rain different from pula ya sephai. They hoped that this rain would be pula ya medupe: regular rain that fell through the whole day and night, or pula e namagadi, a kind rain that fell gently to help the plants grow. We didn’t want the aggressive pula ya matlakadibe that rained so hard and wild that it destroyed the new plants. But all the rain, of all kinds, makes the dry, golden land green.

The last day of September is Botswana’s Independence Day; the flag: blue, black and white flag flies like it did in 1966. When they took the Union Jack flag down and put the blue, black and white Botswana flag up, it had begun to rain. The blue in the flag is for the rain; in the centre there are two white lines around a black stripe: the colours show us that our nation grew with the hope that it would be a non- racial society where rain will fall on all people – equally. When I saw the Botswana flag flying in the wind, I felt hope. There had already been warnings about how low the levels of water in the dam were.

But let me return to Susan.

When the water project ended and it was time for her to return to England, we had become friends. She had told me stories about what she had learnt during her time in Botswana and I had told her what I had learnt living in England. So I finally asked her: ‘All those days when you stood by the window, what were you looking at?’

‘The sun. There is no sun like the African sun.’

‘A break from the rain…’

We laughed.

On the day that Susan left for England, we gave each other presents: I gave her a straw sunhat with a blue ribbon. She gave me a gentleman’s umbrella.

Wame Molefhe is a writer who lives in Gaborone, Botswana. “Go Tell the Sun” is her latest short-story collection.

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://www.newint.org/columns/letters-from/2012/11/01/botswana-rain-molefhe/