Yebo - Joey and the Deltones

In a way, this song kind of represents me at my best. It is a snapshot of me at my most idealistic, dreamy, and hopeful.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Rain Shower

When we looked back behind us, the western sky had turned into a towering wall of cobalt blue and grey. All around us it seemed as if the cloud ceiling was getting lower and lower. But we weren't very concerned. Home base was at most a 10 minute walk from where we were. A little bit of rain wouldn't be a big deal, especially after the intense heat of the past few days.

Two fellow PCVs, Susie and Ben were taking me around the eastern part of their village of Abbots Poort, or Majadibodu. We were at the high school, and Ben was showing me the shells of classrooms that still semi-existed there. I could see the disappointment on his face as he strolled aimlessly around the empty room - walking amongst disassembled plastic chairs, moving wooden desks that had been broken in half, and side-stepping the goat droppings that littered the floor. The wind blowing in from the half dozen broken windows moved the garbage in circles at his feet.

"The weird thing," he said, "is that, when the kids write graffiti on the walls of classrooms, it almost always has positive message..."

He pointed out some writings near the front of the class - "Stay in School!" or "Education is the key to your future!"

I wondered if the kids who wrote it really knew what they were writing, or if they just copied phrases they had seen written in an old torn apart textbook they came across once. The graffiti messages certainly seemed antithetical to the reality of the situation all around us in that room.

We left the high school and headed back towards the tar road, the whole time observing the massive wall of thunder clouds in the distance. They were threatening, but seemed to be moving south, so we weren't too hopeful for rain.

Still, the clouds were mesmerizing. We looked upon these vibrant grey clouds (if there is such a colour as vibrant grey, this was it) with nothing less than a sense of true awe. They stretched on for miles upon miles from north to south, and were separated rather cleanly by a curving line-break, formed due to what I could only assume was a strange pressure difference among them. (I'll admit, my knowledge of weather and what causes anything related to it is virtually zero.)

The clean, curving separation in the sky left a dark grey ceiling of clouds above us, and in front of us, a monstrous tidal wave of an imposing nature that looked like it would come crashing down on us at any minute. I might have liked to surf it, if I only knew how to surf, if it were made out of actual water, and if I had any balls.

We stopped at the post office to try and pick up some parcels that relatives had sent Susie and Ben, and as they were working that out, I sat out front near the road, watching streaks of lightning flash down from the sky in the not too far off distance.

I took out my camera, and tested out my reaction time, hitting the shutter button as soon as I saw a flash of light in the sky. I don't know if it was luck or if I'm just that awesome, (probably the latter), but I caught some really nice lightning strikes. This guess and check method is not the preferred way to take pictures of lightning, but it is more rewarding.

Susie and Ben waited patiently behind me as I was trying to capture one or two last strikes. After missing about 8 times in a row, we felt the wind suddenly change direction, and the storm started blowing directly towards us.

I packed up my camera and we started the walk to their humble abode, a quaint two room structure adjacent to their host family's house. A herd of goats scurried frantically past us, losing their footing, stumbling and crashing into each other as they tried to escape some unseen force coming from behind them. An older woman waddled behind them, holding her head scarf in place as she gently threatened them with a makeshift walking stick.

The first drops of rain came.

They were small and cold, but consistent. We were 50 yards from the door at this point, and upon entering Susie and Ben's place, we were considerably wet. Thirty seconds later, it sounded like a drum line had perched on the tin roof of the house and was pounding away at a Big 10 football game at half-time. We looked out the windows to see that visibility had been cut down to only 20 yards or so. Everything was grey, the wind was howling, and their were flashes of lightning and booming thunder every so often.

At that point in time, I hadn't officially bathed in about a week, due to my travel schedule, the lack of showers in rural South Africa, and my utter disdain for bucket baths. As I looked outside at the downpour, I dreamily said aloud, "I wish I could shower in that."

Ben and Susie turned to me and responded with a resounding "Yea!!! Go for it! We've done it before, and it's awesome!"

I wasn't surprised to hear this from them. I mean, for anyone who knows even a little bit about Ben and Susie, this made perfect sense. They are outdoorsy, carefree, grab-life-by-the-horns type of people. Of course they would have showered in the rain before. At home, and in Africa.

The wonderful thing about the rain storms that blow in here is that when the rain falls, it falls HARD. It's difficult to keep your eyes open when caught outside in those type of storms.

Encouraged by my raucous supporters, I grabbed my green bar of soap and little travel shampoo bottle that smells like vanilla, stripped off my clothes, ditched my shoes, slipped into my bathing suit (I still have some sense of decency it seems), and ran out into the storm.

Oh boy was the rain cold.

But it was such a refreshing and energizing cold! The kind of cold rain that stimulates your senses as each drop hits every inch of your body. It was the type of cold rain where you would force your body to shiver and let out gasps of nonsensical mumblings until your skin adjusted to the temperature and after a while it felt like a full body aqua-massage conducted by mother nature herself.

I hopped over to the corner of the family's house, where the rain gutter spilled out onto the stone patio. I stepped into a shin-deep rain collection bucket that was now constantly overflowing, and let the water from the gutter pound my body with the force of a small waterfall.

I took out my soap, washed my face, arms, chest, back, unmentionables, legs and feet, and decided I didn't feel clean enough (it had been a week after all), so I did it again. After that, I squeezed out some fragrant but cheap vanilla shampoo and attempted to wash my hair. Three times I did so just because it felt so good.

I took forever to rinse off, mainly because I didn't want my rain shower to end. As I tilted my head sideways to rinse out some more shampoo, I felt the sudden and uncomfortable feeling of 100 gallons worth of water instantly flooding my right ear. Not a fun feeling. I stepped away from the gutter, back into the rain, and began the necessary process of hopping up and down on one leg with my right ear facing the ground to try and release some water from my imploding ear drum. It got clear eventually and I was happy for it.

I remained standing in the still pouring rain for another 10 minutes. As the rain continued to pepper me with it's big, numbing droplets, I looked up and noticed a bright white break in the dark clouds to the west.

The sun didn't quite come out, but the bright spot shone white as angel stone, and it gave the world I was living in an unearthly and beautiful glow. I didn't want to dry off, so I continued to stand in the retreating rain, staring skyward at this revelatory and inspiring view.

I had this fleeting and unfortunately uncommon feeling of pride, joy, and contentment that I was truly in AFRICA - a place where you can experience natural beauty, wonder and joys that are unfamiliar or non-existent at home in every day life. Like a bus load of kids running up to you flashing their bright white smiles, wanting only to give you a high five; like being given a ride to a distant destination by someone interested in you and your story, not accepting payment, but only wanted good conversation; or like showering in the rain in a small village near the Botswana border, with not a care in the world.

I stood outside until the rain ceased completely, and let myself air-dry in the cool, moist air. My nipples certainly felt the chill - they got to that "could cut diamonds" stature, so I had to cover them up with my hands like a beauty queen whose top accidentally falls off during the swimsuit part of the competition.

Looking like a damp, shy, flat-chested school girl, I turned to Ben and Susie, who were watching the sky open up from their window and I tried to express to them how magnificent I felt.

It was the best shower I've ever had.

Two days later we had another powerful rainstorm. The wind was much more fierce this time around, and the whole lightning situation maybe slightly less stable. I had wanted to repeat the experience of two days before, but I had already committed myself to the notion of getting my hair braided by a friend of Ben and Susie's - a local 9th grade girl named Happy. She did a fabulous job (I paid her R10 for her tireless efforts too), though the whole time, I really did desire to be frolicking outside in the rain and mud like a kid with the world at his fingertips.

As my hair appointment was coming to a close in the candlelit kitchen space of Ben and Susie's, the rain stopped, and again, the clouds broke open in the west. It was much later when the rain stopped that second day, and the sun had already began to set. All of us taking shelter at Susie and Ben's walked outside to behold the endlessly colourful artist's canvas of an African Sunset. Pictures of these events are ok, but they will never do justice to the magnificence of what seems to never be anything less than a "perfect" sunset here.

Not only did the westward sky leave us breathless, but when we looked east to watch the storm moving on, we were treated to the most spectacular lightning show we had ever seen in our lives. The flash of light would start low in the sky and then the streak would splinter and crawl out in a million different directions directly above us, ending with booming thunder that we felt in our chests more than we heard with our ears. The entire evening sky left me in staring endlessly in awe at the beauty all around us, feeling overwhelmed and completely content.

I wrote a brief description of the sky in my journal after that second rain storm:

"Crimson red and orange lava-like coals from an ancient bonfire settled on the horizon, giving way to golden hues like angels' hair. Blue as bright as a child's eyes and as deep as the ocean trenches hovered just above. Purple clouds as black as nite covered the eastern sky with flashes of lightning spreading like electric spiderwebs across the entire magnificent sky."

These are two storms I will never forget, and hope I experience again, someday.

If not, I hope to always be able to paint a picture in my mind.

Oh also, we killed a scorpion that day that was hanging out right next to my head where I was sleeping.



Anonymous said...

Hey JoeJoe! Thanks for the post. It was outstanding to have you join us for a few days. Stay in touch chief and may you never lose you inspiration. Peace, Benjamin

Anonymous said...


Long time no speak, but I was just catching up on your email/blog. Though I'm sorry your time with the Peace Corps hasn't really shaped up like you had hoped, it's pretty cool that you've been taking lots of photos!

At my new-ish job, we design promotional materials for Peace Corps. If you want the contact information for the woman in charge of selecting photos (if you don't have it already, but you probably do), let me know.

We just wrapped up a redesign of all the recruitment materials (parent brochure & catalogue, etc.), but there should be plenty in store for next year.

How cool would it be if we got to use some of your photography in our design?!

Happy Thanksgiving!


PS My studio is called Orange Element – here's the new Peace Corps work on our blog.

Mara said...

Those crimson shots are amazing...
Happy thanksgiving!

Kristen! said...

Wow Joe, your photos never fail to take my breath away.

Especially those showering ones.


Kent Mom said...

Hi Joey,

Thanks for the storm story about you at Ben and Susie's. I loved reading it all. Ben's MOM