Oct 15

For the three interns currently in Kigali, we’ve had the chance to experience something the summer interns never witnessed: Rwanda’s rainy season.

Actually, Rwanda has two rainy seasons. The shorter one, the one we’re currently undergoing, lasts for just October and November — though we had a couple impressive storms in September. This is followed by a dry season, before the real rain comes in February or March.

The rainy season is usually not a big deal for Rwandans; it’s just part of life here. This year, however, El Nino has brought stronger rains than is usually expected, and suddenly the rain is a subject of conversation (or at least that’s the case in my newsroom.)

That’s of course because heavy rains can lead to flooding. From what I understand, the government has set up a special task force for helping people cope with heavy rains and flooding. The Northern province is expected to be hit especially hard.

But apart from the serious consequences, the rainy season has been on my mind for another reason. That’s because when the skies open up and offer their daily rainshower, life in Kigali comes to a standstill. If you’re outside you seek shelter. If you’re inside, you stay put. Have a meeting across town? Consider it cancelled, or at least postponed.

I mentioned this phenomenon to a friend in Winnipeg, whose husband grew up in Nicaragua. “They don’t stop for rain during their rainy season!” she laughed.

Now I was really curious.

About a week ago,while waiting for an interview, I struck up a conversation with the receptionist. When I told her I was from Canada, she hugged her arms to her chest, indicating it was too cold for her.This lead to a discussion on weather, and I brought up my observation about the rain and people’s reluctance to move.

In her opinion, it’s a matter of transportation. The most popular (and cheapest) way of getting around is by bus (and by bus, I mean passenger vans). While there are buses traveling all around Kigali, the routes are not as intricate as they would be in Canada — usually you still have to walk a while to get to your destination, unless you live on a main road, and while walking you will likely get soaked. Buses still run, technically, they’re just sort of void of passengers when it’s raining.

Another popular form of transportation is motorcycle taxis (we just call them motos). If you’re on a moto and it starts raining, you’re going to get wet and probably charged more than the price you originally agreed. If it’s already raining, good luck convincing a moto driver to take you anywhere. (I’ve tried).

That answered part of my question, but I still didn’t understand why people were so averse to getting wet. The receptionist had two suggestions.

First, appearances are very important in Kigali. People take huge pride in their clothing and accessories (I’ve noticed more than one person glaring disapprovingly at my shoes). Getting wet can look unprofessional, she said, so people avoid it.

But for me, her more convincing answer was that getting wet just isn’t worth it. Time means something different in Rwanda than it does in Canada. People move slowly here: this isn’t a criticism, just a fact. People walk at a very casual pace  to avoid getting heat exhaustion. And if you say you’re going to meet your friends at 8 p.m. that should be considered a negotiable deadline. Everything will get done in its own time; that seems to be the general consensus.

So, the receptionist asked me, why bother getting wet — and then maybe cold, or sick — for the sake of arriving somewhere on time? I though back to rainstorm s in Canada, people rushing to their destinations with umbrellas firmly in hand, the hems of their pants darkening as they dip into the puddles in the street; the miserable feeling of arriving home with damp clothing and desperately needing a cup of tea. I honestly didn’t know what to say.

And to be honest, for someone like me who is always so highstrung and anxious, sometimes it’s good to be forced to take a breath, sit back, and wait for the end of the storm.