The first lightning strike rips the sky in half and sends me running, shouting for my father. Fat tears drop down my eight-year old self’s face. I am frightened. Not for myself but for the rabbit and guinea pig I have at the bottom of the garden.
“They must be so scared,” I wail at my dad, clutching his arm.
Begrudgingly he shrugs on his jacket and sprints to the end of the garden, dragging the heavy hutch into our shed’s relative safety. He is conflicted: on one hand cursing as the rain soaks him to his core. On the other, proud his little girl has so much compassion for animals.
Diving under the cover of our carport, he calls me to him. Two plastic chairs are placed, under shelter but with the storm clearly visible. I sit in awe as he explains how weather works. Teaching me to count the seconds between the lightning strike and the thunder to discover how close it is. Together we count the beats and it is this moment that cements my love for the power of nature.
Nearly thirty years later and I am in Livingstone, Zambia. The clock inches towards midnight and I toss uncomfortably in my bed. The effects of El Nino and global warming has meant that the rains are late and, when they do come, they are not enough to fill the rivers and sustain the life that depends on them.
The land is scorched and barren. Graveyards of dead trees line the roads. Farmers devastated as crops fail and basic food becomes a luxury. Elephants roam the streets in desperation for food, causing conflict with cyclists and farmers.
Even at night, the temperature gauge tops 30 degrees. The lack of rain results in load-shedding and for up-to 20-hours a day we are plunged into a world of no electricity. We learn to live with no wifi, no lights, no refrigeration.
Tormented by the heat, I go and stand on the balcony overlooking Livingstone. With no light pollution the inky sky stretches for miles. A light in the distance catches my eye. Brilliant hues of yellows, red and orange erupt at random intervals. Flashes of colour so bright it illuminates the street below. The storm is still in the distance as I hear no thunder. Instead the dramatic light show plays out in silence, which I alone witness.
I breathe in the fresh scent of approaching rain and watch as it inches closer. Deep rumbles start to reverberate the air. The claustrophobic atmosphere lifted. Bloated black clouds release their heavy cargo. I duck for cover, the raindrops tentative at first before a deluge of water bursts through. I scramble into the bedroom but keep the curtains and windows open so I can watch the display from under the safety of my mosquito net.
The rain clatters rhythmically onto the tin roof. I imagine elephants luxuriating as the rain falls onto their cracked, parched skin. Zebras shaking their elegant necks as long eyelashes bat away the water. Rhinos sinking onto their knees and into the mud to find respite from the relentless biting ticks. Baby impala’s dropping from their swollen mother’s stomachs and taking their first cautious wobbly steps.
I picture Victoria Falls, decimated by the drought and a shadow of its former glory. I see the Falls’ gorge as a hungry mouth that drinks greedily, grateful to fill its banks. I envisage trees stretching out tired parched branches, reaching upwards for every drop. All the while there is the sound of gleeful Christmas beetles, which chirp in a decibel-bursting celebration. The orchestra joined by the monotonous croak of frogs and chattering crickets.
For, my favourite place, is not a continent, nor a country or even a location. It is simply anywhere where I get to watch the power of nature under the sky.
The knowledge that even after the longest drought, the pressure will ease, and the rains will come. That after all the damage humans have inflicted on the environment, nature still manages to hold dominance.
No matter how tough your storm, hunker down, marvel at its beauty and dance in the rain. For fresh shoots will grow and a new life will begin.
- Kathleen Retourne
- : Kathleen has been living in Africa since 2017, first as a volunteer and now running community and conservation projects in Zambia. She is passionate about educating communities on conservation, meeting fellow conservationists and writing.
- : https://whatdoesthegiraffesay.wordpress.com/
- : https://www.facebook.com/kretourne
- : https://twitter.com/kathret
- : https://www.instagram.com/kathret
- : Blogging raw and honest reflections on living, loving, and working in Africa. Interviewing people in conservation.
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- : This is the first time this story has been published.