“This is the most rain we’ve had since 1974,” says a Moroccan woman confidently to me.
I joke in response. “Maybe we brought it with us from Oregon.” After all, these days of scudding grey clouds and cold slanting rain remind me of my Northwest home, even though the land here is more like California, with its palm trees and groves of olive, citrus and eucalyptus. But the joke does not go over. People just look at me. I know that the rain is considered a blessing; I wasn’t trying to claim to be the author of it.
Storms wake me in the night. Wind howls, rain gusts; it shatters against the glass windows, it soaks the laundry I forgot to bring in. During sunbreaks, as I gaze up into the deep deep blue framed by flashes of fuchsia bougainvillea, I can feel the southern latitude in the strength of the sun.
One thing I did not expect to worry about in Africa was keeping warm. My first foray onto the continent only enforced this for me. We landed in Nouakchott, Mauritania, in April 2001. We were met by a man we’d known in Oregon. “We’re planning a tourist trip into the interior for you, to the historic city of Chinguetti,” he told us, “But we’ll see if it cools down first. It’s been so hot that some people have died.” Oh.
The airline lost all our luggage so I washed what we were wearing that first night, and hung it out to dry at about 1 a.m. Our clothes were dry as bones the following morning. That was a clue. We were in the desert now, a place where even the air is thirsty, and rain evaporates before it hits the ground. I wore sandals and cotton skirts year round.
We knew that Morocco’s climate would be different. We studied maps, checked the weather.com statistics showing yearly averages. Rabat, our new home, is the same latitude as Los Angeles, and we assumed things would be similar, much cooler than Mauritania, where it got up to 125 degrees that first summer, but not cold.
But although the plant life is similar, with palm trees raking the sky with their spiky fronds, the weather here is far colder than Southern California. The houses are built for the hot summers, with no thought taken for cold damp winters. I was talking to a friend about this, and she showed me how she was wearing 4 layers of turtlenecks and sweaters, plus a scarf. “You have to wear a lot of clothes,” she told me. “This is how the Moroccans do it.”
In the meantime, we’re all sick. The cement-block house echoes with our coughs. It might not snow here on the coast, but it does in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, where apparently you can ski. “I was sick a lot my first year too,” soothes a Korean friend. “But then I learned to do as the Moroccans do–I don’t use the space heaters.” We’re not convinced, until she explains that she used to run hers all day and all night. I still don’t know why that would make you sick, but given that these run off large bottles of butane gas, I suppose the fumes wouldn’t help.
On Saturday morning, Ilsa and I walked a couple of blocks to a major road to catch a taxi. Her clean jeans were soon soaked to the knee as we dodged puddles and tried to keep the umbrella from blowing inside out. In the meantime the rain poured down, bucketed down, incessant. We drove in and out of enormous puddles, straining to see through the condensation that fogs the windows of all taxis in the rain.
This morning, I woke to soft rain, a silver whisper on the pane. I reluctantly put my bare feet on the icy tiles that make up Moroccan floors. When I opened the front door to send the kids off to school, my breath fogged out around me. Our shower is, literally, scalding hot, with the fun addition that when you turn on the cold water, the hot water heater shuts off, so you can alternate scalding/freezing/scalding/freezing. Or you can take a bath. We turned on our space heater, huddled round, gratefully drank hot coffee. We’re keeping warm here in Africa, but it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.
This post is an entry for Scribbit’s December Write-Away contest. I found the topic fit right in with what I’d been thinking about anyway.