Posted April 29, 2010 in Tanzania

Posta in the rainy season

Those aren't boats: they're buses. This is a picture of Dar es Salaam's main public transit canal, Posta.

It's the rainy season.

If you've lived in Canada all your life, you might never have seen rain like this.

Canada's rain meanders from above without much concern for the people around it, like a mildly inconsiderate house guest. It may overstay its welcome by a few days, but we rarely flinch when it returns to our doorstep. It's family.

In Dar es Salaam, rain falls with purpose. It's impatient: to save time, entire clouds drop whole from the skies like ripped water balloons. Then, after its grand entrance, the rain will rearrange the furniture and stay a while. This week, for instance, started with a bang of thunder Tuesday morning that sent the sun away for three days and counting.

Its first activity is to rip the roads. Potholes quickly embrace all lanes, forming knee-deep lakes that cannot be circumnavigated. Drivers cautiously descend into these countless, unreadable pits, with a wince each time and a prayer the engine will escape saturation. Some roads turn impassable, swept away by semiannual rivers that have never known culverts.

People scatter. Nobody abandons cover during a downpour (except for one muscular man near my office, stomping down the street with enormous rubber boots and a deity-defying grin). The rain prolongs or postpones lunch breaks, delays meetings, and herds umbrella vendors to the nearest parapets.

This is merely the city. In other parts of the country, water absorbs whole houses and strands entire villages.

On the bright side, it's good for the crops. Most Tanzanians depend on agriculture for survival, so the only thing worse than daily torrential downpours at this time of year would be a lack thereof.