I walked out of the office and felt the wind begin to pick up. Glancing upward, I saw the clouds darkening and moving closer. This was not a day to walk home and it was the one day I had trouble finding a free taxi. Finally I flagged one down and started back to my apartment, watching the sky. Dust blew in my face and sprinkles fell as I hurried to unlock my door, firmly shutting it behind me and making sure I knew where my flashlight and candles were.
A bright flash of lighting beamed in through my windows and I waited knowing what would certainly follow – and promptly still jumped when the loudest crack of thunder I’ve ever heard ripped through the air. Pellets of rain started to drum on the tin garage roof next to me before the heavens simply opened up like a waterfall. The percussion symphony outside was so loud that I couldn’t hear anything else. But when the power went out, I was ready. The Republic of Congo has two seasons: dry and rainy. Guess which one we’re in? For the last three nights in a row, we’ve had torrential downpours. I’m talking the sky turned orange before it rained and the wind blew down walls.
While I actually enjoyed the rain (apart from it coming in under my door in a massive puddle), finishing dinner and writing by candlelight, the rain here has some serious consequences. Things that you might never think of in the states. When it rains this hard here in Brazzaville, shaky homes are flattened and flooded. Homes and businesses can be ruined, crops washed away, and people killed under falling debris. I think differently about the rain now. I have come to realize how incredibly thankful I am for a sturdy roof and walls.
There is one wonderful thing that happens after a storm here – a cool freshness descends to quench the hot humid air of Congo. One interesting Brazzaville trait is the sweepers. Every day I see hundreds of people employed by the city in the never-ending task of sweeping the streets. With each new rain, sand and mud are deposited on the streets. The hot sun comes out later and then the sweepers are out all day being narrowly missed by cars and pushing heavy wheelbarrows full of sand. Men and women of all ages, working in rhythm to create a percussion soundtrack for the city. You can tell when an important official is visiting – or if the president is flying out of the airport by the location and presence of the sweepers. Out in force by the Maya Maya airport? Someone must be arriving today and the city wants to make a good impression.
Now officially past the three-week mark of my stay in Brazzaville, I’m starting to get adjusted to the city. Anticipate the storms and power outages, direct a taxi drive on how to take me where I need to go, or simply walk around the city myself. Brazzaville is a relatively safe city, which I appreciate because I’m a fierce lover of walking by myself to get things done. That doesn’t meet I don’t stick out. As you would easily discover if you just listened to what happens when I walk down a street. There’s a taxi code here where they will honk or flash their lights to let you know they’re free – only they seem far more confident that I would want a ride some. I’ve actually had to convince a few drivers that no I do not want a ride, and yes I’m just walking because I do in fact want to.
That being said, it’s pretty easy to get around Brazzaville; you can either walk to take a taxi anywhere you’d want to go. Personally I like getting to know the city a little more by walking, and Saturdays have been my market days. Walking out in the hot sun to purchase some fresh fruits and veggies from marché de la plaine on Saturday mornings has become a routine. I love getting to fill up my bag with a rainbow of colors: green zucchinis and peppers, bright red tomatoes, orange carrots and yellow bananas. Have I mentioned the bananas? This is how they were meant to taste. I think I’ve been ruined for ever eating one back home- these are so full of flavor!
Most days here are in the temperature range of 80-90˚ F. This means that as I began my long walk back home laden down with groceries and spotted some women eating ice cream cones…I instantly zoned in, searching for their source. Two minutes late I was walking happily down the street, munching on a swirl of vanilla and strawberry soft-serve ice cream in a cone for less than $1. Brazzaville has its perks.