By Chris Anyokwu
There are some ancient cultures which hold that rain is the cosmic semen that fertilizes the womb of the earth. Chinua Achebe hints at this mythological explanation of the nature of nature when in Things Fall Apart he narrates how the rain moistens the earth in preparation for the planting season in Umuofia (read: Africa). The cyclical rhythm of rain and drought simply under girds life; it guarantees what in literature is known as the myth of Eternal Return. This is the alternating pattern of plenty vis-à-vis a period of lack, of famine and echoing emptiness. To be sure, Israel of Biblical times experienced this cosmic see-saw, this ebb-tide of plentifulness and harrowing spell of hunger and thirst brought about by the lack of rain. Thus, after a period of prayer, the national prophet of Israel had announced to a searingly parched land that he could hear the sound of abundance of rain. He had instructed the king and his subjects to prepare for rain, for showers of blessing. And true to his word, Heaven came down and the Earth fructified again. It is common knowledge that rain – or water – is the source of life.
Water constitutes 70˚ of earth’s surface. Without water, life on earth cannot exist. It is a natural impossibility. Thales of Miletus (born: c. 626/623BC) is generally referred to as the philosopher of water. He is recognised for breaking from the use of mythology to explain the world and the universe, and instead explaining natural objects and phenomena by naturalistic theories and hypotheses.
Aristotle regarded Thales as the founder of the Ionian School and reported Thales’ hypothesis that the originating principle of nature and the nature of matter was a single material substance: Water (Wikipedia).
Unsurprisingly, many thinkers after him have also written about the vital importance of water to temporal existence. In “Gerontion”, T.S. Eliot muses on the psycho-spiritual wasteland that Western civilization has become; he threnodises the hopeless condition of the post-war man and, in the same breath, enthuses on the need for “rain”; rain, in this regard, emblematising an all-important element of salvific rehabilitation, existential rejuvenation and, indeed, cosmic rebirth. But to conceptualise rain in its more immediate, quotidian reality, it is crucial for us to begin to factor into the equation the destabilising effects of climate change. Like the woe-begone wayfarers in T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”, we are no longer at ease under the present dispensation made nearly insupportable, and some would add, convoluted by climate change. Prior to the advent of climate change, we could read the face of the sky with a measure of precision. We knew and understood the “body language” of the seasons: the rainy season, which began in April and ended in October, was succeeded or followed hard on its heels by the dry or Harmattan season which lasted from November to March.
Knowing this, farmers would start clearing the bush and getting ready for the planting season. Just after the first rains, they would begin to plant food crops like corn, melon, cassava, yam and cocoyam. People whose houses were in a state of disrepair would seize the opportunity of the dry season to undertake the necessary repair work, trying to be a step or two ahead the coming rain.
By the same token, many things that could not be done because of the disruptions of rain, were undertaken during the season of rest and relaxation and reflection, which, of course, fell within the Harmattan season. In this regard, the rainy season was seen as disruptive, a nuisance of sorts. So you had to make hay while the sun shone. But, again, as earlier noted, climate change has changed everything; it has changed everything utterly. It is difficult now to read and follow the mood of the weather. When you expect rain, you are practically parboiled by heat and humidity.
And to make matters worse, mosquitoes usually find humid weather quite conducive and, thus, spread malarial epidemic. You may fit your abode with mosquito-gauze, entomb yourself in mosquito netting, spray your living quarters with insecticides. It is all cold comfort. Mosquitoes will still manage to infiltrate your fortress to serenade you to death unless you kill them first by any means necessary. In fact, despite all the hue and cry about Ebola, HIV/AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, etc., malaria still accounts for the highest cause of infant and adult mortality in sub-Saharan Africa.
Filth, dirty environments, clogged drains and canals, standing stale and fetid water and clumps of bush are veritable nurseries for vermin generally and our deadly guests, those tiny gnats which sent the colonising white man packing from Africa. Forget the hocus-pocus about the armed struggle and the high-falutin diplomatese that secured Independence. We have mosquitoes to thank for our flag independence! Now, speaking seriously, beyond the mosquito assistance/nuisance, puddles of water on roads, in streets, etc., etc., constitute very dangerous traps for both vehicular and human traffic. It is, thus, important for us to prepare for the rains. We know that when it sometimes rains, houses or their corrugated-iron roofing is blown off by the rainstorm.
Also, buildings, particularly the distressed and compromised structures, collapse, sometimes trapping their inmates in the rubble. And, sadly, life and property are lost in the process. Rains render some roads impassable, thus causing hellish gridlocks and unbearable traffic snarl-up, among others. Rain leads to flooding. Sitting-rooms and bedrooms are flooded; kitchen and bathroom meld into one liquid latrine as personal belongings and excreta float on the face of the deep. Again, sometimes children go missing in the melee. And some adults, too. Heavy downpour at times disrupts regular secular work. Schools are temporarily shut down to avert loss of life. Games are postponed souring people’s leisure. Sometimes when it rains, trysts are cancelled and hell has no fury like lovers baulked by rain. Fantasies wilt into nightmares and days turn into endless nights … Have you also considered that when it rains, I mean rain buffaloes and hippopotamuses; lightning and thunder do mortal damage.
They take life at will. People are electrocuted by dangling live-wires. So, what to do? We must clear our drains and canals of sludge and other rubbish. Water in them must flow freely. The environment is everyone’s responsibility. We must all take environmental sanitation exercise much more seriously. For instance, in so-called upper-crust areas, some well-heeled folk hardly ever participate in cleaning their surroundings. They are too important to do so. Why should a whole CEO be seen tidying up his frontage? Such poverty! Going forward, there is urgent need to bolster up the foundations of some buildings, clear out illegal structures such as abandoned vehicles, stalls, sundry objects and properly take care of electrical installations. The relevant authorities must fix our dilapidated roads and streets. Many parts of our cities are an eyesore in this regard. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) must step up to the plate regarding responding to distress calls. Nothing matters more than human life. That should be their motto. Our weather forecasters and meteorologists have got to do a better job of keeping us in the loop on the weather. We cannot continue to rely on off-shore centres for climatology for vital information about our own backyard. Our shame don do! Recall that a few years back when it rained heavily in Lagos, the world almost ended. Sir Ahmadu Bello Way was an ocean stretching into infinity. People ferried stranded folk on boats, canoes and kayaks to relative safety. Highbrow Lekki, VGC and Ajah areas were completely submerged in water, obliterating the boundaries between land and sea.
As Niyi Osundare poetises, water has memory; it always comes back with a vengeance. Remember Hurricane Katrina of 2005? So, we must never give the impression that we are a thoughtless and planless people, utterly at the mercy of the elements. Year-on-year, season after season, it’s same-old, same-old. Nothing changes. Whenever it rumbles, people panic, muttering prayers of deliverance from rains. We should do better, shouldn’t we? So, whilst our farming communities in the north and south gear up for the rains – an indispensable ingredient for agriculture and agro-allied business – urban dwellers must do their part in making our conurbations habitable, disease-free and easy-on-the-eye. Then we can all sing along with Phil Collin: “Let it rain down on me”. Yes, let it rain; for showers of blessing we plead.
Chris Anyokwu, PhD.
Associate Professor of English
University of Lagos