Aftermath of the Rain Song
At mid-morning in the little Ghanaian town of Aveyime-Battor, the chanting little voices of naked kids playing outside their mothers’ huts could be heard. They are dancing and chirping happily in the rain. They are singing the famous rain song. “Rain Rain Go Away”, they are singing, “Come again another day, little children want to play”.
This song is a popular English language nursery rhyme with different variations. It is enjoyed by both young and old. But in West Africa it has a dual implication for both young and old.
The rainy season is here again. Once again the moist monsoon winds from the icy mountains of the temperate zones is sweeping over West Africa. Memories of the harsh harmattan dry season have grown dim.
The rain was expected earlier but instead of beginning in March, the rainy season didn’t start until May, and steady rains didn’t start until late July. Perhaps that is the reason why it is still lingering more than normal.
Last month was September the ninth month of the year when the rain is supposed to subside. September is called “Siam-lom” in the Ewe language of Ghana. Siamlom means “Dry-me-pack-me”, aptly named after September by farmers to depict the tendency of the scanty showers of rain falling in-between rays of sunshine.
Siamlom has the tendency to play hide-and-seek games with West African farmers. When the farmers spread out their grains in the sun to dry, the rain comes intermittently to make them repack their grains to avoid them getting moisten.
But as soon as the farmers hastily pack their grains the rain stops and the sun reappears and shines again. This makes them to spread out their grains in the sun again to dry. This scenario made them to name the month of September as Siamlom.
But up to this month of October the rain has refused to subside. To the handful naked kids outside dancing happily about in the open, the song has only one connotation. They have been waiting expectantly for a romp in a desirable light showering rain while the sun still shines on them through the clouds.
This is usually a very joyous moment of childish glee for the playful kids who are dancing, jumping and rolling in the rain. Some of them are seen sailing their folded paper boats in shallow puddles. Others who do not know how to fold paper boats just sail knotted strands of dry corn husks with hollows.
To the playful kids the rain is not actually being asked to “Go away”, but urged to stay. They are singing the “go away song” not because of its delightful rhyming couplets but because it is the only real popular rain song that is common to all.
But to the adults the dark clouds are seen to portend menace and so they sang the Ewe language version of the rain song.
“Etsi lee me ga dza o,
edzi lee me ga dza o
ke ne do yibo koa
ame ne be ya wu lo”
The Ewe version of the rain song has a plaintive undertone and a bleak meaning. It beseeches the rain not to fall for its intimidating dark clouds threaten to kill or cause havocs.
Suddenly the sun that was peeking through tinny openings in the heavy dark clouds is obliterated. The weather has changed abruptly. The dark clouds that formed an overhanging canopy cloaked any remaining sunlight filtering through the rain.
The hovering dark clouds pregnant with rain have a foreboding stance like a stalking black panther ready to sprint, pounce and strike at its victim.
With practised steps the women are busy placing basins or any available containers in positions where their leaking roofs drop rain water. Wary mothers are calling out to their kids playing outdoors to hasten indoors.
“Kodzo, come inside the house!” The women loudly called out the names of their kids, “Kodzo, Korbla, Korku, Yao, Kofi, kwame, and korsi”
These names coincidentally follow the days of the week. In Ghana names are usually given to children based on the days of the week they were born. Others shouted “Adzoa, Abla, Aku, Yawa, Afi, Amevi, and Awusi.” These are the female versions of the male counterparts mentioned earlier.
The mothers are calling out their names but ignoring their mothers’ warning calls, the playful kids are still lingering in the rain. They are hesitating in the rain like insatiate hens dashing after fleeing grasshoppers at dusk when they are supposed to roost.
Suddenly the sky flares with a powerful blinding light. The blinding lightning flashes across the dark sky in such frightful jagged rays like the formidable forked tentacles of a giant squid.
There is a sudden lull before the accompanying loud thunderclap peals the air. The clashing noise produced by the thunder is really deafening.
The playful children are shrieking with fright. Certainly this was no time to be fooling around in the rain. Running away from the terrifying sight, some of the kids are seen scurrying into any available cover; others clutching at one another, while some of them are screaming their mothers’ names and hastily dashing into the safety of their homes.
The kids are running with blinding speed as fast as their tinny legs could carry them. In the commotion some of them are colliding as paths criss-crossed, some are falling down in huddles, hastily getting up and running home. They are all shivering and cowering.
Suddenly there is pandemonium everywhere. In the cities people are frantically rushing to securely shut all windows and shutters. They are hastily bringing plant pots and other objects on balconies inside. Some of them are quickly checking if their laundry poles were firmly secured.
The harbingers as if goaded by the taunting songs of the kids are lashing out in sputtering drops and later shifting into a heavy downpour. The rain is pouring down heavily in torrents as if the windows of the heavens were open. In such heavy torrential rain a few hours down pour can cause a formidable deluge.
Within a few seconds there are no more joyful sounds of happy children heard. Laughter and sunshine were no more. Only the loud drumming and splashing of the rain is heard. Along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean which washes the coast of West Africa are heard plaintive cries of mournful gulls.
In every village, town and cities in West Africa, this rain song is a paradox. It has another bleak connotative undertone.
The rain is still pouring and pouring heavily throughout the morning and it is continuing into the wee hours of the night. The rain is needed to replenish the patched earth that was licked dry by the merciless harmattan winds that blow over Africa from the arid Sahara Desert from January to June.
During the drought caused by the delay in rainfall many crops withered. Among the crops affected by the lack of rain include West Africa’s cocoa crop. It is a known fact that about 70 percent of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, and Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire are the top growers.
The delay in rainfall has also led to water shortages in many parts of the country. Farmers with anticipation pray daily for the rains because the welfare of their crops depends on it. But when it finally arrives it more than often brings its own havoc and leaves in its wake so much misery.
While the much needed rains replenished the wetlands in Mali, precipitation had devastating effects elsewhere in western Africa. Relentlessly the torrential rain continues into the afternoon. Within a short period of time a lot of rain water is causing severe flooding.
These frightened little kids of the twin towns of Aveyime and Battor are just lucky that these areas are not known for flooding. The Tongu Ewe people living along the lush green banks of the River Volta have also in the past had their share of flooding.
They had learnt a bitter lesson in the past when in 1963, the construction of a large hydro-electric dam at Akosombo had caused the river to overflow its banks and flooded these areas downstream. The flood chased these riverine people backwards to new resettlement on higher ground. This is the place they now call their new home.
Every year the people of Aveyime-Battor observe a festival termed 'Tsitsoyi' meaning the Flood Era. It is a ritualistic remembrance of that grim incident of frantic exodus from their former abode to their present location.
During the festival of Tsitsoyi the people of Aveyime-Battor revisit the past by going to the ruins of their ancient adobe to perform rituals. They pour libations and dress up in clothes to depict homeless and fleeing people in flood experience.
In a very colourful and dramatic enactment of past experience the procession march from the old ruins and through the major streets of their new home. Nostalgic references are usually made to the former abode when oldsters who experienced the exodus and resettlemet recount the stories to their new generations.
But other Ghanaian children and adults in other flood prone areas are not that lucky. Over 121,000 people in 26 districts in three Ghanaian northern regions, comprising the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions remain in distress as a result of the aftermath of floods that is claiming many lives and damaging several property.
Aftermath of the rain is making about 24 communities to be cut cut-off from the rest of the country. The National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO) is commandeering aid for distribution to the affected communities. Officials of this outfit are using a combination of outboard motors to get to some of the settlements. But unfortunately this is not going to be so with 24 other communities because of tree stumps that constitute a hazard to the rotor of the machines.
About 924 communities and their farms are either being washed away or submerged by the raging waters due to the swelling of major water bodies in the affected areas. Farmers are watching helplessly as their farmlands are being taken over by the floods. The rain is washing away their crops and damaging the rest of their seeds stored in earthen barns.
Thee death toll is rising as some foolhardy farmers are being swept away while making attempts to salvage farm and household effects. Even NADMO had to relocate some of its relief centres as the floodwaters surged, but it is difficult to do same with most of the communities because of their refusal to leave behind personal effects.
The flooding is being made worse by the opening of the Bagre Hydro Dam in neighbouring Burkina Faso, thus inundating thousands of communities sited along the banks of the rivers. At least 5,104 houses have collapsed, 13 public schools have been destroyed and 30, 000 acres of farm land is being destroyed.
About 24 communities are inaccessible, but the military is providing helicopters that are now being used to reach the people.
In the cities many flooded streets are harbouring several submerged cars in the flood waters. Many of the houses in the towns and cities are being damaged. Many drenched survivors are marooned on top of half-submerged passenger buses and rooftops. Some of them are dangerously clinging on high-voltage power lines while others are plodding through waist-high flood waters.
In the villages, houses are more damaged because one of the main building materials for these structures is the easily soluble mud. The rain is causing the mud houses to wash away.
By nightfall the heavy torrential rainfall is turning nearly every village, town and cities into ankle deep flood water. Nearly every year the rainy season brings floods, with conditions aggravated by a lack of urban planning. There is also the issue of poor water and sanitation infrastructure.
Indeed there is also rapid urban population growth due to migration of rural dwellers to the urban areas in search of non-existent white-collar jobs and better living conditions.
The aftermath of the torrential rain is a sad story. The rain is leaving in its wake a lot of misery. It is bringing untold hardships to the people who prayed for the rain to come.
In the villages the toll on human life is as high as the towns and cities. Many people are still dying although nobody needs to be told not to go outside and to stay away from dangerous spots.
They all know from experience that depending on local geographical conditions, many areas have a greater risk of unexpectedly high tides, flooding, or landslides caused by the torrential rain. Yet they are still dying one way or the other.
The city dwellers are also having their own hazards to look out for. They are always watching out for possible flooding in the basements. Their basements could be easily flooded as water flow always goes downward. They know they must cautiously stay away from the basement during heavy rain and also not use an elevator if they need to go downstairs.
In the cities of Accra, Abijan, Lagos and other cities , just as in the villages of other West African countries there is an equal heavy toll on human casualty. In Nigeria flooding affected at least 100,000 people and 6 villages have been submerged.
The recent floods in Abidjan claimed over 20 lives, affected nearly 2,000 and resulted in substantial damages to property. ECOWAS has donated emergency support grant to the Government.
Some people out of carelessness are not staying away from flooded streets. They are carelessly wading into flooded streets and roads without taking into consideration possible broken pipes and submerged electrical facilities.
These submerged power switchboards and power lines are not only causing power outage, when exposed to water they also constitute hazards of electric shock that is sending many people to their early graves.
Aftermath of the rain song is our hoarse voices from dirges. Many people in West Africa are being displaced by the flood. We in some parts of West Africa are transforming many of our schools, civic and urban centres into shelters for the homeless.
Indeed it is obvious that the particular force and extent of the flooding this year is really overwhelming governments' capacity to cope, despite some preparation measures that have been put in place.
But many thanks go to the ever responsive International Society of the Red Cross and other relief agencies who are already swinging into life saving actions.
Many people are being rescued from disaster zones and evacuated into safe havens. Rural residents whose mud houses are washing away by the flood are being sent to sturdier accommodations in larger, water-logged urban centres. But many flood victims are still relying on the kindness of relatives and friends for basic needs.
Much kudos goes to the benevolence of the Spanish Red Cross. Their efficiency and rapid response strategy is highly commendable. Already the coordinators with the Red Cross have been distributing blankets and sleeping mats. They have also distributed jerry cans for storing drinking water, purification tablets, and soap. They have also seen the importance to share insecticide-treated mosquito nets to guard against malaria.
Indeed the Red Cross rescue operations is continuing for more than 800,000 residents of West Africa who are being uprooted by torrential rains since July.
The ever responsive and resilient American Red Cross flood relief specialists are still touring some countries. They are surveying crop destruction. They are still carrying out food need assessments for about 95,000 of the neediest victims in two affected countries.
The whole of western Africa is affected one way or the other. About fourteen other West and Central African countries are also being hit by the excessive rainy season.
And so when others curl up with books in their hands in the comfort of their solidly structured cosy homes, and wish for rain stories to be told, our own rain story may not sound like a blissful and romantic love story. It has a bitter taste and perhaps a very plaintive tinge.
But it is still a rain story all the same. The story may appear very brief but does not lack depths. It is swift and memorable for that is what it is meant to be. A brief grim rain story.
But before they start to sing any rain song, they must also know that in every village, town and cities in West Africa, this rain song is a paradox. It also has another bleak connotative undertone.
But the fact still remains that natural disasters are universal. There would always be disastrous torrential rains causing erosion and flooding in my little town of Battor and the rest of West Africa, just as there would also be devastating flooding in Britain, Philippines, Istanbul, Turkey and Guatemala.
Perhaps there would be more other grim stories of lethal typhoons in Japan, and earthquakes in China. In the battlefield of life, just as in the battlefield of the African savannah, we cry for the owner of the chick at the same time cry for the hawk that must feed its hungry nestling brood.
In Africa we cry for the unfortunate zebra and also cry for the hungry lions that prey on them. But life continues in the universal brotherhood of our common earthly existence.
The rain is part of our lives; our very existence depends on this live-giving liquid. It may sound rather ironic that this same rain that is so life sustaining could as well act as a life destroyer. But it makes more sense to me. To be able to capture infinity one must become one with nature.
There is an Ewe adage which says that, "The same water that a fish comfortably lives in, swims and that which passes harmlessly through its gills, is the same water that is used in cooking it in a soup".
We are still in the early month of October. The rain is still pouring heavily in many parts of West Africa. The death toll of flood disaster victims is increasing every day. We don’t know how long it will take. It is not yet the end of the rainy season so we do not know just how bad it will get, but we do know the situation is already very serious.
Forecasters are advising that the magnitude of this year’s water fall may be greater than usual. How long it would take and how devastating it would be is yet unknown.
It is indeed a matter of course that during such natural disasters, heroes would surely emerge. As if it is not already ironic that those who pray for the rain to come are being killed by the rain, we are also seeing rescue workers risking their own lives in rescue operations. Some are also dying in the process of saving others in distress.
Perhaps if that touching aspect is not ironic enough to draw sympathy, the grim spectacle of an exhausted rescue worker gingerly lifting the mud covered dead body of a little child from a submerged canoe would draw some tears from some weak-hearted onlookers.
For these brave heroes, we can only get the solace in the fact that they will forever remain in the bosom of our creator. Their heroic deeds shall forever remain fresh in our minds, and also in the evergreen annals of great legends of Africa.
But one thing is certain, after rain comes the sunshine. This shows the ability of God for rejuvenation. We have come to realize that natural disasters are not to been seen as an indifference of our creator. The regenerative power of creative essence portrays God's bountiful provisions and blessings for mankind. The rain in iteslf , in spite of its disastrous trends, is also an agent of cleansing and restoration.
Infact, if not for the grace of God many of us would have been consumed. Certainly His thoughts for us are not of evil but of good that would take us to expected end. For His mercies endureth forever.
West Africans are not strangers to heavy rainy seasons. As usual we shall wait for the rains to cease. We shall pick the fragments of our shattered dreams and start to build them all over again. We shall get along with our lives somehow. We always do.
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 08.10.2009
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I dedicate this short story to the numerous flood victims of West Africa , and the relentless relief aid workers in flood affected zones.