They told us when we came that it was the beginning of rainy season.
When I first came home, my host father told me, “This is a season for rain.”
He continued to tell me this whenever it sprinkled, and I, having seen after a week nothing more intimidating than a long drizzle, began to doubt that “a season for rain” in Rwanda had the same tin-roof-rattling, soul-drenching connotations as rainy season in Panama.
On Saturday, though, this season for rain settled in with gusto.
It pelted down, deafening on the rooftops. It killed the electricity for hours and drenched me on my sprint to the latrine before bed—a cautious sprint, because the water running through the compound had already made my flip-flops treacherous and left a sizeable bruise on one hip.
It set the thick orange mud flowing.
In Rwanda, it seems, a fine layer of dust collects everywhere despite everyone’s constant sweeping and scrubbing. Everything looked clean until the rain hit, and then rivulets of muddy water streamed across the porch I’d thought pristine. The courtyard our umukozi scrubs every morning ran brown and yellow. Grit and slime collected in my shoes, between my toes, around my ankles.
Now, in this second week with my host family, I think that dust has been collecting inside me, too—imperceptibly, in places I thought I’d kept clean.
As the sunshine of my first experiences disappears behind dark clouds of repetition and exhaustion, it is a time for rain.
As the raindrops fall, I see that tiny irritations I thought I’d brushed off have collected and now, brought to life, flood muddy through me.
Things like having my food choices questioned solicitously yet relentlessly at every meal.
Finding that every conversation in Kinyarwanda is too many words beyond my comprehension.
Feeling isolated by distance from town and lack of good internet to access my usual communication channels.
Desiring to integrate yet needing to recharge alone.
Fighting bugs in the latrine and stares on the streets.
Hearing “umuzungu!” everywhere I go.
Developing canker sores as a side effect of my malaria prophylaxis.
They collect like dust in the crevices of my soul, and as the raindrops of tedium, weariness, and failure fall, they thicken, collecting in puddles and rivers until they seem to be everywhere.
The mud in Rwanda is like no mud I’ve seen before. It’s bright orange and ubiquitous. It sticks to everything it touches, flicks up behind each step to speckle my trousers, goops between my toes, cakes my shoes. On rainy days, not only the dirt roads are muddy; the asphalt and concrete run with muddy water. There are no clean puddles to rinse my feet. The mud seems to be on everything—the roads, the walls, the people—until it’s all I can see.
At first look, the rain doesn’t seem to wash clean anything that wasn’t clean before; it seems to merely spread the mud.
But after a while, I can see where the rainwater has cleaned great patches of white concrete on the side of the house. I can see the trees gleaming, washed of the dust that muted their leaves.
The rain accentuates the dust and dirt, but it also ultimately washes it all down to the ground.
And with time, I can see that the rain in my life is washing away the muck. With repetition, I begin to see the clear patches.
Finally mastering the art of walking to the shower without my igitenga slipping.
Being one of the few trainees who didn’t experience unpleasant splattering or missing the hole during my first visits to the pit latrine.
Understanding more and more words in my host family’s conversations.
Hearing my host siblings say they love me.
Being able to text my friends and family in the US as much as I want.
Ordering food successfully in Rwandan restaurants.
Making brief friends with strangers on my long walk home.
This is igihe cy’imvura—this is a season for rain.
It soaks through my trousers, splatters on my hair, and turns the red dirt roads into an orange morass. It’s cold and inconvenient, but it washes down the houses. It nourishes the crops. It cleans the air.
And it always ends.
Soon enough it will be dry season. Dust will clog my nose and coat my shoes and rise in clouds from the roads, and it will bring its own troubles.
So for today, I can only embrace this season of rain.