“The worst part was that the rain was affecting everything and the driest of machines would have flowers popping out among their gears if they were not oiled every three days, and the threads in brocades rusted, and wet clothing would break out in a rash of saffron-colored moss. The air was so damp that fish could have come in through the doors and swum out the windows, floating through the atmosphere in the rooms.”

–One Hundred Years of Solitude

So it’s the Rainy Season here in Uganda. I agree heartily with the ‘rainy’ part of this title, not so much with ‘season.’ To me, the word season implies a time span of, say, 3 – 4 months. This particular ‘season’ lasts a good 9 months, so I think it would be more appropriate to just call it The Weather. Our village is located in pretty much the rainiest spot in Uganda. We’re at a high elevation, surrounded by hills. The scenery has always been dramatic, but the rain brings giant cloud banks rolling in, obscuring any sights beyond the nearest hill and making everything misty. Sometimes it feels like our patch of land has been uprooted, and actually placed inside a large rain cloud. I can stand outside my office and watch the rain approach through the nearby valley, watch as it creeps across the compound and finally hits me in the face.

It rains every day. It usually comes hard and heavy. It falls so loudly on the aluminum roofs that you sometimes can’t hear yourself speak. We have pretty frequent thunder and lightening—maybe twice a week. The local topography does not favor us. Everything slopes. I mean everything: the roofs, the roads, the students’ playground. The rain hits, and then it washes downward. And you’re always downstream of something. Beside every building, along every path, the rain collects and creates gushing steams of muddy run-off. From above, the school compound could be mistaken for a distant aerial map of some lush wilderness: rivers and waterfalls, small lakes and swamplands.

At first, the rain made me very angry. I would wake up to the loud drops falling on our roof and silently shake my fist at the heavens. This is ridiculous, it couldn’t possibly continue, I would think as I pulled my raincoat and gumboots on over my pajamas and headed out to the latrine. It is ridiculous, and it does continue. Everything is damp and smells slightly moldy, getting to the latrine involves artful leaps and short bouts of wading, and my hair permanently looks like a small bushy animal hibernating on my head. Students coming to reading lessons in my office sprint from their classrooms and arrive shivering and tracking pounds of thick clay on their feet. I find myself spending large periods of time staring listlessly out the window. But, I am making the adjustments necessary to maintain my sanity. I have purchased a large golf umbrella, I have created a make-shift clothesline in my bedroom, I’ve perfected the hands-free gumboots to flip-flop switch, and I ALWAYS carry my raincoat. I don’t care if it is 100 degrees out, and blue sky as far as the eye can see—I bring the damn raincoat.

All the headaches associated with the frequent rainfall pale in comparison with the mud. THE MUD. I thought I knew the definition of that word, thought I had had a fair amount of experience with that substance, even have fond memories of making mud pies in some friend’s backyard. Living in the village has revolutionized the concept for me. You see, there is no paved road within an hour of here. The best we have is a sort of thin grit layer on the main road that leads to Mbale. Unfortunately that road does not pass by the school. From the guest house you walk for about five minutes on the grit road, and then make a turn for the kilometer walk on the mud road. That’s where the fun begins. The mud here has a very particular consistency. It absorbs the exact amount of rain water necessary to create a kilometer long slip and slide. It’s thick, and slick and evilly deceiving. It likes to masquerade as solid lumps that you can safely place your foot on, and then once your foot hits, whoosh—you ain’t got no traction and you’re going down. Climbing up the hill brings a strikingly literal meaning to the phrase ‘one step forward, two steps back.’ The walk down doubles as both commute home, and excellent practice for my nascent cross-country skiing career. The muzungu parade back from the school is big entertainment for the locals every evening. We gingerly pick our way along, clutching onto each other’s forearms and squealing ‘whoopsy’ every two minutes (alright, maybe that last one specifically refers to me), while the kids from school race by in blurred streams of barefoot laughter. We take half an hour to do the walk and make sure we don’t get any smudges on our kakis, while they run down the mountain in five minutes, amassing thick wet pads of mud on their bare soles. Some of the older girls take pity, take my bag, and walk patiently beside me, arms poised for a quick rescue if necessary. I have seen one AAH student fall. It was a tad surreal because it was a very grey evening, almost dark, still raining, and she was inexplicably wearing a Santa Claus hat.

The mud . . . . THE MUD!

The rain and mud have introduced a new staple into my wardrobe: the gumboot. The black rubber boots that come up to my knees have become close friends of mine, and we go everywhere together. My friend Katie warned me about the boots before I left the States, so I came to Uganda armed with several pairs of fashionable knee-socks. Think Britney Spears in the Hit me Baby One More Time video. Now think the opposite. That’s me, walking to work every morning. I call it business rugged.

Key survival tools: gumboots and mud-scraper thingy

A description of one of my own dramatic falls would make a perfect ending to this entry, but I have somehow managed to escape that fate thus far. My closest call came when I tried some tricky maneuvers to avoid a cow. I’ve developed a certain sense of ease, one could almost say friendliness, around cows in my time here. However, I have witnessed some cow-on-human violence. I was sitting in a matatu waiting for it to fill when a cow by the side of the road took objection to a certain passing woman, and began head-butting her all over the shop. The woman’s surprise quickly turned to anger, and she retaliated with several fierce jerry-can swipes to the head. It was an intense battle, and I would be hard pressed to declare a clear victor. These images were running through my mind as I walked down from school one rainy afternoon, and encountered a very distressed cow slap bang in the middle of the small bridge I have to cross to get into the trading center. The cow was white, with big black rings around her eyes. She was mooing up a storm in a very pissed off way, and struck me as vaguely demented. I decided to give her a wide berth and tried some fancy side steps. The evil mud saw its chance and began pulling me towards the stream that runs along the side of the road. I thought I was a gonner for a second, but then I called upon all of my yoga resources and executed a sort of turn-around leap which left me straddling the stream and elicited a chorus of ‘sorry, sorry’ from the local bystanders. I breathed a sigh of relief, hitched up my knee socks, and continued on my merry way.

Mud: 0

Ruth: 1

Cow: friend or foe?

I have a feeling the tables will turn before my time here is over. The evil mud is probably reading this right now and plotting its revenge. I’ll keep you updated.