Lent and Easter arrive in the fall in Tanzania, after the hot summer months. Christmas is celebrated when it is hot, and by Easter, the weather is cool. Christians in northern Tanzania expect to celebrate Easter wearing their warmer clothes—and they hope the day will bring the need for umbrellas as well.
During our first Lenten season here in 2018, people often remarked to us how much it was raining. As we were new, we didn’t know why that was remarkable. After a while, we asked about it. We learned that 2018 was remarkable for its rains, for it was the first year in many that the fall rains were “normal” – that is, it rained most every day from March-May. If you do a web search for times to visit, you will be discouraged from coming then, because of the rain. Some of our favorite restaurants close as so few tourists arrive, because of the rain. It’s hard to take part in my favorite form of exercise—swimming—because of the rain. Books and tablecloths in houses start to grow mold—because of the rain. It rained so much last year that we both got pretty tired of being cold last year. With no indoor heating, the moisture in the cool air can make everyone feel pretty chilled.
So, we thought we knew what to expect this year. We brought warm pjs, flannel sheets, and sweaters back from the US, confident that we were now prepared. BUT this year is different than last year. This year, we had a few days of rain in late February, and we both thought the rains had begun. We even had hail, a new experience for us here, in early March.
And then the rains stopped. From March 6 to March 30—one short shower all told. For the first month of what is supposed to be the fall rainy season, we had very, very little rain. Our lawn got increasingly crunchy. The campus got increasingly dusty. The dust in our home was everywhere. Days were hot. Nights were humid and stuffy. People with respiratory conditions struggled. Everyone prayed for rain.
Finally, on March 31, the rains started. Since then, we have had 8 days where at least some rain has fallen. Sometimes it has rained all night long. We, like everyone else in northern Tanzania, are so happy to see and hear it. Some nights, we snuggle under our warm blankets, lulled to sleep by the sound of falling rain. When it rains, everyone is so very happy. And everyone is so very concerned.
A regular, reliable rhythm of the rains in this part of the planet is needed in its season to ensure the continuation of life here in its many forms. The “short” rainy season in November 2018 was almost a non-event. The delayed long rainy season raises anxiety for everyone, from herdsmen, to farmers, to market sellers, to everyone buying in the market, and to even those involved in the very large tourist industry—for if the rains would go away and dry up altogether, the animals the tourists come to see would leave too.
As we waited for the rains to start, I thought about a book I read a few thousand times to our children, Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema. As the title suggests, the story, set in East Africa and echoing an ancient tale, is told in rhyme. Ki-pat, a Maasai man who looks like many who live here in the Arusha area, shot down the rain with a special arrow and bow he fashioned using an eagle feather. His actions ended a time of drought when “the rains were so very belated that all of the big wild creatures migrated”. It’s a fun story, and the artwork looks much like the area where we live. The last pages look just like a Maasai boma.
We still like and highly recommend the book. And we have come to understand why a lack of rain is part of many African tales. Ki-pat’s scrawny cows were saved when he shot down the rain, but today, no one is looking for eagle feathers to solve the problem of increasing drought. Everyone is thrilled and grateful when it rains, and deeply concerned when it does not. Everyone in this agriculturally-based society knows that a few days of rain will not prove enough. The cumulative impact of fully four months of rain a year is needed to nurture life here. So a delay or a shortening in the rains makes everyone worry.
Watching Our Planet, the new documentary narrated by David Attenborough, early in this rainy season put much of the anxiety Tanzanians are feeling into a broader context. The stark and chilling impacts of climate change globally are undeniable, as the amazing videography demonstrates. Damage has been done. We have changed our planet home—we have harmed it. At times, the harm seems irreparable. One rational reaction to watching Our Planet might be to throw up our collective hands and to say, “Well, that’s it. Game over. There’s no use in trying. We have done irreversible damage, and there’s nothing we can do.”
And by the grace of our loving Creator, that would be patently untrue. NO, I am not trying to be a Pollyanna, to look unthinkingly on the bright side, or to shut my eyes to what the world around me is saying. I am sharing a claim of faith.
God has gifted us with a creation that regenerates and revises course as circumstances change and when needed. As many of the episodes demonstrate, God’s creatures and creation are wondrously adaptable. Many times over the course of the planet’s history, adaptation and regeneration has been required, and at those times, as scientific researchers have documented, adaptation has occurred. God’s creation is indeed very good. For many of these moments of change and adaptation, humans were not part of the equation. God’s creation has adaptability built-in to regenerate and bring resurrection where it seemed death would have the last word.
Now, at this moment when change is needed, we are here, and as the Psalmist reminds us, we have been made “a little lower than God” (Psalm 8:5). This has given us enormous power, and with this power comes responsibility. God has created us, equipped us with intelligence and imagination, and called us to be stewards of the gift of creation. At this moment of climate crisis, we are called to steward better—much better—than we have in the last 50 years.
Easter reminds us that God has created life with a rhythm—birth, death, resurrection, new birth—and then the cycle begins again. The sound of resurrection here in Tanzania is the sound of the rain falling upon the land. The rains remind us that birth and death have come, and that God continues to bring new life where only death existed before. As we thank God and celebrate Easter for the inestimable gift of new life in Jesus, we praise God for the rains, and pray that the whole human community will decide to take our faithful role, that resurrection, regeneration, and adaptation may come again.
We thank you in advance for adding prayers for rain here in East Africa to your devotional life.
Cynthia Holder Rich and Mark Rich