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Jasmine Dispatch

Rain Rain Go Away

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The rainy season in West Africa is from June to September, during which time skies are cloudy almost all day long. My first week in Bamako, however was exactly the opposite. Everyday was blazing hot and almost unbearable.

It wasn't until a few days ago that we experienced the real Mali rainy season. It was our first day at Dabel's house, and honestly, the rain was a welcome break from the harsh heat. We were just waking up when it suddenly began to pour. Luckily, we hadn't planned on leaving the house and just spent the day inside catching up on our work and resting. It continued to rain off and on through the night and again the next day. My friend Barry explained that this was really good for his family, who are farmers back in the Dogon Country. However, the residents of the city have a different take on the weather. Rain in Bamako seems only to add to the daily stresses of city life. The power in Bamako frequently goes out, even in the heat, but the rain magnifies it 10,000 times. It was a big disruption for us, since our computers turn off whenever the power goes out. Rainy weather even affects the phone lines. It becomes practically impossible to talk on the phone during a storm, as lines are busy and sometimes dead.

But even more difficult than the power outages is the condition of the roads. The few main streets that are paved don't pose much of a problem, but the dirt roads (almost every road in Mali) turn to mush. The rain washes up rocks in the road, making it almost impassable. When Dabel, Kavitha, Abeja and I tried to back the car out of Dabel's driveway, the car could not pass over the huge stones that washed up in front of her house until some of us got out and met her at the end of the road. Dabel explained that it almost doesn't make sense to buy expensive cars, like her father's Mercedes Benz, because they don't last on these roads. Her brother has a four-wheel drive Land Cruiser, which is what you need to attack this terrain. Even then, it is still very difficult to maintain a vehicle, as I found on two occasions: once, we were in a Land Cruiser that just broke down on our way into town, and another time the front axle of the car we were in just broke under the extreme conditions of the roads.

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A typical flood scene in Mali
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Homes that are made of aluminum siding are practically washed away in harsh storms. The weather wasn't too brutal, but it was stormy enough that many homes at the base of the mountains were flooded. Cars were literally covered by the water and families had to try to salvage what they could. Most could do nothing more than stay in that general area, and try to move to higher ground to escape the waters.

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One family's livestock was forced to the outskirts of the road to graze, eating the trash that washed up on the side of the road. These conditions will continue for a few weeks until the rain lightens up and the water evaporates. In the meantime, these pools of water, heated in the sun by day, would become breeding grounds for mosquitoes and various other worms and parasites, and a higher concentration of disease is a result.

Soon after, Dabel got very ill and we thought she had what Kavitha had, but her symptoms were much worse. She couldn't keep any food down and was getting dehydrated fast so Dabel went with Kavitha to the doctor. He diagnosed her with malaria and immediately began her treatment. As opposed to giving her injections of the medication, he put her on an IV for a few hours and put the medication inside. She slept most of the time and returned home with a prescription and instructions to get plenty of rest.

I'd only read about malaria, but had never actually seen it before. As a matter of fact, the book I read a few days before I arrived was a little frightening. The woman who wrote it was an anthropologist who lived here in Mali and she talked about American tourists who fatally contracted malaria and couldn't be saved. My doctor explained before I left that malaria prophylactics like Larium could be taken on a weekly basis for protection, but there's no vaccine. Larium sometimes has harsh side effects like nightmares and headaches, which I've experienced a little, but nothing terrible. Central America was the last place the team felt they needed any medication for malaria and none of them had any. Luckily, Abeja was able to get a prescription from Dabel's doctor when they went to the hospital. Even that's not guaranteed to work, but its better than nothing.

So what's the bright side to all of this stormy news? Beautiful clear nights with bright stars follow the rain here. And fabulous bright lightning storms streak the sky at night, turning the dark black into the deepest shades of purple and midnight blue I've ever seen. Children play in the rain and it slows the fast paced city down a bit, giving us a chance to appreciate life's small pleasures. After the showers had cleared and I was walking home, the sun peeked out and I was greeted by a brightly colored rainbow. I noticed the children pointing and jumping around, calling their friends to come and see. The sky was so clear you could see the entire rainbow as vivid in color as could be; it was almost unreal, like a watercolor painting. And as I attempted to capture the moment in a photo I knew it wouldn't capture the peaceful calm that seemed to be settling around me. The storm had passed and we were all blessed by the arrival of a new day.

Jasmine
 

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