It Rains Down in Africa

orange building

At first, the rains here in Africa (cue Toto) seemed completely unlike the monsoon rains of Asia, as they occurred with far lesser frequency and for shorter periods of time. Here, at first, the rainy season meant something less palpable than a few monsoon months; an ambiguous length of time where downpours of rain might occur at oddly short intervals, interspersed between periods of beautiful blue skies. The rains didn’t come everyday, and hardly for more than fifteen minutes at a time.

That was at first. And indeed, for the nine months I was first here, Dar’s ‘rainy’ weather was like this, all the way until two weeks ago. Then for four nights in a row (and during some mornings), rain thundered on rooftops, conveniently pausing during most of the daytime hours but inconveniently coming back again each evening and flooding homes, businesses, and roads. Medical supplies washed up on our beloved Yacht Club’s typically pristine beach. Our household staff’s homes in the poorer areas of town washed over. Typical 20 minute commutes extended to 1.5 hours. It was the rainiest I’ve seen Dar in my near one-year living here.


pushing taxi

This is when I am reminded—despite the fact that I can find Nutella on my supermarket shelves—that I am living in a 3rd world country. Severe lack of infrastructure and planning caused what would be a nuisance in America: four days of rain, to render much of the city frustratingly unaccessible. And when I say a lack of infrastructure, I’m not talking about the fact that we need to pave a stretch of road; I’m talking about the need to create complicated irrigation systems, implement systems of drainage, and re-map entire communities and their layouts.

Last week, I felt terrible pangs of irony as I watched rain water pool into muddy pits and sloshing about the sides of the roads. In a country where untainted water is scarce, there it was just falling out of the sky, potentially available for anyone who could collect it, but instead wreaking havoc to the same folks that desperately needed it. It seemed like the most vengeful example of the snarky comeback, ‘you get what you ask for’.



It’s been raining a little more lately, not for four straight nights, but on most days viscious downpours for fifteen minutes, half an hour, a few times a day. This morning I left the house, looked at the bright blue sky, and forwent my umbrella. Three hours later sitting in a second-story coffee shop, I thought we were being attacked by flying monkeys on the roof (it was just, disconcertingly, very VERY loud rain). Bless the rains in Africa.

I don’t have any of my own photos of the rains and flooding it may cause here in Dar, but in order of appearance the photos are from 1), 2), and 3) a blog I just came across called ‘View From Dar‘ (no longer updated), 4) Al Jazeera, from a feed with weather photos from across the world, and 5) an article from the floods last year

Kaskazi Winds

Guy on Bike

In the several attempts I’ve made to take a photo of the many tropical trees here blowing in the wind this time of year (my favorite tree is a scrawny tropical fir variety, think Charlie Brown Christmas style), I’ve failed. All my pictures that I’ve romanticized as being dramatic fronds blowing in the wind just turn out to be…well, photos of trees. Really, they’re so boring I don’t even want to post them up to see. And I’ve realized that in order to get a photo of a tree that looks like it’s blowing in the wind, the wind has got to be blowing pretty hard…like, during a hurricane, or something.

But enough of severe weather talk, I’m sure you’re all sick of that in the states. Let’s talk about subtle weather changes, shall we?

When I first arrived into town on June 1 of last year, everyone told me it was the BEST time of year to come. And I saw truth in that, for I could wear jeans and a tank top out at night and be very comfortable. “Just wait until the summer” they told me, “it gets HOT”. So like a good expat newly adjusting to a foreign lifestyle, I waited.

dar cliffs

Then in September, I discussed the then-four-month dry spell with our gardener, who was now coming every morning to water our plants as opposed to the three days we hired him. “They have to get water,” he stressed “or else they will die in this dry season. But the rainy season will come this year….maybe”. So I waited, because the maybe-rainy season was something that I was somewhat looking forward to, in solidarity with my Autumn-raving friends who were Stateside.

Then in October, we had the short rains. So short, I wrote about them once, here. They left, then came back with a vengeance in November, but then quickly left again. People told me the rains were getting shorter and shorter every year, and that the summers were long and drawn out. So I waited to see for myself.

Yacht Club sunset

Thanksgiving came and went, Christmas and New Years’ did too. And well, we’re well into January now. And while I thought that Dar was going to be painfully, excruciatingly hot by now–while I’ve been waiting for over six months for it to just get so hot my flip flops would melt as soon as I stepped outside–I’m officially declaring: it’s not that bad yet. Sure, it’s not fun to run a mile in the midday heat with the equatorial sun glaring down on your shoulders (five minutes for a light tan, I’d say), but really, it’s not bad at all.

What has really surprised me are the winds. These kaskazi winds, that no one told me about, that have so pleasantly surprised me, that are turning the start of this summer into a beautiful and bearable time of year. In fact, so far, my favorite time of year.

Every night, these winds pick up, and as I fall asleep I can hear the trees outside our house rustling, almost so it’s like we’re listening to waves crashing or rain beating against the window. I’ve never really heard a warm summer wind rustle long palm fronds, but I’ve since recognized the sound. It’s like water, almost.

Dar city center

I’ve learned that these kaskazi winds, or Northern winds, come to my window from somewhere Northeast of here, having traveled down the entire coast of East Africa. They are the infamous trade winds, the winds that carried sailors and merchants and traders from Oman and Morocco, some even further from Arabia, India, China. They brought spices, fabrics, men, religion, drugs, and dialects, and re-located them first in Zanzibar, and then in Africa. In return, they took slaves–but that’s a story about another route, for another time. The spice trade, the slave trade, the mixed heritage of the Zanzibari people; none would be possible without these kaskazi winds.

The kaskazi winds repeatedly last from December to mid-March, wherein is the start of the long rainy season.  I thought, originally, that all Dar had was hot weather all year round, but I’m wrong. I’m getting so many things wrong about Africa, but happily so. The break down of the year here in Dar es Salaam is not really from month to month, or really even from Winter to Spring to Summer, but instead from weather pattern to weather pattern. I’m waiting patiently to see what the next change in weather will be, but for now, these kaskazi winds suit me just fine.