Friday, March 13, 2009

The Weather

rainstorm in downtown Kenema on Kingsway St.

Our introduction to Sierra Leone weather began on the first full day of our arrival or perhaps even the night of our arrival - although that first night most of us were exhausted from the long ride and just wanted to get to sleep. What I best remember is that when we got up the next morning the air was heavy and hot, the sun quite bright, and there was a dampness that you could almost touch. That first day we all met for breakfast at the cafeteria at Fourah Bay College, had a regular breakfast, and by meeting time soon there after, beads of sweat were poring off my forehead and my clothes were drenched with sweat. The fans in our meeting auditorium provided minor relief. My khakis were soaked, my shirt the same. By midday the sun was high and burning and the humidity was unbearable. Here we all were, our first day in country. I thought, "welcome to Sierra Leone," as we were being introduced to the country. I wondered, "would it get any better." July is the height of the rain season, and when rain came - sometimes twice daily, occasionally all day - it would come in torrents. The clouds always seemed low - and after a squall or storm would pass there was no relief of the humidity. During a storm the umbrellas that we had provided some shelter - but the best way to avoid the downpours was to just get inside and wait it out. Sometimes this was just not possible. The two hundred inches of rain that fell between May and October made the vegetation lush and green. Everything grew here - this included mold which if you didn't stay ahead of it might cover a kitchen table with a velvety green rug. At the same time a heavy rain might make the latterite roads treacherous and impassable. So we arrived in July at the height of the rain season and we adjusted. By August there were some nights when you might feel cold even when temperatures might be in the low 80's and it would be raining heavily. I noticed that with more and more activity I was less sweaty. Night time could still be sticky when there was heat and no air movement. When night rains came - our tin roof would make the rain drops sound like millions of drum beats - almost drowning out our talk. By noon - each day could still be hot and humid - but my clothes (cotton - khakis - cotton shirt) were less wet with sweat. you learned of the saying that, " only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun," and put it to good use. That is to say that if you worked hard physically at this time you might pay for it so it was best to reduce activity at the height of day (if you could), or at least temper your activity to get through whatever it was that you were doing. By then end of the year the dry season approached and this meant that nights could be comfortable and on the dry side - as a cold, and dry and dusty brown wind (it carried sand with it) would blow from the Sahara to our north (it was called the Harmattan) and bring us lower humidity. Sierra Leoneans felt the morning cold - I suppose we did also but for me it was in relative terms - comfortable. During the dry season (October to March or April) it almost never rained. Days could be very hot. And with each month the humidity would increase. The grass would dry up and some trees would lose their leaves. At times we used umbrellas to stay out of the sun. It was near the ending of the dry season that rice was harvested and dried. At this time of year food was cheap and in abundance and everyone was happy.

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