Senegal is located just underneath the Sahara Desert, so we get a lot of influence of desert climate. For example I walk on sand every day of my life here, it’s a calf workout. When I dig garden beds, I don’t have a mixture of particles, I just have sand, sand, and more sand. Because of this, rainy season in Senegal is especially important. This country has been in drought since the 1980s and relies on rain as it’s main water source to water fields, refill wells, and replenish aquifers. Depending on where you are in Senegal, rainy season starts at different times.
In the South, regions under The Gambia, rains start in June. In regions like Kaolack, Kaffrine, and Thies, rains start in July. In regions like mine (Saint-Louis), Linguere, Louga, rains start a little bit later, late July to August. It also depends on the year. Some years, the rains come and end late (last year), or this year, they came when they were expected.
So how do you know if rainy season has in fact started or if it’s just one big rain? Good question. Rainy season, typically begins with a sandstorm or two. The sky will change colors to brown, winds will start to gain speed, and sand flies everywhere. The rains will then come on a regular basis, once a day, every two days, or every 3 days, but the rains are frequent. Plus with the change in humidity, different kinds of bugs come out of dormancy. I’ve seen a lot more spiders and cockroaches hanging out in my room, and a bunch of bugs I don’t recognize from back in the States.
The rains change the landscape too. Places where I could only see trees and sand for miles, now have what looks like… grass? It looks so green and wonderful. Things just start growing! In my garden, weeds have begun sprouting everywhere. I spend time everyday weeding.
The rains, as exciting and much needed as they are, bring many problems too. It’s crazy humid when it doesn’t rain. It’s not necessarily hot (some days are, September definitely will be in Saint-Louis), but just expect to be sweaty all the time, and never dry. I don’t think my hair has fully dried in a couple weeks now. In greetings everyone will ask and say, “how is the rain? It makes the day hot.” Yes it does.
Flooding also ensues. In America, when we hear “puddle” we think these clear pools of water that children wear rain boots and jump in, but in Senegal puddles mean something else. They start to form all over town where the pavement or sand is uneven. They collect all excrement from horse carts, litter, and dirty laundry water, etc. Sometimes these puddles are green, most of the time they are brown, but they are never clear. When I was in market last week I was picking my vegetables off a display and I knocked a carrot and a pepper over and they fell right into green puddle. The seller told me it was no problem, she picked them up out of puddle, put them into her own bucket of dirty water and back on her display. It was at that moment that I vowed to always bleach my vegetables I buy in country, especially during rainy season.
When it rains in my house, it floods too. The water comes off the roof and the second floor and runs through a cement pipe so it catches on the first floor. My family places a bucket there to catch the rain. Rain water can be used to water gardening spaces, do laundry, etc.
If I were you, I would have more questions like, what happens to clean laundry that needs to be hung up to dry and it rains all day for 4 days in a row? In the north that is less of problem because we get more breaks in our rainy days, but in the middle and south of the country this can cause problems. Laundry just gets hung up and left outside until one day it’s dry enough for clothes to dry. Real quick: in case you didn’t know, laundry is done by hand with a bar of soap and some detergent. Locals use up to 4 buckets to do laundry for the rinsing process, and for whites. It’s very important to separate laundry because local fabrics bleed for a couple of washes. I’ll do a full post teaching you how to do laundry like a local soon! After being washed, the laundry is hung outside to dry on a line with clips.
Another downfall is that electricity goes out every time we have a big rain. It results in my sisters doing a lot of dancing and singing to kill time. I mean they do that anyway, but they do this a lot more when electricity goes out (check my instagram for a video).
I’m not a contractor, but the plaster or something in my wall of my room is not waterproof, so when it rains, my room gets these big wet stains on the walls. Huts and houses weren’t made to withstand a large amount of rain in Saint-Louis. That should tell you a lot about the wealth of Senegal, laws about buildings, and how long the drought has been going on.
But my problems aside, rainy season is such a big change from the heat and dryness of November-July, it’s a great chance to experience something totally new. It makes me think about how different America truly is. I’ve been in country long enough now that I’m starting to lose track of similarities and differences because my culture shock is gone. I grew up in a city that is known for being very rainy, and I had all the right gear to defend myself against rain and wind such as rain boots, rain jacket, a car, a bus pass, etc. As I’m sitting here rereading my list of gear I realize all those things are expensive. A one time purchase of a rain coat $50.00 doesn’t seem like much, but in Senegal, that’s a lot of money. People can’t afford to forward pay that much money for a coat, when the easier solution is to stay inside like everyone else. If a rain coat is difficult, what about a car? Even if a family had enough money to purchase a car, the flooding in the streets make it difficult to not inundate the vehicle while driving. Those puddles cause many problems. Here, when it rains, no one moves, no one does anything because the rain is intimidating. Work here isn’t equipped to handle working in the rain, mostly because when it rains, it pours. There isn’t a medium level like in Seattle (don’t believe those TV shows that show a downpour and thunder in Seattle, it’s mostly just a little drizzle). Just one more item on my “differences” list between America, Seattle specifically, and Senegal.
Until next time,