It’s raining outside, that thick drenching African rain. On the other side of the concertina wire somebody is sheltering under a mango tree fiddling with a radio, looking for a signal stronger than the pounding of the droplets on the zinc roofs – only for those of us who know, a sign of wealth, of opulence in Africa. A twang replacing the thunk thunk of torrents on mud banco walls and thatch; reward for a season which has gone well, when the harvests are good or one of the family has finally gotten some sort of job, and when no one has died.
Inside my armored walls, here in Elysium, my toddler is streaming something on Netflix, written in New York, drawn in Hollywood, digitized somewhere probably in India or China and sent around the world over fiber-optic cables dragged across the sea floor to Lagos. I sit here, procrastinating from my fifth novel as I chat in English with my Peruvian friend in Niger and Tweet madly through Venezuela’s bamboo curtain which keeps out only food – and hope – to the nouveau prisoners in humanity’s endless war of attrition against those who would control us.
And I think of the rains. Because it’s the rains, isn’t it? The answer; the natural world which we cannot control, try as we might. The rains which arrive sparingly; the plants which grow in season unless Israeli hydroponics or ancient Tiwanaku irrigation makes the rains irrelevant. But not for Africa, never for Africa. The ground is closer hear, the earth more prescient, the tiny maize shoots delicate against the bugs and birds and the pounding rains more real; gracious rains holding back the dusts of the Harmattan blowing off the Sahara covering Daewoo and donkey alike and causing a hacking, wheezing cough to all shades of man – black and white and tan and even sometimes the blue men of the desert, though more accustomed to it they are said to be.
Life is like a flash of that raindrop – not choosing when it will fall, or where; will it water the Lake Titicaca in the precious form of rare snow melted in a moment of sunlight to trickle down from the imposing crowns around the Altiplano, or will it instead become murky and brown and rich as it loses itself in the ancient Niger, churning up the sand as the runoff from dunes which no longer hold their soil after the trees have gone, to be burned into charcoal and trafficked by terrorists for a dollar? Will it fill the bay at Monte Carlo, splashing playfully from the fiberglass hulls of yachts bedazzled with colorful drinks and barely-dressed party-goers or instead off the hand-sewn fabric covering the rundown fishing junks in Bengal, waiting out the rains for the fish never rise in the torrents? It really is only luck which decides where the drops will fall – if they water the storied rainbow tulip fields of Denmark or the earthen beans of Acholi. A luck that makes all the difference, though, doesn’t it?
My son has known many of the rains; I have known many more – I’ve been around longer, gone farther afield. The rains are the same. That our God of birds and prisoners is also the God of rains and floods; a God who provides, but does not have to as if by rule or natural law – a God who made us all but did not make us all equal, just as he lets the rains fall upon Lake Chad and Lake Geneva in equal measure; and what this all means for we all who are human.