A mile or so from home, the rain began to pour. The only shelter was a single ash tree at the roadside. Standing on the verge as the drops bounced off the tarmac, there were memories of people’s tales of sheltering from rain.
Account after account from the Western Front described relentless rain and quagmire-like mud, to have endured such conditions for days and weeks and months would be unimaginable for those reading the descriptions a hundred years later. Father Niall O’Brien, who worked amidst the poverty and violence of the Philippine island of Negros, talks in one of his books about taking shelter from rain in a house made from bamboo and banana leaves and realising that the rain is the least of the worries faced by the people who lived in the house. There must be innumerable stories of people standing looking out in the hope that the deluge would end.
Rain evokes memories of damp and grey days, days filled with the heavy drizzle that wets the clothes and chills the bones and which were called “soft” by those whose daily lives took them out to work in the wetness, but it also evokes memories of other times. There was a moment standing in a school in the Philippines in September 2001 when the world outside seemed lacking in joy, monsoon-like rain began to fall and, from houses in the village, there appeared children who stood on the school’s makeshift basketball court and danced in delight at the thunderstorm. There was a moment on my first visit to Rwanda in 2009 when a steady and gentle rain began. An African friend stood beside me and said, “this is good rain, Ian, this is good rain.” It was not the rain that came in great drops, forming flash floods and carrying away the topsoil, it was soft rain that irrigated the land of the farmers whose average landholding was no more than half an acre.
Rain is such an essential part of the human experience that there seems almost a paucity of words in English with which to describe it. Shouldn’t there be a whole string of nouns for the different nouns to name the numerous different rains over the course of the year?
The fall of the rain became less intense and I ventured out from the shelter of the ash tree. There was a smell of dampness, it being the fourth successive wet day, it was noticeable that the verges and fields that last week were parched and brown are now showing signs of greenness. Swallows appeared, swooping for flies in the evening air. It was good rain.