Today is 42C – the only breath of wind feels like someone opened an oven door. 33C inside the house. Monkeys are sleeping on the stoep, trying to cool down on the concrete floor (while waiting for the door to be left open); warthogs are stony sculptures sleeping in the dust. Bright blue glossy starlings inspect them for ticks. Anorexic looking kudus stalk past to the waterhole. Thin animals everywhere; skin hanging in folds. The thin ones don’t get to eat with the rest at feeding time as they are not strong enough to fight their way in. Their clocks are ticking. Its depressing to watch them lose condition so quickly and still no sign of life giving rain.
This year is extreme. It is something to experience, but you must guard against depression. Locals call this suicide month. Crops wither, cattle are thin and dying, boreholes drying up – and you cant make water when it is gone. It seems like it will never rain again – ever. With mortality staring us in the face all day, we start to think of our own – worry about our own health. Its inevitable I suppose. And I am not even going into whats happening to the global economy!
With the drought comes veld fires. All over the southern continent tinder dry grasses are swallowed up by racing fires – leaving a desolate landscape in their wake. We have heard of three safari camps burnt to the ground in the past month. What of the rural villages – people and animals caught in the cross fire?
Animals too feel the tension. Across the border in mozambique, there is a new national park. Elephants come into conflict with people here. People plant crops everywhere, even under shade trees. Elephants need to get to water, find shade; they eat crops and trees when there is no grass. Matriarchs particularly are stressed moving their herds of sisters and young – trying to stay alive. Everywhere they go they are chased by people banging pots, or shooting at them. Finally they turn on the first person they see – trampling them to death.
Tension mounts with the mercury rising; with luck storm clouds will build out of the remaining moisture sucked from the earth and every living thing. With the first rain, bright shimmering green bursts on the scene. I am picturing the green inside the dessicated trees, just waiting for its curtain call. The ground shimmers and bakes like an earthen pot in a giant kiln. Walk barefoot at your peril – soon you will be dancing like a cat on a hot tin roof – the ultimate rain dance!
In the old days in South Africa, the Church would blame drought on girls who wore mini skirts. This is retribution…. Fire and brimstone. Maybe they had a point. OK I’ll be good, and wear a long skirt if that’s what it takes.
For now though we watch and wait, and watch and wait- holding our breath as the dramatic tension increases testing the mettle of everyone and everything. This has to break soon and when it does…..there will be a festival of green.