Thursday, December 24, 2009

the end of counting

I was hoping it would rain at least once while I was here. I’ve missed the smell of the rain and not being able to hear anything else when it’s really pouring on a tin roof. I got my wish yesterday, in the form of a huge thunderstorm that turned the compound into a puddle, knocked trees down all over Nairobi, and left our electricity even more unpredictable than usual.

Except it’s not supposed to rain like that in December, in Nairobi or anywhere in Kenya. December is supposed to be warm and sunny and dry, the midpoint between the short rains in October and the long rainy season in March/April.

Any Kenyan will tell you that the weather is now impossible to predict. Farmers plant without knowing if there will be enough rain for their crops to mature, or if they’ll lose their seeds to flooding. Kenya’s pastoralist groups once had a sophisticated understanding of seasonal cycles, enabling them to predict droughts decades in advance and plan their movements to sustain their herds. But in the last two decades, the elders of these groups have reached “the end of counting”. It’s not just that some of their knowledge is being lost as young people move to cities and take on a more global cultural identity, it’s that a finely-tuned understanding of the environment developed over hundreds of years has been rendered completely irrelevant by changes in the last twenty or thirty years.

Here climate change is not polemical, abstract or debatable. It’s as tangible as the skinny Maasai cattle that are still clogging up Nairobi traffic months after one of East Africa’s worst droughts started to ease and the prayers of a whole country for rain in its season.

No comments:

Post a Comment