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Offbeat – 17 January 2014

Rain is actually a universal Namibian culture that spans the gamut from counting lonely clouds in the heat to going outside when it does rain for adventures and joy. It is a far larger culture than football, beer and politics.

Every year cars get stuck in rivers. When I was a kid, folks in the neighbourhood used to troop to the river to join in the excitement and fun. When I got older, I had to watch the papers for the photos. Now I get them on Facebook. Cool. Cars that get stuck in rivers are a part of Namibian culture. If we didn’t see the photos, or the cars with our own eyes, the rain would be incomplete.
My best guess is that those cars get stuck for a reason. Think about it this way. The driver of the car does not need to take the chance. He or she can wait a bit, or find another route. The reason, albeit subconscious, is that the driver ignores those possibilities and goes for the thrill.
It’s the same with the people who tow them out of the rivers. They could just sit at the edge of the rushing water and snigger. Instead they go for the fulfillment of being the rescuer, whether it is altruism or adventure. Either way it is a rush.
It’s the rain that does it, that brings out another dimension in Namibians.
I was riffing to a foreign friend on Facebook about rain in Namibia as the Tuesday storm arrived. I don’t think she expected the long paragraphs, but it was a useful way to get the concept of rain culture out of my head and into words and sentences.
I told her that as the temperature rises, Namibians begin to lose their tempers. They squabble in offices and particularly in families.
When the rain arrives, smiles come out of hiding. Namibians head to windows and doors. The movement can be purposeful or just a subconscious amble. Those who can find excuses suddenly need to go somewhere, even if they don’t have umbrellas. In small dry towns, people cross the road in the rain apparently because they need to walk on the other side.
I also told her that Namibians are sensitized to rain at a very young age. They hear the longing in the dry season, and reverence when rain arrives, in the voices of their parents and elders. Those emotions are functions of drought and heat, both of which do terrible things to Namibia.
Rain is actually a universal Namibian culture that spans the gamut from counting lonely clouds in the heat to going outside when it does rain for adventures and joy. It is a far larger culture than football, beer and politics. If you don’t obsess about rain at least once a year you are not Namibian. If you complain, you are either foreign or there is something not right about your life.
It is not a widely acknowledged culture. Fine artists don’t focus on it. They have their expressionism, figurative art stuff and political statements. Musicians don’t make enough music about it. They seem to want to be urban stereotypes, and I can’t think of any hip hop that glorifies rain.
Rain culture is communicated by ordinary people. As soon as it arrives, the news starts spreading on Facebook. People tell the world with short sentences. “Raining in Katutura.” “Raining in Klein Windhoek.” Soon after that the photos begin to show up. Most of them aren’t dramatic. They are just pictures of buildings in downpours.
The first Windhoek thunderstorm, here in 2014, bought a lot of excitement. There were the standard happy pictures of the rain and water running through rivers. There were also many pictures of stuck cars. The high frequency of the posts seems to say that the good people of Windhoek were relieved by the arrival of the rain.
What I didn’t see were pictures and comments on the build-up of clouds that I saw in the years before the drought. Perhaps Namibians were too cynical to hope.
Across the world, weather spawns its cultures. It creates behaviour patterns that are either enshrined, such as European sunseekers, or cultures of survival, such as the hardened peoples of the deep Saharan desert.
The cultures are changing as weather systems change. Hopefully these will ripple through society as climate change picks up pace. I can’t say how Namibian culture will change, but love of rain will probably be with us for generations to come.

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