This is the first in a series of weekly (I hope) entries about life in Africa. This first story, however, actually didn’t take place this week. But it did happen.
I spent my formative years in the precipitative landscape of Seattle, where I learned at a young age to endure the rain. I have spent most of my adult life, however, in Southern California where rarely do I need to call upon the fortitude cultivated in my youth. Similarly, I did not anticipate needing to dust off the trait while here in Africa, just miles from the equator. The weather, it happens, is not without a sense of irony.
It rains in Uganda. A lot. In fact, there are two rainy seasons in Kampala, and we are now in the midst of one. I have been told this rainy season was to end mid-November, but evidently the nefarious tentacles of global warming have reached the Pearl of Africa, and it is still raining.
Now, when you hear “rainy season,” maybe you imagine pouring rain all day, every day. But that isn’t the case here. The rain is sporadic. Sometimes it comes down, uninterrupted, all day. Then there may be a few days without rain. Every so often, it seems that the rain will show up at the exact same time in the afternoon for two or three straight days, but then only for an hour or so. There does not seem to be much consistency. There is, however, one thing about the rain in Uganda that you can bet on: when it rains, it’s the type of downpour that might inspire a man to build a boat and start collecting pairs of animals.
The nice thing about trying to avoid getting soaked is that there is typically at least a fifteen-minute warning.
A few weeks ago, as I stepped outside the Commercial Court building to head home, the telltale signs of rain were abound. The sky had turned that familiar shade of gray that portends a coming deluge and the wind had awakened the treetops. The temperature was dropping noticeably. My driver was not around, and I was in need of a bodaboda.
It’s about a fifteen-minute ride home, but the sky and the trees and the air told me the rain would be arriving sooner than that. I flagged a boda and jumped on the back hoping to beat the worst of it just as the first few drops began to fall.
Less than two blocks later, it was clear we weren’t going to make it. The sky had opened and everywhere people were running for shelter. The boda driver pulled off the road and dragged his bike up onto the sidewalk and under cover. I took refuge under the awning of a shoe store where dozens of people had gathered, choking the sidewalk.
There were vendors, boda drivers, and a large group of people similarly dressed with hats and t-shirts proclaiming the glory of Jesus. Whistles and vuvuzelas were everywhere. It felt like I was back at Namboole.
Meanwhile, the streets had turned to rivers and the water was ankle-deep in some places as the downpour continued. The rain, however, could not dampen the collective holy spirit of the Friends of Jesus who proclaimed the glory of god with a zealous fervor to match the intensity of the storm.
It was something to behold, a bit amusing, and incredibly hard on the ears. Occasionally, as if they had come down with the rain, more Friends of Jesus appeared, dodging cars and puddles to join the growing chorus under the awning.
Some people on the corner unaffiliated with the Friends of Jesus rolled their eyes, others covered their ears, and still others clapped along because there was nothing else to do and nowhere else to go as long as the rain lasted. Every so often, someone would jump into the street during a lull in traffic and turn to the Friends under the awning to incite more fervor like a pastor fueling the congregation.
For at least twenty minutes the sky’s sermon continued, holding both doubters and converts captive as the Friends of Jesus proclaimed His glory with plastic horns and whistles.
In my head, the lines from Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” struggled to rise above the din.
“Jesus freaks out in the streets / Handing tickets out for God.”
Now I’m not really sure what those lines mean, but I guess this is what “handing tickets out for God” might look like.
After another ten minutes or so, the rain seemed to be letting up, and I looked at my boda driver to see if he was willing to get soaked. He seemed to be contemplating it, when a low, deep drumbeat began to rise above the sound of the rain and whistles and vuvuzelas. At first, I thought it was thunder, but after a few seconds, a clearly discernible rhythm emerged.
Then, coming down the middle of the street, a few hundred meters away, I saw the source of the beat. It was a marching band with about twenty members, all drummers. They wore the same Friends of Jesus hats and shirts as those under the awning, and they were coming directly toward us.
As they approached, the rain fell harder as the band played on. Their soaked shirts clung to their bodies, their drumsticks rattling and splashing the rain up from the heads of the drums with every beat. This was the Friends of Jesus Band. And, playing in the middle of the street, the Band had literally brought traffic to a stop.
When they reached the corner where I stood, they turned left down toward Kisekka Market as the drumbeat, whistles, vuvuzelas and storm joined in crescendo.
Many of the Friends of Jesus that until this point had remained dry now poured into the street, and they followed the band as it marched downhill.
It was another few minutes before the sound of the drums were again drowned out by the rain. It was another twenty minutes before I was able to convince the boda driver that we could go. And probably for the rest of my life, when I’m stuck in the rain, I will remember the day that the Friends of Jesus and their Band proclaimed in a downpour the glory of their savior.