The most important three years of my youth were spent in Tanzania, east Africa, where I lived with my family between the age of 8 and 10. We lived in a small village just outside the city of Dodoma. Dodoma is nominally the capital of Tanzania and means "it has sunk" in the local tribal language, Chigogo - a name that is said to refer to an incident where an elephant got stuck in the mud. Fond as I still am of the place, I never saw anything as exciting as an elephant there. Or any mud.
For Dodoma lies in an area that is classified as 'semi-desert'. I was delighted when I discovered this and tried to mention it every time the topic of Tanzania arose for years after I came back to Ireland, making sure to say the 'semi' bit quite quietly. Rain was scarce and precious, often going nine months without making an appearance, sometimes over a year. We never had running water, meaning that both toilet flushes and showers were limited to a couple of mugfuls from a bucket once a day. I never minded, but I felt the anxiety creased on local faces when crops failed and xylophone-ribbed cattle succumbed to a diet of dust.
So when it rained, it was glorious. You'd smell it on the dry dust up to half an hour beforehand, and hear a low hum in the air as the myriad insects would ready themselves. We'd run inside to tell our mother and would then set out plastic buckets and empty metal margarine tubs and open kettles, any respectable receptacle, below the eaves of the house to catch what we could before the thirsty ground chugged it all. Then I'd wait outside until the last possible second, watching the dust speckle and spatter until the downpour became too much. Whereupon the rain through the meshed window became the evening's entertainment, superior to that of our non-existent telly and the stacks of comics I'd already read. If I was lucky it would still be lashing down as I went to sleep, soothed by the drumming on the corrugated iron roof. Comforted by the knowledge that it was saving lives and feeling a little less at odds with my previous existence in Cork; a place more accustomed to precipitation.
Life would shoot out of the dust and cover the area in a lush veneer of greenness that might sometimes last an entire fortnight. Red scorpions would temporarily become more of a worry and malaria rates in the region increased (I caught it two or three times during our spell there). We'd go and skim stones on temporary lakes (which once led to my five year-old brother requiring stitches on his head after a misunderstanding with some older Tanzanian girls). And, excitingly, a very small tortoise would invariably end up on our verandah the morning after a deluge.* We'd adopt it as a household pet, vastly preferable to the incessantly mewling kitten we once found on a rubbish heap who died after three days despite our best efforts to feed it milk through a syringe, much safer than a dog in a country where rabies vaccines are a low priority, more loyal than the chameleons we'd lovingly place on our mosquito nets, only for them to feck off once they realised that there were more flies elsewhere. We'd call them all Polepole (po-lay po-lay - 'slowly' in Swahili) and try to work out what the hell they ate. And when they tired of us and refused to leave their shells, and we tired of them and found a new snake to throw rocks at, we set them down on the dust and they ambled off.
*I never quite understood why this happened or if, indeed, they were tortoises rather than turtles, until a quick Google check assured me that they were most definitely tortoises and that the poor fuckers were presumably trying not to drown.