Growing up in the northeastern United States, phrases such as “dry season” and “rainy season” meant very little to me until recently. On Cape Cod, it was either cold, and everyone was miserable and complaining, or it was warm, the tourists were everywhere, and everyone was miserable and complaining. While Equateur does not experience the extreme dry season/rainy season divide that many West African countries do, there are still shorter periods of time with more or less precipitation. We arrived at the beginning of the short dry season, and since getting to the office in Mbandaka two weeks ago, not a drop of rain has fallen from the sky.
That is, until last night.
In a place that is normally quite hot (the average temperature is about 23-28 degrees Celsius, (or about 73-82 degrees Fahrenheit), afternoons can get quite long, and I am sure my computer doesn’t appreciate the puddles of sweat that develop under my wrists as I’m typing. Usually you can catch a few minutes of cool air in the morning, but when I woke up around 6:30 yesterday morning the heat had already arrived. This heat often drives people to conduct social events (particularly church services) in the (very) early morning hours.
It was around 3:30 this morning when the singing began. While I am a huge advocate of music, I’m still unsure of how I feel about it that early in the morning. As I dozed in and out of a light dream world (services can go on for hours), I heard the low growl of thunder. At first I attributed it to general delirium, but slowly and surely, little drops of rain could be heard bouncing off the awning outside my window. And then, all of a sudden, the storm arrived.
Although three or four weeks without rain doesn’t seem that extreme, it’s not exactly normal for Mbandaka, and it is very likely that these small changes in weather patterns may be due to the greater problem of global climate change. In a place like Equateur, which already experiences pretty hot temperatures, it’s hard to imagine that scientists estimate an average temperature rise of at least 3 degrees Celsius (about 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050. Continuing deforestation here would mean less animals for food, more crop failure (due to disease and weather conditions), more sickness, and less water. Because most of the disappearing forests are burned (either for energy or to prepare fields for agricultural production), huge amounts of carbon are being released into the atmosphere; deforestation accounts for about 20% of greenhouse gases emitted worldwide. In a place like Equateur, where there are limited health and social services and has been general lack of development overall, the results could be catastrophic for the people who call this place home.
Project Equateur (or Zamba Malamu as it is known locally) is working to find ways to mitigate this deforestation through education, capacity building, dedication and trust. The complexities involved in these types of projects are plentiful and complex, and many times unforeseen. (A very simple example would be the distribution of free mosquito nets by the UN to combat malaria, which are now being widely used as fishing nets, and are so efficient that they have caused serious over fishing). Mistakes have to be acknowledged and dealt with quickly, and the Project Equateur team has had its fair share of difficulties. Despite these challenges (and all the little things, like not having a stove or running water some days, or ants shorting out the solar panels all week), life and work goes on in Equateur, and it has been an extremely rewarding experience to be a part of this team (and to have a proper shower this morning—you can’t imagine how much dirt I have been storing in my hair).
Until next time,