My bus stopped for some unknown reason, in some unknown town in the Raya zone of Tigray. I watched a boy attempt his task at hand, knocking a piece of cactus fruit to the ground. These prickly pear cactus fruit, known as beles, are the harbinger of rainy season. They pop up everywhere by the thousand and appear on every street corner for about two months. They cost 3 cents each and are served sliced open by the vendor to be consumed right then and there. Delicious. This little kid, who was probably no more than 5 years old, kept trying to get the fruit. His only tool at hand was a stick which only added about half a meter to his reach. He got a running start to climb up a tiny little hill and attempted whacking the fruit down with his little stick while standing on his tip-toes. The strike would cause him to lose his balance and he would scamper down the little embankment only to look back at the prize, contemplating how to modify his plan of attack. As we waited I just watched this little Ethiopian boy, clad in his little plastic boots, try and try and try. This guy was determined. I was stuck in the back seat of the mini-bus so I couldn’t help. It reminded me of my attempts to pick cherries during Washington summers of years past.
Rainy season came a few months ago and is already fading away. This brief span of rains called kerempti offers a chance at life in this dry region. Everyday clouds roll in, sometimes with astonishing speed, and drop their contents in a deluge lasting only a few hours. It is intense. Why bother with a rain coat? You’ll just get soaked anyway if you are unfortunate enough to be stuck out in it. Luckily there’s almost always a store, cafe, or bar to hide in until the rains pass.
The metamorphosis of the landscape is remarkable. When I first arrived in the region, I wondered how anyone managed to cultivate land here. I watched farmers plow their fields of rocks and dust and wondered if the expression “dirt farming” had found a literal manifestation here. Now fields are green with teff, corn, barley, and chickpeas that shot up from nothing. The market is flooded with cheap lettuce. Sheep, goats, donkeys and cows are happy. Well, happier. They’re still animals in Ethiopia living a rough life. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes are also thriving right now in all the newly created streams and puddles. The mosquitoes are held in check by boisterous frogs, croaking through the night. Birds pick up the day shift and I’m finally hearing bird chirps in the mornings, a sound absent during the drier months.
Erosion continues to eat away at all the construction dirt that was dumped during the dry season. Alternative routes must be found through town as mud obstacles and washouts disrupt the old dry season routes. Changes everywhere you look, or step.
It’s been a surprising and dramatic transformation over the last few months. Beautiful!