A few hours before the rain hits, the sky starts to darken as clouds gather and thicken. An hour before the rain hits, the clouds turn black and menacing, casting an eerie yellow shadow across the city. Twenty minutes before the rain hits, you can feel cool breezes on your face as currents of air swoop down streets and through alleys. Ten minutes before the rain hits, the refreshing breeze turns into gusts of powerful wind that kick up dust and grit into your eyes. Five minutes before the rain hits, a few stray drops fall, a sort of “this is your last warning,” sign for the few fools still outdoors. When then rain finally comes, it’s a huge sheet of pounding wet, soaking everything in its path.
The wonderful thing about the rainy season is that the brutal rainstorms cool everything down. It’s strange to me, but the non-rainy days during the rainy season are far more unpleasant than almost the entire so-called “hot” season. When it’s not raining, the sky is blue and cloudless. The sun pounds down with equatorial strength onto the cement parking lot that is Cotonou. There is no shade. During the less-rainy (aka “hot”) season, the sky is often overcast, and while the humidity can be killer, at least the clouds block the intensity of the sun’s rays.
Growing up, we always said, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” After three years in West Africa, I disagree. It’s not the heat. It’s the insane strength of the sunshine six degrees north of the equator.