Of Kisumu Nights And Foul Weather

Playing in the rain

The last two months have seen Kenyans conduct a long running public debate on rain. El Nino has had the same traction as Obama’s homecoming. It is every third discussion topic after, “The latest (fill the blank) financial scandal and Governor Kidero’s never ending Nairobi county challenges”. Nairobians have been anticipating rain (read inconvenience) for weeks and the anticipation has turned everyone into a weatherman, peering into the skies at grey laden clouds searching for clues. Rain and El Nino are now identical words. Children of this generation will grow up reducing the El Nino phenomenon to long rains preceded by panic. Much like young people born in the 90s who grew up believing former AG. Amos Wako’s first names were Attorney and General.

I love the rain and not in the cheesy “I want to sing in the rain” way. The smell of earth moments after a downpour is one of my favourite natural scents. It conjures up pleasant memories of a time when parents expected healthy kids to be out kicking ball in the rain. My affiliation with water from above has more to do with practical stuff like planting trees and raising farm crops. For any struggling amateur farmer, the cycle of nature is invariably linked to bottom-line figures. Years of subsistence rain-fed agriculture taught me to appreciate rainfall.

I found myself thinking about rain and its consequences as a storm threatened to prematurely ruin a Saturday night in Kisumu. I had arrived past seven pm to find the resident live band on a break, the fatigue clearly showing. The bohemian Dunga Hill Camp night scene was running out of steam as a DJ held court fighting for the soul of the night.

The hill is more of a grassy knoll, occupied by an open no-frills shelter that features a spacious verandah, with naked sides and a long bar. The open grounds are dotted with plastic chairs and tables under canvas canopies. A huge euphorbia tree stands centre stage like the lord of the manor. Just beyond, the land slopes down to the expanse of Lake Victoria’s Winam gulf. Kisumu sunsets from this site are unrivaled. Dunga hill camp attracts Kisumu’s most diverse multiracial gathering and musical tastes can swing from Benga, Sauti Sol covers to rock. The mood, from vigorous gyrations on a natural earth dance floor to laid back listening and music appreciation to a band on stage.

Dunga hill 1

A breeze whiffed through the bar as a feeling of happiness pervaded the space but the lightening looked threatening. The sky was getting darker and angrier. It was going to rain for sure but a local ‘weather expert’ assured me that Dunga rains descended from the hills, pointing in the opposite direction towards the Nandi hills. Rarely over the lake.

He was dead wrong. Literally moments later, the patrons began scurrying from the open grounds to the bar shelter. The rain disrupted activity momentarily. It was pelting down with the fury of a storm scorned. A strong wind exposed the shaky tented contraptions. However, the crowd tightly hurdled under shelter were not going to have their night dictated by the weather. It was Bob Marley who said, “Some people feel the rain, others get wet”.

Someone started beating drums, rhythmic clapping followed and then vocals. The DJ quickly assembled his deck. The power was holding on and it seemed prudent to make the most of it while in lasted. The party was restored and the rain forgotten. The atmosphere turned very friendly. A bunch of lean Asian men wolfing down plates of chicken and chips were in a rather chirpy mood. It all crystallized when they started singing a birthday tune and distributing a creamy messy cake that was basically plonked on everyone’s hand without so much as asking. I waded into a conversation with two reggae artistes, chasing the scene in Kisumu after a stint in Arusha. They shared some fascinating information. Apparently, Lingala has huge following in Jamaica which strayed into an interesting discussion about the global exchange of musical influences. Roots reggae music in Kisumu, Dancehall Lingala in Kingston.

I drifted in and out of conversations, one ear out for the rain. As the storm subsided, the crowd filtered out leaving behind a small pack who kept merry, strumming the guitar, clapping along with hippie delight and singing old album covers, Bob Marley “Redemption song” to Police’s “Roxanne”. It was stupidly nostalgic and I was thankful no one ruined the moment by launching into a rant about the lack of good music these days. The storm had passed without damage and the lights were back.

Dunga sunsets

The lake was placid. Absolute tranquility save for the shimmering lights reflected from buildings across the lake. Lake Victoria had become an expanse of sheer elegance.

Heavy rain can be endurable when it falls in a natural environment designed to contain it. Wangari Maathai spent a lifetime teaching this simple truth, “The generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price. That is the problem”. We need to promote development that does not destroy our environment.”

Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan writer, curator and editor. This blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan and African life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.


  1. Maurice Oduor

    All we really need is a system of drainages and dams or underground tanks. Don’t we have Civil Engineers in Kenya?

    • We have everything we need to deal ( personnel and expertise) with climatic challenges and general public service. What the country lacks is the political will to implement projects for public good compounded by the unabated greed for public funds.

  2. Kolya Okero

    Brother, you write beautifully. We need to hang out (again).

  3. Bro, I have been a keen follower of your articles since 2002 and needless to say you are more than inspiring. I have some of them that date as back as 2005 (printed). Keep it up, wish we had people like you who can be enlightening in today’s society

    • Robert. Thanks for the kind words. 2002 is a long time ago and I am honoured to have had your company all this time. Writers are nothing without readers so thanks a great deal and best wishes.

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