26 December 2011 by Julienne du Toit

Rain and the Slow Life

I remember when I was a city girl, years ago. I was working at The Star newspaper in Johannesburg and I was asked to do a story about a terrible drought in some part of the Karoo.

I got hold of a few numbers and called farmers to ask how badly they were affected. And I was struck, even then, by how much time they had for me, a complete stranger. Invariably, they would also ask me whether it had been raining in Joburg, and if so, how much.

To me it was a rather odd question. Unless my lawn was as dry as a field of rice crispies, or my windscreen wipers weren’t working, I didn’t really give rain much thought at all. It was just there when it was there.

Now that I live in the country, I completely relate to this theme of conversation. I’m surrounded by farmers and ex-farmers and relatives of farmers. Rain means life and crops and grazing. Drought - and in the semi-desert Karoo we hover on the brink all the time - is a potential disaster. Everyone talks about rain.

More than that, country people just like to talk. I’ve just returned from feeding the cat of friends who are away for the holidays. I walked through the rain-wet streets, enjoying the coolth and respite from summer heat. I would have been back in twenty minutes if I hadn’t seen anyone. But a country town is a social place. From Waltie at the shop, I learnt about how many people they had over for Christmas (people were lying strewn across lounge floor, there were so many), where he had walked this morning, how ferociously his grass was growing in this welcome rain, and inevitably, how much rain he’d measured (and also how much rain another friend, Charles, had measured).

Then I passed Uncle Lewis and Alet’s house. (Lewis’s not really my uncle. It’s just a term of respect in the countryside - anyone at least 10 years older than you gets the title Uncle or Auntie before their names.) Lewis and I chatted about the rain, of course. About the predicted rainfall today (and the predicted temperature). About the dogs next door and who’s arrived for the holidays.

I left with an invitation. Come over later for tea, he said.

Sometimes city people complain about how slow things are in the country. But isn’t this the way they’re meant to be? It’s abnormal to be too busy to speak to people, and to walk in the streets, and to pop over for tea and a chat.

When you’re travelling, take the time to chat to those you encounter in the countryside. It’s those times you’ll remember best. And don’t forget to ask about the rain…

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