RAIN ON THE DESERT, by Alberto A. (Italy) - Grazie
It rains. It rains on the desert.
It is certainly not our "March drizzle", nor the gloomy weather of one of our autumn days.
Last night we saw a gathering of large black clouds towards the west, just above the Adrar massif. After sunset, the starry darkness of the night sky was struck by sudden flashes from the dark spot that towered over the distant mountain. Our guide, after scanning the horizon, moved the camp to an elevated position. We usually settled in some depression, sheltered from winds and sudden swirls of sand. But tonight we slept on a rather high elevation, outside the river bed (wed), safe from flash floods.
It seemed a paradox to speak of floods here, in front of a dry stream bed like a squeezed sponge, after forty days of absolute drought and clear skies, without having seen even a drop of water falling from the sky. Yet, around five in the morning, a distant rumbling waked us up, which soon turned into a dark rumble. A rather worrying phenomenon, which seemed to be approaching us. Growing up with western films, we were tempted to think about the gallop of a herd of bison.
Twenty minutes later, preceded by a really cold air front, a wall of black water bursts into the bed of the wed, at the speed of a freight train. The stream bed fills up quickly, to a height of some five meters. If we had camped there, we would have already been reduced to wrecks and transported a few kilometres away, together with the stones that the flood carries and rolls on the bottom. Our luck was to find ourselves at a short distance from the massif and to be able to notice the impending rains. Fifty kilometres away, the flood wave will arrive without warning.
We are amazed, while our guide scrambles to withdraw the tents, to fix everything that can be blown away by the wind, and shouts to get under cover. In fact, the wave of flood is followed - almost immediately - by a violent storm of wind, accompanied by dense dust and the first showers of rain. It is as if someone threw at us, in repeated waves, the contents of a huge concrete mixer in which he had mixed water, sand, soil and small sharp stones. We are closed on the trucks, but no hermetic seal could protect us from the splashes of water and earth, which still penetrate the passenger compartment. From the windows we are unable to see beyond one meter, nor to realize if we are still firmly on the ground or if - by chance - we have slipped to the bottom of the wed, dragged by the current. The strong shocks of the wind, which make the vehicles oscillate, comfort us not to be underwater and to still have our feet - or at least the wheels of the trucks - on the ground, and reassure us not to be dragged away by the rush of the wed.
In total darkness, we are tossed, like on a moving train, in a storm of wet coal dust. The air has become unbreathable and saturated with humidity. About forty minutes of real nightmare.
Quick and sudden, as it had come, the rain goes away. Light shines through the changing vapours emanating from the wet earth. We get off the vehicles on the sodden soil full of puddles, in time to see the birth of a great rainbow towards the east, around the rays of the sun that pierce the cloud.
Below us, in the stream bed, the water has stopped. The wed strip forms an insurmountable barrier, several hundred kilometres long.
Around us, the desert is rapidly populating. Swarms of insects fly in the air and on puddles, flies, midges, beetles, mayflies with changing wings. Vividly coloured beetles emerge from the ground. I recognize a vermilion-red insect, which in Mali is called "the angel of rain": it couldn't be missing. Lizards and small frogs appeared, as if from nowhere, and with them a myriad of birds. There are even some mammals that come to drink. A small gazelle tries to go and drink, keeping a distance from us. A fenech (desert fox) instead risks approaching our supplies, in search of food. Before the afternoon, the distant horizons appear like grasslands. It is not a mirage, but the result of the rebirth of seeds that have been waiting - perhaps for years - for a drop of water. It is as if the earth had opened its womb for a second creation. Here in the desert the full splendour and total energy of the primordial elements are perceived and understood: fire, earth, air, water. Water is the final element, with which everything ends and everything is reborn, in a new cycle of life.
We decided to stop for a few days in this little makeshift oasis. Moving now among the stones and sandy plates could be more dangerous than on dry land, because we would risk sinking with the wheels in the mud. But - above all - we do not want to miss this primordial joy, of feeling at the dawn of creation, of seeing the birth and spring of life where the Sahara was before: the great nothingness.
It is evening, another day has passed. We played like children, we observed with binoculars and telephoto lenses every species of plants and animals, to fix the memory of this rare phenomenon. The desert lives and it is as if all the beings that populate it had come out of a theatrical closet, to each occupy their own place. But we know that tomorrow, or another day, we will wake up and find the desert as always, arid and withered.
The sun goes down on the horizon, not even a cloud can be seen. A scorpion captures its prey, a small frog, already paralysed by the poison of its tail. A large yellow-headed lizard observes the scene and shakes its head, like a human being who continues to deny. The fenech decides to leave: she knows that the lizard has noticed her presence, and knows that she is more agile than him. He will have to look for another dinner for today.
Our guide spreads out the prayer mat (salât) and bows in the direction of an east where the sky is rapidly darkening. Millennial gestures, in a nature in which the rites of birth, life and death are repeated. We feel like leaves, transported in this scenario by a passing cloud and a breath of wind.
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