Of the multiple ways that I relate to the weather, one way that has been prominent recently has been thinking with and relating to the weather as a locator and a temporality that reflects the time I am present in. The external atmospheric conditions are a reminder to place and ground myself as I navigate the portal that asks me— where are you? The weather situates me spatially, structurally, and intimately in the different geographies that I have lived in, particularly in South Africa and Botswana over the last four years. We report the weather to each other every day in various forms in conversation, and I see this act of recognition as a shared consciousness of place, particularly of a Black geographic imagination. In my movements and stillness over the past four years, I wrote weather reports and notes that were rooted in naming and recognising these external elements as a call to location, where I attune myself and my presence to the environment. What unfolds in this essay is a reflection of these weather reports and recollections that thread and map the weather for me, crossing geographies, distance, and time, in no particular order. In her 2001 post-disciplinary writing on being in the Black diaspora, A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging, Dionne Brand writes that, “in the snow every distance is long”1, and as I write this piece in the middle of a heatwave and extreme weather warning in Botswana, in the sun also, the distance seems long and the time slow.
The rain catches us at Chimurenga in Woodstock, Cape Town. I woke up recollecting events of the rainy night; book readings, jazz, and homemade cornbread served throughout the evening. A nod of recognition from familiar faces, including an ex-lover whom I had texted after a previous gathering at Chimurenga a month prior, asking for a specific music recommendation. Yesterday when we saw each other, all was love and I gave them my bag to hold as I joined folks outside who were smoking in the light rain. When the rain turned into a heavy downpour, we all rushed under the shed on the rooftop where we gathered to shield ourselves, packing each other tightly. Someone in front of me mentions the catastrophic Cape Town drought of 2018 and we give thanks for the rain —I shout “Pula!” And some folks behind me respond with “a e ne!”. This is a call and response salutation in Setswana culture, where acknowledgement of rain at gatherings is a practice. Pula! means rain and a e ne! means let it rain. I share with Pauline, a dear friend, that rain is ingrained in our lives in Botswana, a respected element in the arid climate, so much so that our currency bears the name Pula. Pauline reminds me of the metaphor of rain in Bessie Head’s work while the rain on the rooftop at Chimurenga seems to intensify. When Bessie Head writes when rain clouds gather after relocating to Botswana from South Africa in the 1960s, she acclimatises herself to the language and metaphor of the land by writing with rain in what was to become one of the continent’s seminal pieces of literature.2 At this rooftop shed in Chimurenga, this tightly packed gathering locates me in a state of overflow, of my skin closely held and my head rests on Pauline’s shoulders. She lets me know that she loves it when I rest on her shoulders. I tell her that I am awkward with touch and caress, and she reassures me that it is already beautiful when I lean into it. We overflow!
A Facebook post by the Botswana Meteorological Services recently asked the public to submit names for tropical cyclones for the upcoming cyclone seasons. The social media post further instructed us that there cannot be any repeats of names from previous cyclones, that names must be between the letters A-H and can be from any recognised language spoken in Botswana. Here on this post, we gather and collaborate online to name the ruins to come. A few months prior, my younger sister had asked me if I knew how hurricanes are named and a random habitual scroll on Facebook leads me to this knowledge. After seeing the post, I discuss with my older sister whether cyclones retain their names regardless of geography and if their names morph into the environments they move in. I learn that countries in a region take turns to name cyclones, that as these violent storms travel from the coast, make various landings, and mark their way through as they arrive, they do so carrying the same name. In Tswana naming tradition, it was custom to name a child being born to reflect the circumstances surrounding their birth. Through this post and further inquiry, it becomes clear to me that hurricane naming practices ironically dismiss the weather, where a recognition of the circumstances in which cyclones move are not considered. For example, the last cyclone in the region that I remember as it had a Tswana name was cyclone Dineo, which directly translates as ‘gifts’ in English.
The rocks are broken down and the dust collects at the edges of my feet. I roam this land, examining how the tides in the water current work, seeking a mechanism to relate to.
When reading the current weather and circumstances, there are no gifts that hurricanes bring forth. In a similar context though not hurricanes, floods in Cape Town from heavy rains often call attention to the spatial, economic and land disparities where households and other infrastructures located in townships suffer more rain damage. Here, the rain does not fall on the same ground — some ground is more solid than others. Through rainstorms in winter in Cape Town, the weather locates the structural inequalities in a city still grappling with limited infrastructural support for Black and Coloured communities who were forcibly removed to urban areas on the margin during apartheid. Notwithstanding that heavy rains can lead to flooding and damage at any location regardless of economic standing, some instances are deemed preventable and highlight a shortage of infrastructure and just land allocation systems in South Africa.
The weather leaves a trail that records the passage of time, as a metal that rusts when exposed to rain. Through the window and the slightly open curtain, enough for me to peek through, I see my little sister holding her blue umbrella while checking on her plants outside after a heavy pour. I am in the dining room at my parent’s house in Taung, Botswana. The rain is still fresh on the ground, and the scent of rain as it hits the soil carries into the house. My little sister starts to pick grapes from the grapevine that my father grew several years ago. It is December during the rainy season, and I confess to myself that I did not believe that this grape vine would grow to produce enough fruit for my family and I to enjoy, mainly due to the frequent heat waves. Every December we sit under the vine that is supported by four poles, indulging on the grapes, and carelessly spitting out the grape pits and grape skin on the ground. My mother complains that this way of eating stains the pavement purple. I think about this tree while witnessing my sister picking the grapes. It reminds me of how long-sighted my father is, as a gardener whose practices project life into the future. Through labour, knowledge, and experimentation— a greening, growing, tending, cultivating, and planting ethic essential for farmers everywhere. In arid areas and geographies with brutal heat waves especially, gardening and farming as a projection of life to the present and future cannot be understated.
The sun feels like it is at its highest peak when it hits the roof of the cab I am in as I make my way to a gardening workshop at a park in the city of Gaborone, Botswana, about 25 kilometres from Taung. This is my first trip to the city in a while as I had just returned from Cape Town a week earlier. Through the bare abundant sun and the mutual lamentation over the heat between the driver and I, my arrival in Botswana starts to register in my body. When we arrive at the workshop, the driver locates us at this unfamiliar park by pointing to an indigenous tree (acacia). He tells me that even though we both have never heard of this park, the size of the tree and its bark show us that the park has been here for a long time. I suspect that we do not have a similar estimate of what the age of the tree might be, but a long time as location is sufficient knowledge for me. The tree is located near the part of the park that has been designed to fit a community vegetable garden space, several local plants that are marked, a lawn, a tool shed, and several sitting stations. At this park, the tree records the passage of time, bearing witness to the changes that have taken place on the land(scape) and bearing the marks of the sun on its textured bark.
Weathering is the breaking down or dissolving of rocks and minerals on Earth’s surface. In place, I lay on a bed in a blue room in Greenpoint, on the shore in Seapoint, in the dust, in the rain and with the wind. The weather finds me weathered. The rocks are broken down and the dust collects at the edges of my feet. I roam this land, examining how the tides in the water current work, seeking a mechanism to relate to. I stick out my wet index finger in the atmosphere, tracing the outline of clouds in the air which seem so far away. The coming of a hurricane, observing how the trees sway at the harshness of the wind. I witness myself through the migrating clouds that make way for pouring rain. As I disappear in the sky, I whisper to myself, to name a hurricane is to remember it. Today I fought the wind on my way to life, thinking of grief as the only achievement I will ever attain. I looked outside the window, and the rain found me alone and defeated. To locate myself now means to echo myself to anything familiar, voices of loved ones echo through memory and repeated voice notes, but even that does not seem to resurrect me. I try to introduce and reveal myself to the wind here, but it feels stale and still against my porous skin. There are no secrets that it carries to me this time around — secrets of a private reconciliation and a regeneration of my bones.
My time in the soil is ending, I feel ready for my voice to carry itself but today even the weather cannot do the work that I have ascribed to it. Yesterday I woke up to the sun in my room in Woodstock that has been holding my homesickness and loneliness. A tiny block of cement witnessing my exhausted bones on the bed. I thought about what it means to write while evoking imagery, to write and show at the same time. An image of the windows in my room came to me as an exercise — withered yellow tiny flowers nestling in a brown wine bottle and my friend Dineo’s plant that I have not watered in a couple of days. Dusty windows that endure the harsh Cape Town winds, tea stains on the window seal and drops of hardened candle wax. A remainder of the candles I lit to rid of the scents on the parts that have been exposed by the sun and the rain in this room that has held my wandering body.
In her pivotal work, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, Christina Sharpe describes the weather as “the totality of our environments in which we struggle, the machines in which we live…where anti-blackness is pervasive as climate”.3 Through her writing, Sharpe reminds me of the weather as an aggregate of the atmospheric conditions collectively around us, where our right to breath is violently contested. Yesterday at around 3:00 pm, I arrived at the local neighbourhood café to gather my thoughts and writing points for my dissertation. However, the staff informed me that the café was closing early in order to make transportation arrangements to get home, as the taxi association had just announced a strike in the afternoon. The café is located in Greenpoint, Cape Town, an affluent neighbourhood adjacent to the main taxi and bus station in the Central Business District. I decided to take a walk when the café closed and I made my way to the main road, where I unintentionally joined a significant number of people walking on the sidewalk. A majority of the crowd were Black workers who were walking to the bus station in the CBD as the taxis that regularly transport people to town had stopped operating as soon as the strike was announced. There was an overwhelming amount of anxiety and a current filled with unease in the atmosphere as more people joined the sidewalk from their workplaces, mainly cafés and restaurants alongside the main road. Some told me that they were going to walk all the way to their destinations as there were blockades on the road and all the other forms of public transportation had also stopped operating. On this walk, and everyday, the distance home is long for Black workers with limited alternative transportation and housing options.
To walk is to encounter both the ground and the air, in other words, the weather.4 I was reminded that the ground that Black workers walk on is inhospitable, and the air holds accumulated bated breath, where affordable and accessible housing is rarely prioritised for people to live close to where they work. The sidewalk mass gathering during the strike is a site that directly confronts the use of public space, where spatial inequalities are contested, in a part of town which constantly displaces economically vulnerable Black and Coloured populations. As the happenings of the strike unfold, the aftermath of the legacies of spatial apartheid in South Africa cannot be hidden, where a majority of people who provide labour in the city live considerably far and travel hours every day to their workplaces. The outcome of colonisation and capitalism that constitutes the weather, the totality of our environment, is an annihilation of our time and our capacity to enjoy and use our time.