You’re getting ready to go out and you pause… is it going to rain today? You try to think back to what the weatherman said. Outside of hurricane season (when you’d better be paying attention), most of us usually register that he said something like, “Fair to partly cloudy with scattered showers” – pretty much everyday, or so we joke in Antigua. So that’s no help; it might rain, as well as it might not.
Born and bred island people know some signs to look for, and I’m not talking dark and stormy clouds (though a rain cloud is sure enough a probable sign of rain). A more telling indicator of rain is to ask yourself, Do you have an outdoor activity planned? Yes? Then the odds of rain just shot up.
I can count on two fingers the number of times I’ve attended that most (British) Caribbean of past times: cricket. Both times, we were hit with rain. This more recent time (okay, both times), I was really just there for the lime. Lime, that most purely Caribbean of pastimes; it goes by different names in different places, but in Antigua we call it a lime; it involves more than one person shooting the breeze, usually with some kind of spirit involved – beer, rum, take your pick, and high spirits, and laughter, of course.
And so it was at this cricket match, lounging on the grass, a cup of something rum-like in my hand, noshing on some peanuts, vaguely aware amidst the laughter and conversation that there were men running up and down a pitch, pausing to celebrate for whichever team was Antigua or Antigua-adjacent (because I may not be a cricket fan, but I always stan for Antigua and Barbuda). It was a good time, a good lime, and every now and again the music would cut in, and a good time would be made even better.
But rain is bad-minded. Bad-minded: Caribbean for, “Why can’t you let people live?!” Rain doesn’t like to see people outside having fun, not when it can rain on their parade. Soon, we were scampering for cover, crowded under the meager tents, waiting. (At least we weren’t the slickered guys whose job it was to stand in the downpour to make sure the covered pitch didn’t get wet; I hope they’re paid well.) We were waiting instead of leaving because we might not know when rain is coming, but we do know it won’t stay long. Usually, we can count on rain’s little show to be a passing shower.
But sometimes we’re wrong. I was at our (open air) Calypso show one Carnival just miserable and wet during a rain break that went on for more than an hour. Still, my liming partner was insistent that the rain would ease up just now and the show would resume. And to be fair to her, that’s the usual MO of rain in the Caribbean – it comes, it goes, depending on its mood, and nothing stops the Carnival so, of course, the show would go on. But when?! And did I even care anymore?
Spoiler alert: No. No, I didn’t.
The only time when the convergence of rain and its let me rain on your parade ways is a good thing is during the actual Carnival Parade – Carnival Tuesday in Antigua, to be specific. The joys of playing mas deserves its own post – let’s just say if you haven’t done it at least once in your life, you’re not living, so get out there and live, son!
But if you’re playing mas during Antigua’s Carnival, which is late July to early August, there comes a point in the parade – usually just as you’re making that turn from Popeshead to St. John’s street for the last lap to Carnival City (Carnival City: What the Antigua Recreation Ground becomes during Carnival) – when the rain comes down. To the point where you start to look forward to it, because as Antigua and Barbuda’s premier Soca band, Burning Flames, so prophetically said, “De wetta de betta.”
How to describe the feeling when your still buzzed and overheated body, already riled up on music, gets hit by a sudden passing shower? The feeling is like drinking coconut water straight from the source, spiked with your favourite rum, because in this state of bliss they come like that – music giving you all the energy you need to dance under a waterfall… and not some ordinary waterfall either. Just nice-ness. That’s what getting doused with rain when you’re three fourths of the way into playing mas feels like.
Of course, if you let rain know you like it too much, it will withhold itself, and it’ll just be you and the sun for the whole route. Super Facts. Do some of us halfway believe rain is sentient, or at least a sign? Sort of. Don’t judge us. Living on an island, you have to learn to read the signs. Not just the sign that it’s going to rain, but that the rain is a sign of something – on a good day, blessings. And you’ll forgive us for thinking this rain is playing with us when it starts to rain just as we’re leaving the house then stops just as we remember where we hid the umbrella we rarely use.
Point is, our days are sunny, our skies are blue, our beaches are beautiful, but every now and again, into a few but not too many Caribbean days, a little rain will fall. Some nights, too. Like the night I went turtle watching over on Long Island off Antigua, where the Hawksbills nest at Pasture Bay, and it rained all night. No, I don’t think you heard me: I said it rained all night. And I was an island away from my island. No going home, just sitting there wet and shivering and waiting for the turtles. And you know what? The turtles were worth it.
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P.S. My latest children’s picture book, “Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure” featuring a stranded Arctic seal trying to get home, has a scene set on Pasture Bay.
More about me and my books at https://jhohadli.wordpress.com