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Cape Verdians Celebrate Rain


Across West Africa, this year's unusually heavy rainy season is flooding homes and ruining crops. But as Naomi Seck reports from the island of Santiago in drought-prone Cape Verde, with some reporting by Alex Alper, the rain here is cause for celebration, even as it also causes some damage.

Residents of San Domingos, a small town on Santiago Island in Cape Verde, are celebrating.

They are streaming out of church on their way to a festival of music and food on the day dedicated to the saint who gave the town its name.

But some people at the festival say there is another reason to celebrate.

Germano Monteiro Varela comes from a nearby village. He says when rain falls, everyone is happy. And this year, he says, there is much more rain than last year.

Cape Verde was uninhabited when the Portuguese colonized in the 1400s. It quickly became a key trading post between Africa, Europe and the Americas. The islands are surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic and the lack of fresh water continues to make the island difficult to live on.

Some Cape Verdians say it can go seven years without a drop of rain here.

Varela says rain is Cape Verde's wealth, what everyone depends on. He will harvest his crops in January or February. He says the heavy rains are like a guarantee that this year's harvest will be better than last year's.

But Cape Verdians have a proverb, saying "when it does not rain, we die of thirst. When it does, we drown."

And a technical school not far from San Domingos shows the truth of the drowning part of the proverb.

Antonio Rodrigues Correa da Oliveira is a guard for the school. He gives a tour showing scars from a recent downpour. Rain flooded the valley where the school is located. It gushed so strongly, a wall collapsed. The water reached more than a meter high and streamed through windows and doors.

Oliveira says a lot of school property was ruined. He shows a school bus, the inside still coated with mud from the flood. He says none of the school's vehicles work anymore, and he does not know how the students will get to school.

Oliveira says the public school does not have the money to repair the buses, computers, and other ruined equipment. He says he has lived in this area his whole life, and worked at this school for eight years, and he has never seen anything like this. He says even the crops can suffer with rain like this.

Elsewhere in West Africa, the damage from this year's heavy rainfall has been far more severe. In Niger's second largest city, tens of thousands were forced to flee their flooded homes. In Togo, a bridge collapsed.

Students across the region are starting school late or in makeshift accommodations. Washed out roads and bridges mean some students cannot get to school. And in some schools, the classrooms are still filled with families whose homes were destroyed in the rain.

But despite news like this from their regional neighbors or even news of rain-caused troubles closer to home, some Cape Verdians say, here on these often far too dry islands, there still has not been enough rain.

Varela says Cape Verde is more green this year because of the rain, but for it to really be "verde," or green, they need even more rain.