A parched African land embraces a bounty of rainfall

I wanted it. I got it. It's just a bit more than I had bargained for.

It's raining in Zimbabwe. It's been raining nonstop for the past six days. It's not the real rainy season, state radio informs us, just a spinoff from a cyclone. A cyclone poshly named Japhet, if you please.

But nobody's complaining. Five months ago, I was desperate for one little drop of rain. The drought had bleached the grass outside my thatched cottage white. Ants had invaded the place. We drank gallons of water.

And now? Now the grass is lush green, and some bits of it are shooting up faster than others, making those funny little tufts I thought existed only in illustrated children's storybooks.

Strange mushrooms have bloomed outside my door, greasy yellow things. I hate to say it. but they look pretty poisonous. Invisible frogs croak in the twilight. They're tree frogs, I'm told, the sort that change color with their surroundings.

In town, everyone is joyful. A bit of rain - not too much - means that withering corn crops will get a new lease of life. "Rain at last!" one visitor jubilated today, leaving his Wellington boots by the door. He can't be bothered with umbrellas.

He doesn't really have to be. It's not a fierce, to-the-skin, drenching rain, after all. This cyclonic shower - my very first - is relentlessly gentle. At night, we listen cozily to the rain drumming on the tin roof of the house next door. Our own thatch muffles the sound.

But it is wet, really wet. The makeshift carport of corrugated plastic on wooden legs has turned into a mud pond. Our clothes won't dry.

Back in my homeland, England, they've had snow this winter. Mom e-mailed in the greatest excitement to say roads in rural Lincolnshire were closed because of snow drifts. She and Dad were like naughty schoolkids, excused from a day at work.

It made me feel worlds away. It's not cold here. I've got a light pullover on, but no socks. My winter's still to come. Just you wait for the freezing mornings and crisp, cold skies of June, my husband chuckles.

June - now wasn't that supposed to be the season of farm strawberries and lightly scented roses? Not any more it isn't.

Even the rain here is different. Rain in England and its attendant paraphernalia of soggy umbrellas, wet shoes, and sticky leaves made everyone morose.

Here, it's a cause for celebration. Friends from different parts of the country phone to find out how much we've had.

I take advantage of a brief let-up to step outside. On the end of each and every straw in my gray thatched roof, a diamond raindrop glistens. Millions and millions of diamonds, just for me.

The author's dispatch, 'When the rains come, I won't want an umbrella,' appeared on this page on Oct. 16, 2002.

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