I’ve loved the band, Queen, for as long as I can remember. I’ve listened to their music from the days when I was an audience of one, watching my pubescent elder brothers and their mates belt out “WE WILL ROCK YOU!” while strumming the strings of wooden tennis rackets, smoking stolen cigarettes and sipping on stolen beers, right through to now.

Today, if there’s one line in Freddie Mercury’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” that runs over and over in my head like a, um, stuck record, it’s “thunderbolts and lightning very, very frightening …” Especially at this time of year when, often with little warning, we are shocked out of our sweaty torpor by a sudden crack of thunder. When an electrical storm is directly overhead I have a tendency to pace around our slab — followed by a conga line of five shaking dogs — singing those lines and ending with a deafening high-pitched “GALILEO, GALILEO!” in defiance of the drumming rain on the tin roof trying to drown me out.

A downpour in the garden.
A downpour in the garden.

This blogpost was delayed because lightning struck a cable that burnt the interface in our modem, rendering us without internet for a week. It was a storm unlike anything I’ve ever experienced here before. It was as if the lightning was striking the house itself, over and over. The first gunshot of thunder sent dogs scurrying under our bed; a blue flash of electricity through the air above our cat, lying on the daybed, shocked him bolt upright, making his hair stand on end and sending him dashing for cover in the bath. Living in the open beneath this sort of ferocity is deeply unsettling. It makes me feel vulnerable and powerless. As Africa’s great nature poet, Niyi Osundare, intimates in his poems about the power of rain — how it’s an actuator of abundance or lack, joy or suffering, life or death — “Sometimes when it rains you wonder who sent the skies weeping.”

A water melon seeded in the elephant dung, alongside mongongo nuts.
A melon seeded in the elephant dung, alongside mongongo nuts.

Osundare also reminds us of the rain’s godliness. In places like this, where the wet “green” season lasts for a short four months, where nearly every living thing feigns death by the end of October, when the rain returns “our earth can breathe again.” The transformation is as dramatic as it is wondrous. Overnight the enervated landscape is painted with splashes of bright wildflowers. Green shoots emerge all over the bare earth. Little leaves unfurl at the end of thirst-quenched branches. I wake up one morning and the naked Mongongo tree above our house is adorned in clusters of lime green verdure.

The Mongongo umbrella above us returns to life.
Our adorned Mongongo tree.

In a couple of days our holiday starts. We have every member of Chris’s immediate family visiting from Australia, the United States, and England. There will be nineteen of us celebrating this season; celebrating the coming together of a whole family for the first time in many years.

I leave you with another Osundare poem, taken from his collection “The Eye of the Earth.” I know of no other poet today who so captures my own feelings and sensations living as close to nature as we do here in the Zambezi Valley.

Who says that drought was here?
By Niyi Osundare

With these green guests around
Who says that drought was here?

The rain has robed the earth
in vests of verdure
the rain has robed an earth
licked clean by the fiery tongue of drought …

 … With these green guests around
Who says that drought was here?

Aflame with herbal joy
trees slap heaven’s face
with compound pride
of youthful leaves
drapering twigs into groves
once skeletal spires in
the unwinking face of the baking sun

With these green guests around
Who says that drought was here?

And anthills throw open their million gates
and winged termites swarm their welcome
of compassionate twilights
and butterflies court the fragrant company
of fledgling flowers
and milling moths paste wet lips
on the translucent ears of listening windows
and the swallow brailles a tune
on the copper face of the gathering lake
and weaverbirds pick up the chorus
in leafening heights…
soon crispy mushrooms will break
the fast venturing soles

With these green guests around
Who says that drought was here?

Wild mushrooms emerge beneath the trees around our house in the rains.
Wild mushrooms emerging beneath the trees around our house.

Happy Holidays! This post is written with so much gratitude to you all for your continued support and interest.

Annabel Hughes Aston is a writer and an award-winning chef in Livingstone, Zambia. She is the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.


  • I love this post, Annabel. Merry Christmas to you all! xxx

    • Thank you so much, dear Kate. Wishing you a really happy Christmas back, and all good things for 2016. I hope we get to see you down here one day! Lots of love … xo

  • Annabel how I loved the smell of the first rain thunder and lightening not withstanding. Poor doggies and cat. Terrifying for them. Wonderful that the drought is broken.
    Love the poem. And of course Freddie. A legend.
    I posted your custard apple seeds airmail today. So keep an eye out for whenever the envelope is likely to arrive.
    Enjoy your crowd at Christmas. Such fun in the sun. So much more relaxed in the heat than indoors and uptight in the norhtern winter! (Spoken as one born and raised in Africa)

    Have a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year. May all your dreams come true.

    • So much gratitude to you, Gillian … not just for your continued interest and engagement, but also for the custard apple seeds. How exciting! I will let you know when they arrive. 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, filled with celebration and joy. All the best to you for a healthy, happy 2016! Annabel

  • Enjoy! Enjoy! Enjoy! But hopefully without the repetition of another stormy bout . . . or more than doggies and moggies might get a fright . . . Love the Osundare poem but doubt I would be ‘brave’ enough to make peace with your land . . . absolutely love the photos tho’ . . .

    • Thank you, again, for your very kind comment, Eha. The Zambezi Valley is indeed a place of extremes, just not all the time. Mostly, it is light and peaceful and WARM! Wishing you a very happy holiday season, and all the best for 2016. Annabel

  • You can almost smell it from here! So glad the rains have come. Enjoy the time with Chris’s family and looking forward to all your blogs next year ! xxx

    • Thank you so much, Lou. Can you also smell the burning from the frazzled electrical wires, haha? 😉 So much love to you and your family over the holidays. Don’t work too hard! xo

  • Such a wonderful picture of the pouring rain in your garden. The storms of Africa are magnificent, the sound and the fury, they replenish the soul and I miss them so very much. The weather is so tame here where I am now, although those poor souls in Cumbria experiencing the floods would not agree, I am sure.

    • So nice to hear from you again! The storms here are wonderful for the soul, but living as we do under this huge Mongongo tree, the nervous systems sometimes take a battering! Yes, those poor people in Cumbria. My heart goes out to them. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, dendymactoodle, and all the very best for 2016! Annabel

  • Have really good family celebration nice rain all the best Mike

    • Thank you so much, Mike. Wishing you and your family a wonderful Christmas and New Year … and all the very best for 2016!

  • Happy Christmas!! Lovely piece and love the photos especially that one of the rain – soaking … With much love from us Georgie
    PS a photo on Instagram you might enjoy 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Georgie. Wishing you, Charlie and the boys a very happy Christmas and loads of wonderful things in 2016! Lots of love … xo

  • Felt like I was right there. Scary! Hope you had the loveliest of Christmases. Can’t wait to see what you teach me in 2016.

    • Thank you for your super-kind comment, Michelle. HAPPY NEW YEAR to you!
      What fun you had in New Orleans … I’ve never been there and always longed to, for the food, the music, and the wackiness!
      We have 19 people from all over the world here right now. We are celebrating Chris’s 60th birthday tomorrow … so watch this space!
      I hope 2016 brings you all that you wish for. Thank you for your inspiration and for our communing. I just love it!

  • What a beautiful piece Bella! I do hope the menagerie under the mongongo tree had a very merry Christmas and Happy New Year! xoxo

    • Thank you so much, Bridgey! We did indeed, culminating in a fine party for Chris’s birthday last Saturday night (sans thunderstorms!). More to follow on this soon, ahem. Wishing all the very best for a fine 2016! Lots of love … xo


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