The sound of wind at night is a kind-of alarm clock in Murchison Falls. H.M. and I both wake up as soon as a breeze starts gusting. Wind on its own is okay, and rain on its own is fine. But the two factors together mean one thing: get out of bed and batten down the hatches.
Initially, we both always wait and silently gauge the weather. There is never any disagreement; weather changes are usually too dramatic to miss. But when the back door blows open, or the mosquito net blows into our faces--and it’s wet--then it is time to get up.
We both grab the two small flashlights that we keep next to the bed and slip on our flip-flops. He runs for the door and the car windows, while I always head straight for the laptop and shortwave radio. We clear the verandah of papers and electronics, and then head for the bedding. One of us gathers the pillows, sheets, and blankets. The other lifts the light foam mattress off of the frame and drags it into the house. We both run around the house then and check for things near windows, or open windows by piles of clothing or books, and then crawl together into the only remaining bed that is not on the verandah: a single bed with a mosquito net frame so massive that the bed cannot be moved.
The night continues but for me, there is not much sleeping. The thunder, wind, and discomfort of being crammed into the corner of a small bed makes sleep challenging. But getting up isn’t an option either, as there is no electricity until 8 a.m. If the rain continues, the electricity will be late, as the man who has to start the generator is also watching the rain and thinking how unappealing a walk in it might be.
The first time we had a midnight move, I was confused and watching while H.M. did most of the work. What was he doing with my laptop? Where was he going with that mattress?
The second time, we were bush camping, along with one ranger, H.M.’s French-Bavarian friend Luc, and Andrea’s husband Ivo, as well as Ivo’s cousin Hannah from Hamburg. Ivo had brought along a spectacular spread of food, which he and Hannah cooked over an open fire.
H.M. and I had showed up late, as he was working until 5:30 and I never miss an opportunity to color comic books. Ivo and Hannah had set up the tents and the campsite. The tents were staked, but there were no flies (covers).
"It’s not raining tonight," someone said.
We went out a short distance in the cars. Down the road were some hippos, and directly behind them was a pride of ten adult lions and countless small cubs. The boss lion, an old male named Abraham by the rangers, tolerated us for a while as Hannah trained the spotlight on him. Finally, he seemed annoyed and turned his back to us. We returned to camp and crawled into our tents. H.M. and I stayed in his small tent, freshly delivered from Bavaria by Luc. The other three shared Ivo's larger tent.
A more superstitious person might blame those who believed it would not rain for the drops that started at 2 a.m.
"Where’s the fly?" I asked. H.M. had no idea what "fly" meant and asked me where the cover was. We often have these language misunderstandings.
The fly was in Ivo’s car. 2 a.m. is not the ideal time to be working out the set-up of a tent you’ve never seen before, so I just threw the fly over the tent and looped its ends under the stakes that were already holding down the tent. I didn’t know yet the power of the sudden wind of Murchison, or I might have looked at the directions. I crawled back in the tent and collapsed back into my sleep-sheet.
We heard some muffled talking, but until later did not know that the other tent ended up collapsed, its occupants sleeping in Ivo’s Land Cruiser. It had started to pour by the time they figured out how to put the cover over the tent. The ranger was already asleep in H.M.’s car.
“I will keep on my clothes in case there are problems,” is the last thing I remember H.M. saying as I drifted off to sleep in my small Target-bought nightshirt.
“What could happen? It’s a strong German-made tent.”
H.M. has lived in Murchison Falls for three consecutive summers and he knows a bit more about the erratic weather than I do. He was ready at 4:30 when the wind buffeted our little tent as if we were atop a mountain. I fought the urge to wake up—really, I did—but finally I had to admit that my hastily assembled fly might not hold. Also, the wet side of the tent was caving in on me as the wind pushed it.
“It’ll hold,” changed to “shit, I better get my clothes on and fast.” I didn’t think the ranger needed to see me running around the national park in my pajamas.
Then, the fly blew off. The rain started spraying in while under the weight of the gusts, my half of the tent clung to me.
H.M. arched his back and arms, physically holding the form of the tent up while I grabbed everything I could feel. We could see very little as our flashlights were somewhere on the wet floor. I was still in my nightshirt but had managed to get my pants on under it.
"Okay," I said breathlessly. He unzipped the door and we jumped out. We hastily pulled the poles down and sprinted for the pick-up, leaving the tent flat and staked to the ground.
We were both soaked. The ranger, cozily curled up in the backseat with his gun and our blanket, was awakened by our laughter and slamming of doors.
"Hello. Are you wet?" He asked.