They often say that the best way to learn about your own culture is to visit a different one. This has been my experience as I have had the privilege of travelling extensively over my 50+ years. This truism was made even more clear to me as we visited Canada for our recent home assignment, which provided Jan and I the opportunity to travel extensively in Ontario and Alberta visiting churches and individuals to share about our ministry in Rwanda. Many times I thought to myself, how would I describe the Canadian climate to my friends in Rwanda who have never travelled outside central Africa (some have never travelled more than a day’s walk from their village).
Today, I wanted to turn this question on its head, and describe for Canadians some of the different experiences of living in Rwanda’s climate.
12 Hours a Day: 7 days a week, 365 days a year
Sunlight in Ottawa, Canada.
In Canada, there are extensive changes in our experience of daylight hours because of our latitude in the Northern hemisphere. Summers are characterized by long, warm nights with spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Click in this Interactive Sunlight Graph for the city of Ottawa, Canada.
Photo: a screen shot of the sunlight graph of Ottawa (click the link below for interactive data)
Move your mouse over the sunlight graph and you’ll see specific information for each day. At Summer solstice (June 21) Ottawa has 15:40 hours of daylight, and twilight lasts 1:15. In contrast, at Winter solstice (Dec 21), Ottawa only receives 8:42 hours of sunlight with 1:08 hours of twilight.
Sunlight in Kigali, Rwanda
We live in the city of Kigali, Rwanda which is located just South of the Equator. Rwanda’s days are consistently 12 hours in length year round. Click this link for an Interactive Sunlight Graph for the city of Kigali. Notice how straight and consistent the lines are.
Photo: a screen shot of the sunlight graph of Kigali (click the link below for interactive data)
If you click on the Summer solstice for Kigali, the daylight hour figure is 12:00, with twilight of 45 minutes. At the winter solstice this changes to 12:14 hours of daylight (twilight is unchanged). The difference is barely perceptible. The passing of time becomes so routine that you really don’t need a watch as the position of the sun is a good indicator of the time of day.
One of the difficult adjustments for North Americans and Europeans is the sunset at 6:00 pm every day, and short sunsets.
Photo: A beautiful sunset over the city skyline. Sunsets are shorter than in Canada, and seldom feature deep reds.
Song Birds and Sunrise
The natural rhythms of nature also take on a predictability that is generally unknown in Canada. For example, the song birds begin their singing each morning just before dawn. We generally leave our bedroom window open at night, so when the birds begin their songs it can be quite loud. Generally, they sing between 5:15 and 5:45. I’ve included a few samples of morning bird songs to give you an idea (sorry, I don’t know which song belongs to which bird. I’ve included some bird pictures for fun).
This first bird call is very beautiful and it is nice to awaken to it each day (even if it does come early at 5:30).
This second bird call is also very beautiful (feel free to click your mouse to skip the quiet sections in the middle).
Finally, a less interesting bird call, but a familiar sound for us each morning.
Talk about the Weather
An unexpected corrolary to the consistent 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness is the consistent weather. While it is true that Rwanda has four seasons, they are very different than Canadian seasons.
Canadian Seasons: Hot, Cooling off, Cold, Warming up.
Canada is well known for its four distinct seasons. Particularly in places outside Ontario’s ‘banana belt’ (Southern Ontario), the cold winter weather makes for a very unpleasant season … if you don’t get outside and engage in winter activities and sports. Friends advised us to develop outdoor activities in Ottawa’s winter and we have found it makes the season much more enjoyable (although I remember a youth event skating on the Rideau Canal with a temp of -40 C with bone chilling winds. We lasted 10 minutes before going inside for hot chocolate and Beaver Tales!!). Canadians will tell you that there are some places in Canada where you can experience all four seasons in one day (Calgary, the Maritimes, etc).
Rwanda’s Four Seasons
The four seasons we experience here are far less distinct. We really have only two wet seasons and two dry seasons. Rwanda is actually well blessed with rain because its altitude. Kigali is at approximately 1500 meters elevation above sea level. Musanze in the North is at an elevation of 1,860 m, with the summit of Mount Muhabura (a dormant volcano) rising up to a height of 4,127 m. The result is a much higher average precipitation in the North, with seasonal rains in the South.
Photo: Mount Muhabura. The range of volcanoes forms a natural border between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The rains come suddenly and often violently. But they are predictable for the locals and you get used to the patterns with experience. Most days (regardless of the season) begin with sunshine. During the rainy season, cloud cover builds throughout the day, and strong winds give warning of an impending downpour. In most cases, these storms pass quickly, often within 30 to 60 minutes.
Photo: Heavy rains fall on our back yard, but in the distance, sunshine is already breaking through the clouds.
Surprising, with the frequent experience of sunshine and rain together, one might expect us to see many more rainbows. But sadly, this is not the case. I think it is because the sun as so high above us (almost directly overhead) that the angle is wrong for seeing a rainbow. Nevertheless, I did capture one on my Blackberry just over a year ago.
Photo: A rainbow over Nyarutarama
Aside from the rainy season, there is not much to talk about with the weather here. The temperature is very steady with daytime highs between 26 and 30 degrees C. We Canadians all have sweaters and light jackets, but we never wear them.
On our most recent trip to Canada, we stayed from August to November. We soon got into the routine of checking the weather each day before going outside because it is important to dress for the conditions.
Getting Ready for Christmas
Last night at 7:00 pm, as we were feeling very warm after a long sunny day, Jan said: “Do you feel like putting up the Christmas tree?” We both decided that it didn’t feel very much like Christmas and we would put it off for another couple of days. It is very strange to have banana trees growing in the back yard during the Christmas season, but this is our home and this our reality.