Rain in the Dry Season

For centuries, El Salvador has had fairly predictable dry seasons and wet seasons.  January, February and March are typically dry, hot and dusty.  A little rain falls in April, and then in May the wet season begins.  From May through November, El Salvador receives almost daily afternoon thunderstorms, which often last through the night.  Tropical storms and hurricanes from the Gulf of Mexico often bring days of torrential rains, as do the less frequent hurricanes from the Pacific.  Flooding and landslides are annual threats for much of the country.

Of course, altitude, presence of trees and proximity to the coast create slightly different climate zones within El Salvador.  Changes in global weather patterns due to the warming of our planet impact the weather in El Salvador too, and the historic dates of when to plant crops are a little less reliable. However, more or less, the seasons come and go as expected:  you either carry a rain umbrella every day and fight the humidity, or you carry a sun umbrella every day and fight the dust.  Visitors who come at the same time every year pretty much know what to expect.

For those who are a little more in touch with nature, for those who arise at 3:30 in the morning and spend time in the fields, for those who carry in their spirits the stories of generations about the winds and the rains and the clouds, the rhythm of El Salvador's weather is a bit more complex.

It is February.  It is dry.  Fires burned on the hills of Nejapa.  Dust devils danced along the road to Panchimalco.  And one day, clouds appeared over the volcano.  And then there were no stars in the night sky.  It was the time of the full moon - the snow moon, but for most of the night, the moon was covered in clouds.  One afternoon there was a brief rain storm.  The next afternoon it rained and rained, well into the madrugada (the wee hours of the morning).

"It''s raining!" I posted on social media.  Wow-faced emojis from North Americans followed, with comments like "what!" and "really?"

I remembered a bit of rain from last year.  I remembered hearing something about rain during Lent - around the time of Ash Wednesday - and how it brings the flowers for Easter.

Back on social media, "Es la lluvia de los jocotes," commented a Salvadoran friend.  "Yes, it's the rain of the jocotes," said another.  The rain of the jocotes is an annual event during the dry season.

To be clear, it's still dry.  The sky is blue, the temperature is hot, the wind is blowing and dust is back in the air.  The rain has passed, it seems.  So, why does this rain happen and why is it called the rain of the jocotes?

To begin, the jocote harvest lasts for a few weeks from mid-February into early March.  Jocotes are a slightly sour fruit, about the size of a small plum, with a fairly large pit inside.  They vary a lot in color and size, and are native to Mexico and Central America.  Since the prior to the Spanish conquest, farmers have planted jocote trees as perimeter fences, to prevent erosion and, of course, to enjoy the harvest of fruit.  Jocotes are rich in vitamins, calcium, iron and anti-oxidants.  Like most native fruits, they need to be consumed within a day of picking them, or they will spoil.  In El Salvador, families often preserve the fruit by making jocotes en miel - made by cooking the jocotes with panela - a hardened block of sugar syrup.

Jocotes range in size from giant cherry tomato to small plum.

So the rain of the jocotes happens at the time of the jocote harvest.  As a weather phenomenon, as reported by El Salvador's environmental ministry this year, moist air came in from the Caribbean, crossed Central America, and brought rain to El Salvador.

"God does it.  Every year.  It has to be from God, because there is no other way to explain it."  This is what a friend told me when I asked her about the rains of the jocotes...

Every year, before Holy Week, God sends the rains of the jocotes.  God does this to wake up the chicharras [chicharras are members of the cicada family].  Soon we will hear the song of the chicharras.  It is so beautiful to walk among the coffee trees and listen to the chicharras singing...no they don't do any damage to the trees.  I have never seen them eat even a leaf.  I don't even know if they eat.  God wakes them up, they sing, and then they die.  During Holy Week, they sing and then they are dead.  And the next year, God wakes them up again.  God's power does this each year make us think about God.  God does this to remind us.  During Holy Week, imagine!  It is from God; it could not be from any other source than God.

Near our sister church community during the season of Lent, the chicharra choir sings a grand opera that echoes through the hills.  It is LOUD.  Interesting fact:  chicharras actually do not eat leaves.  Their straw-like mouths drink sap from roots and stems and tree trunks.  Apparently chicharras especially like sugar cane stalks, and since most of the cane is harvested before March, maybe they are enjoying the gleanings of the fields.  That seems like something God would think of.

And so the rains of the jocotes sprinkle a bit of water onto a very dry earth.  Flowers emerge on brown tree branches, dust devils continue to dance, chicharras sing and then go back to sleep, we celebrate Easter, and the seasonal rains begin.


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