Making rain

The secret rituals in the cycad forest, the drumming in moonlight, the dances to summon the ancestors and placate the spirits, the power to draw clouds from hot blue skies and bring rain. The rain dance is taboo for outsiders to witness but resembles the great night-long dances of grief and mourning, the traditional farewell.

 

Lobedu women dancing, in the territory of the rain queen or Modjadji in Limpopo.

 

When a member of the royal family of the Lobedu people dies, the entire nation mourns. But it is the women of this matriarchal society who gather at the queen's sacred kraal to dance away their grief.  Women from five villages dance until daybreak at the queen's kraal. Because all of the Lobedu people are in mourning, the women wear everyday clothes rather than traditional ones. The all-night ritual is lit by a single streetlight erected by the queen where a central fire once used to burn. Photo by Lori Waselchuk
When a member of the royal family of the Lobedu people dies, the entire nation mourns. But it is the women of this matriarchal society who gather at the queen’s sacred kraal to dance away their grief. Women from five villages dance until daybreak at the queen’s kraal. Because all of the Lobedu people are in mourning, the women wear everyday clothes rather than traditional ones. The all-night ritual is lit by a single streetlight erected by the queen where a central fire once used to burn. Photo by Lori Waselchuk

A desert in summer

Orange river

 

 

Travellers take extra water, two-litre and five-litre bottles of tap water, if they are driving north. Water for themselves and water for those they meet along the way, thirsty and reliant on water bought in and transported long distances. The town of Aliwal North has no water and the bed of the Orange River, also known as the Gariep or Senqu, is dry as a bone. Bleached, cracked soil, arid and close to desert.

 

The cracked bitter heart of a drought.

 

What happens when a river stops flowing? When the ocean ebbs away to salt?

 

Orange river in drought

The Year of Diaspora

What I will remember most about 2015. The diaspora in flight, crossing oceans in small unsafe boats, walking and taking crowded buses or trains across Greece, Macedonia, Turkey, Europe, the struggle to get from Calais to Dover across the Channel. A surge of movement from war zones and waterless deserts, changing the planet’s demographics. Unstoppable, as have been all great movements of hungry or desperate displaced people in history.

 

Diaspora

 

A Syrian father, center, slept with his son and other family members on the floor of a bus driving from Budapest to Vienna.

Mauricio Lima for The New York Times