The setting is Okaukeujo campsite in Etosha National Park, Namibia; the timing is night-time a few years ago in 2011 during a strong La Niña season with above-average rainfall even well into autumn in that summer-rainfall area; the scene is two four-wheel drive vehicles with two rooftop tents each and our family fast asleep in two of those tents until Child No 2, who shared a tent with me, woke me up and said: “There’s water dripping in my face!” and indeed there was water dripping into our tent, and not just a little bit of water either, it was a steady little stream. It quickly started dripping in my face as well and the rain storm wasn’t showing any signs of abating and I realised that something had to be done as the rain wasn’t going to stop coming into our tent by itself.
A bit of background information may be necessary at this point to fully appreciate the scenario. Earlier that afternoon when we drove into the park we drove through a hail storm, which cleared after a while but there were still some threatening clouds about and it was quite clear that the weather had not yet relented and there was some more rain to come. It was just a matter of whether it was going to come our way and if it did, how much of it we’d have to endure. The campsite was so wet (with puddles of water everywhere as the water doesn’t recede quickly in that limy soil) that the park management was struggling to find suitable spots for campers as some sites were uninhabitable and in fact the entire park measuring just over 20 000km² had puddles of water all through it, some roads were impassable and the actual 130km long and up to 50km wide Etosha pan looked like an ocean with only water visible as far as the eye could see. I’ve never before or since seen the pan filled with water like that year.
That evening after dinner we were sitting around the campfire with our friends all feeling slightly apprehensive over the weather when the wind picked up and the cover of our (mine and Child No 2’s) tent was flapping quite wildly in the breeze so I asked my husband why that was since he and Child No 1 had put up our tents for the night and none of the other tent covers were flapping and they all seemed secure but he just dismissed it and said that it was fine so I trusted him and left it at that. Not long after it started raining though and we all ran for cover thinking the rain would soon pass but when it didn’t we decided we might as well call it a day and went to bed. Next thing, Child No 2 woke me up when the water was dripping in her face and my immediate reaction was to call my dear husband to come and help because there was clearly something wrong with our tent cover (after he’d assured me that it was fine) and in reply he sent Child No 1 to help me; I got out the tent, climbed down the ladder in the pouring rain and went around to the side of the vehicle where the water was running into our tent but since it was dark and there was a deluge of rain and I had no idea how the tent covers were supposed to be secured I wasn’t able to fix it. Child No 1 stood next to me half asleep and looking at the tent in dismay with no idea what to do either. By the time we were both wet through like drowned rats and my calls for my husband’s help were becoming more and more urgent his reply came back from the depths of their (dry) tent: “It’s no use all of us getting wet.” Oh my.
I exploded to such an extent that I probably added a fair amount of electricity to the stormy weather which didn’t seem to move him either but he finally decided that it would be in everyone’s best interest (including his own wellbeing) to come and sort out the problem. It didn’t take him long (and I think it would have taken even less time had he done it earlier in the evening before it started raining) and we could all get back to bed albeit in a wet tent for some of us. Thankfully that was the last rain we had whilst camping on that trip and the sun did come out nicely the next morning so we could get all our bedding dry but for a while the air around me was like a minefield that couldn’t be defused, especially not by the teasing banter which only seemed to charge the air even more!
Funnily enough our very first camping trip together many years ago we also had to deal with a cloudburst after I’d said to my husband many a time that I didn’t want to camp in the rain with the tent we had at the time (it had two sleeping compartments on either side of a communal area that had no groundsheet and you couldn’t stand up straight anywhere in the tent, so there was nowhere to keep anything dry except in your bed). We’d driven all day watching dark ominous clouds, reached Upington where we were camping for the night, put up the tent, I went for a shower and it was at that point that the heavens opened. Everyone in the ablution block was trapped there for about half an hour because the rain was torrential. When it finally let up a bit and I made it back to our tent there was literally a river running through it. My husband thought it all quite funny because he hadn’t realised that there was water in the middle of the tent – it was dark and in our early camping days we hadn’t yet invested in the luxury that is camping lights – until Child No 1 (a little boy of two at the time) started kicking at something on the ground which turned out to be an attempt to stop the river! In some strange way my sense of humour failure only added to my husband’s amusement.
We’ve had a few other camping mishaps over the years such as forgetting to pack the tent pegs, but one that I’ll remember for a long time was the first time we went camping with our current tent. Note to all campers: never put your tent up for the first time after dark on a camping trip, always do it at home or at the very least in daylight hours for the first time. I realised very quickly that my input was best kept to myself and proceeded by just following instructions, but it still took us a few hours with Ironman in desperation resorting to reading the instructions by the light of a torch and one of the tent poles falling on my head twice at which point I was feeling decidedly sorry for myself but we managed in the end. At least it didn’t rain so there was no question about who was going to get wet and neither was there a river running through it. Thank goodness for small mercies.