The black clouds chase us the last 10 minutes of our drive into Gemena, the oppressive heat broken by sudden gusts of cool wind. We can’t rush too much as the constant jarring from holes leaves my shoulder feeling painful and raw, but we keep an eye on those clouds. Arriving home, we quickly unpack the bike and stand in awe of the lightning and thunder that rolls towards Bebe, Mandaba and me, followed by thick, heavy drops of rain.

The smell changes completely. Dirt settles. Trees sway. We wear flip flops so we don’t get electrocuted and I am told a shower now is out of the question.

Layers of dust over sunscreen over dust over sunscreen have me feeling gritty and sticky, but I listen and don’t find relief in the cold shower until there is a break in the weather and the rain and lightning cease for a few minutes. Refreshed, Bebe and I chat while Mandaba goes to run some errands. The rain, thunder and lightning return in full force, forcing us to yell our stories above the roar.

It is good to be back in the land of Lingala, as I understand much more of this language than I do Mbacca, spoken in the area from which we just returned. I desperately try to hear and pronounce the words for motorcycle, head, fire, and man – a two syllable word that is spelled the same, but pronounced slightly differently for each meaning. We laugh. We drink coffee so Mandaba can warm up after arriving drenched, but, thankfully, otherwise unscathed by the incessant lightning and muddy roads. We eat dinner together and I am so thankful for these friends who love and take care of me. I am grateful for this family who shares happiness, grief, joy, kindness, thanksgiving, sadness, and love with me.

My heart feels full as we say our good nights.