It's not easy being green

The last few nights it has poured with rain. The thunder rolls in around midnight, low and rumbly at first, followed by really loud claps. The first night I heard it, the thunder was so violently loud, we leaped from the bed, imagining ourselves back in Chile and earthquake zone. It seemed as though the house was shaking but perhaps it was just me trembling.

My second thought was a bomb - it was really that loud - and only after peering out the window into the dark for a minute and seeing no fire or flames, could I accept that it had just been thunder and go back bed.

But for me, I love the rain - the sight, the sound, the smell. The thunder and lightning and downpours. It is almost a sensory overload; I am Cancerian after all.

For Laotians, the arrival of the rain or the 'green season' in late June-early July is in many ways very welcome. It means it's time to plant the first rice crop; the river flows again, bringing boat transport and tourism; there's relief from the preceding, endless months of heat; the air clears out pollution from cities and smoke from burning fields; and everything looks and feels vibrant and alive.

And this year, the arrival of the rains means an end to the drought that has plagued the livelihoods of farmers around Vientiane and in the northwest, due to the notorious El Nino climate pattern, said to be the worst in 60 years.

In Vientiane, nobody seems to mind a sudden downpour during the day. Tarps and makeshift shelters are quickly strung above street stalls and through the wats if something is happening.

It's hard to believe I've only been in Laos for one month. The days roll by as quickly as the rain clouds above. In my first week, I was walking through town and passed Wat Mixay (above) and thought I'd stop in for a closer look. I dismissed the ominous dark clouds overhead and wandered through the gates. I'd hardly gone 10 feet when the skies opened and the rain poured down. Really poured.

I didn't have an umbrella either (I'm wiser now) so I was literally trapped there on an ever-shrinking dry spot under a leaking tarp (erected for Buddhist Lent) for about half an hour, until a friend rescued me.

Apart from the inconvenience of getting your shoes wet and muddy walking through rather deep puddles and span the width of a road, the arrival of the monsoon season brings more serious issues. It means worsened potholes in the road, bumpier journeys, longer commutes, leaky roofs, a gazillion more mosquitoes (and the threat of dengue fever), and in the rural areas, flooding, landslides, and damage to roads, homes and lives.

Even the rice crops, which need fresh rainwater to grow, suffer with too much rain; some farmers lose their fields completely under the water. It's a time of extremes.

So, as the thunder comes through tonight, that's what I'll be thinking; rain is wonderful and life-affirming, particularly for people like me living comfortably in the city. But it is also life-changing for those who live by the weather on the land. We cannot live without it but with climate change and El Nino, the rainy season has and will continue to become more erratic and forceful. For Laos, as a land-locked, agriculturally-dependent country, it's becoming less easy to be green.

Do you love or hate rain?