Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sahelian sandstorms

The weather in the desert is hot, it is dry, it is unpredictable, at times terrifying and it is unlike any other climate I’ve ever experienced. Sometimes the desert makes me feel vulnerable and exposed, but other times I thank my lucky stars that I’m not stuck in the middle of a jungle with snakes and inexplicable humidity. This month is supposedly the hottest month of the year but it has not been any hotter (or cooler) than last month. The newest climatic phenomenon to appear in my life is the Sahelian sandstorm. They are unpredictable and each one is unique from the last so when I do sense that one is on the horizon its hard to know how quickly to act. I will go through a couple of them so that you can get an idea of what they’re like.

The first one came in the middle of the night. This is the worst kind. Because there I was, asleep outside, tucked away under my mosquito net and suddenly the wind picked up and a strong gust woke me up. So I peered up at the sky and because it was a full bright moon I could see a black cloud in the distance. Assuming sandstorm I hustled to detach my mosquito net from the clothesline and brought my bed into my hut. So there I sat in the dark, sweating profusely with all of my doors shut and locked, and listened to the BBC on handheld radio and waited out the deafening storm. Because it was my first one it was pretty disconcerting and I kept envisioning my tin roof getting blown off of my hut and being sandblasted all night long. But of course that didn’t happen. Instead, the storm passed and was followed with just enough rain to rinse off the ground and turn the sandy dirt into a thick paste.

A day or two later my second sand storm came up out of nowhere in the late evening when I was taking my bucket bath. I happened to look up and see a billowing dark brown cloud coming towards my hut. I scurried about closing my doors, and bringing in all of the buckets and clothes I had out in my douche. I got the back door closed and locked just as the wall of sand, wind, and darkness descended on our compound. The power was of course out so I sat in my hut again, 115 degrees, in the pitch black with the deafening sound of wind, sand, and rocks banging against my tin roof at record speeds. I again switched on the BBC to keep myself occupied. I wrapped myself in a sheet to protect myself from the sand that was falling in from the holes in my roof and from under the door and through the cracks. About an hour later I emerged from my hut to assess the damage. Nothing major, just tons of sand everywhere, and some broken tree branches.

Since then there have been about 6 other storms. One day there was 2 within 6 hours of eachother. Sometimes they come with rain, sometimes with lightening, and sometimes the wind just picks up for hours and the sky is hazy and sand blows but there is no climax and I just spend the day inside sweating and breathing into a handkerchief. I have tried to learn to just ride them out when they come at night and I now keep a sheet nearby so that if one does descend upon me without warning I can cover up in bed and sleep through it.

Yeah right.

I think it will take me longer than a month to be able to do that successfully. But you really just learn to tolerate being a little bit sandy all the time. I often wake up in the morning and feel like I have been using a rough, smelly exfoliator because I will touch my face and it is covered with sand and dirt and dried sweat. But after a bucket bath I feel renewed and ready to face the next Sahelian sand storm.

I am told that soon the rains will start coming more frequently towards the end of this month (usually about once a week during the rainy season) and with them the mosquitoes and many many scorpions, and their cousin the scorpion spider (harmless I’m told…yeah right). Oh good.

I’m waiting for the day when I’m sitting in the middle of a rainstorm battling scorpions in my room and just wishing for a hot, dry sandstorm.

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