02 February 2013

There She Blows

For two years Harmattan has been a mystery to me. My friends up north speak about dry winds, cool nights, and a constant haze of dust blowing in from the north, but down here, just a few dozen kilometers from the ocean, this “Harmattan” has remained a myth to me—until yesterday.

The night before I flicked on my fan, hoping to dispel some of the sweat that is ever present on my back in the typical 80% humidity that never lets me get fully dry, and went to sleep. I woke up the next morning a little chilly with my fan blowing on me, but sometimes that happens when the temperature drops down to 80 degrees overnight.  I ran my comb through my hair to hear the
zip zap crackling of static rushing through my hair—this was bizarre, I hadn't experienced static since Europe—I ran my hands over my skin, smoothness—no damp stickiness—one more stroke, textural bliss, and I knew I couldn’t possibly have woken up in the same place I fell asleep. but alas, I had. From 80% the night before, the humidity had dropped to 20%. In my time here it has never ever ever been anywhere close to this dry.  Harmattan had finally made its way south.

Harmattan is a trade wind that blows in from the Sahara that lasts during what we’d call the winter months, November to March. With it, it brings very low humidity and lots of dust. Volunteers further north in Savannes and Kara battle dry cracking skin, respiratory problems, and dirt that invades everywhere. Down here in Maritime, though, the weather hardly changes, we have little rain but that is it—that is our Harmattan.

Increasing severity of the trade wind, which can limit visibility similar to a dense fog for days making driving and air travel near impossible, has been attributed do deforestation allowing for more particulate matter to be picked up and leading to stronger winds that have little barrier to pushing further south. A friend told me that in the past Harmattan barely touched Kara, it affected Savannes, but was more often thought of as something in Burkina Faso. Today, Harmattan is brutal in Burkina, strong in Kara, and now even touching Maritime.

The drop in humidity has been a blessing for me. These past two days I have been more productive than I have been in a while. Not being sticky made me finally feel comfortable and exerting myself didn't leave me with a puddle of sweat on the floor. While I am concerned for the ecological implications of increasing Harmattan strength, if I can feel like a human for a little while longer, let the winds blow!

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