By 5:45 tonight the sky seemed pitch black. I went outside to look and could see traces of light creating shape to the intensity of cloud, the wind howling ominously. 20 minutes later and we have only a few very large heavy drops hitting the ground, accompanied by the wet smell of pending rain and the loud rustle of palm tree limbs blowing up against each other.
I’ve heard about “rainy season,” but have not seen it yet. I think it’s coming soon.
Harmattan has been the feature season here since January – an intensely dusty time when every day requires cleaning, every evening feet cleaning before bed, and every item of clothing and household good dusty no matter what cleaning happens. You simply don’t wear white during Harmattan. I remove my shoes and see every line of the shoes’ edge in dust as if the shoes themselves were still on my feet. I saw an American colleague at a conference last month; he laughed as I opened my laptop and clouds of dust poof-ed up (I felt like the little images of PigPen in the Charlie Brown cartoons, poof’s of dust surrounding him as he moves frame to frame). I think I had begun to lose awareness that things were dusty; in comparison to everything around me, the laptop seemed to be doing pretty well…until I was seeing it outside of Ghana and through American eyes.
The book I’m reading this weekend made me smile as I heard the author describe his visit to Ghana – “There would be no rain today; January is the dry season, which is one of the only ways to distinguish seasons in a country where every day of the year is hot and begins and ends around six o’clock. In January, all of West Africa is dry, and the wind known as the Harmattan picks up the Sahara Desert – all 3.5 million square miles of it, as far as I could tell – and blows it south the Gulf of Guinea – a thick, choking haze that stings your eyes and clogs your nose with the same brick-red dust that coats the broad leaves of the banana palms.” (p.11, Max Alexander. Bright Lights, No City). I’ve tried to photograph the dust, especially as a truck goes by, but the best examples of dust appear so opaque as to reflect too much light for the camera to understand what its photographing!
Dust combined with humidity makes a streaked paste that seems to smear whatever I touch. Berekuso, where I stay 2 hours from Accra, registers a latitude of about 5 degrees north of the equator. For reference, that’s still 20 degrees farther south than the Florida Everglades (and equally humid it seems), and about aligned with Columbia in South America or Sri Lanka, south of India in Asia. I’ve never been to those places, but I have avoided Thailand (farther north) because I perceive it to be intensely humid with large insects. I have a newer appreciation for geckos and large lizards now, which people explain to me don’t bite people and do eat insects. If I could sort out humidity, dusty and rainy seasons, perhaps I’ll visit South East Asia some day.
I’m pretty sure tonight’s rain does not signal the beginning of rain season though. It took less than an hour to blow over, and nothing washed away. At least the rain has settled the dust for now.