Monday, January 15, 2007

Dust and Sand

It’s Harmattan season in Sierra Leone. According to Wikipedia, the Harmattan is a dry wind blowing off the Sahara, considered a natural disaster and with implications for airline traffic and the moods of man and beast. As far as I’m concerned, the Harmattan just means an insidious reddish dust that invades every nook and cranny of my house, my car, my clothes, my cat, and my ears, and that keeps coming back – like the immortal cat of nursery rhyme fame – no matter what you do to drive it away.

When I returned from my holiday vacation at 1 a.m. last Monday, I found a house practically blanketed in dust. I literally had to wash down my bedroom floor (with a wet T-shirt, because I don’t actually own a mop) before I could sleep. I then had the whole house cleaned properly a few days later… only to find the dust had returned by this weekend. Yipes. My car is a complete disaster – inside and out – and the only upside of my newly-dust-laden cat is that I can see by her little red footprints when she’s been nosing around where she’s not allowed.

A benefit of the Harmattan is that the nights are much cooler, which makes it much easier to sleep (something I’ll have to remember when I’m sweating my way through humid March nights). The benefit of this, however, is somewhat offset by the corresponding agony of ice-cold showers. As if mornings weren’t cruel enough…

To escape the dust and celebrate my return to Sierra Leone, I joined a group of friends in sleeping over at one of the nearby beaches this weekend. This is something I discovered in December and swore I would do as much as possible. You pitch a mosquito net from the branch of a tree, lay your bedding on the sand, and pay the local guys to grill you fresh fish for dinner, build and tend a bonfire, and fry some eggs and bacon for the morning. Under the stars, with the sound of the waves in your ears – what better way to spend a night? And what better way to start the day than with a dip in the ocean, or maybe a quick turn on the surfboard (before the day’s beach-comers have arrived to witness your feeble attempts)?

Now, as I’m sure I’ve said before, the beaches of Salone are the most beautiful I have ever seen, and must be among the world’s very best. White sand, turquoise water, and brilliant green jungle-covered hills collide in a breathtaking coastline, virtually unmarred by any construction. At Bureh, the beach where we spent Saturday, there is nothing but a thatched-roof structure that serves as a kitchen – set back among the palm trees – and a few matching thatched-roof tables. If you are sharing the beach with a few dozen people, it’s a busy day – and you can always walk for 5 or 10 minutes down the beach and find yourself in perfect isolation, joined only by crabs and brilliant white seabirds.

Spending time in such a pristine, beautiful setting is always a treat, but spending the night there – sunset, sparkling stars, sunrise and all – is unbelievably refreshing.

As I can see it, there’s only one downside. Bureh has no shower, nor any fresh water at all that’s not bottled for drinking, so you return home the next day saturated with sand and salt. I can tell you from experience that a cold shower does not remove this seaside residue. And thus today, two vigorous showers later, I found myself heading off to work with distinctly salty hair. Moreover, as I climbed into my dust-covered car, I realized that the day’s Harmattan debris would only add to this mess, and I cringed.

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