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There is a scene in the movie The English Patient where Ralph Fiennes in talking about the wind mentions harmattan. He made it sound exotic, like something that would be a tourist attraction. I would put its exoticness in the same class as bazaars where tourists from developed countries flock to, to be enchanted by the experience of haggling. For the locals, such markets are as uninteresting as malls; just like the harmattan is mundane.

The harmattan is a trade wind that blows from the north east over West Africa and apparently all the way to Brazil. It was recently discovered that dust from the Sahara (from a place in Chad called the Bodélé Depression) carried on the wind is essential for plant growth in the Amazon rainforest. This dust however is a nuisance. It can make the air so hazy that flights have to be cancelled. Many times, the dust is thickest around Christmas thus disappointing many intending flyers. The winds start to blow at the beginning of the dry season, a season which starts in October and lasts till May in the North near the Sahara. In the South, the season can end as early as February.

In addition to the dust, the air is extremely dry. It dries up the skin making people look ashy. Sometimes, it cracks the skin, can cause the nasal passages to dry and split and bleed. The wind can sometimes cause dust storms. Other times they blow ferociously with a sound like one hears in winter storms on movies. In a way, the harmattan is our winter storm. Since it occurs around the same time. Although without the snow. The weather can get really cold though. In recent years, temperatures as low as 5C have been recorded in places like Sokoto and Maiduguri. These are normally among the hottest places in Nigeria, regularly recording temperatures in the 40s Celsius during the rest of the year.

The season is enjoyable because of the lower temperatures, especially at night when one can snuggle into a blanket and enjoy listening to the keening wind.

Iron Noder 2020, 7/30

Har*mat"tan (?), n. [F. harmattan, prob. of Arabic origin.]

A dry, hot wind, prevailing on the Atlantic coast of Africa, in December, January, and February, blowing from the interior or Sahara. It is usually accompanied by a haze which obscures the sun.

 

© Webster 1913.

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