After our lovely trip to Namibia for the Christmas holiday (more to come on that later), we returned home to Lagos on what seemed an unusually overcast Monday night. I, for one, had totally forgotten, but our return fell right in the middle of harmattan, the season from November-February in northwestern Africa when winds blow fine sands from the Sahara Desert across the west African subcontinent (hence, the seemingly gloomy conditions). Both the length and incessance of the incredibly fine sand-dust leave everything outside covered in a thin layer of grime, like our car in the covered garage
Or our trampoline on the balcony.
As you can imagine, this usually isn’t good for the human constitution. When the dust clouds first hit just a few months ago, Brent started feeling ill at work and then crashed hard at home. His immune system kicked in and left him with an aching fever for several days. Even this morning, Ruby woke up with blood-stained sheets from a spontaneous bloody-nose in the middle of the night (this, Wikipedia tells me, could be the result of the change in humidity that follows the setting in of harmattan). Many of the other expats in our building have been sick and out of commission for a few days as well.
As an outsider, my first question is how on earth do the local Nigerian people handle this seasonal occurrence? I can’t imagine filling your lungs with ultra-fine particulate matter does your respiratory system much good. In my view, it doesn’t seem like the Nigerians barely slow down hardly in the face of the ominous dust cloud–life continues as normal, the kids are still begging on the streets, and most folks is doing their thing- business as usual. The streets are certainly emptier, but that may just be that it is the holiday season. I personally have been hesitant to spend much time outside at all, limiting my exercise to indoor workouts where I can. Even still, the dust seems to be so fine that it gets in everywhere. Our family PC recently stopped working, and when I opened it up to take a look, sure enough, the graphics card was covered with a thin layer of lint dust and harmattan dust.
Chatting with some expat friends who spent several years in Korea, that region experiences a similar seasonal invasion with sands from the Gobi Desert. There, everyone dons facemasks to keep the airport dirt out of their lungs. We’ve spotted some facemasks for sale on the streets, but in my brief and few forays outside I haven’t seen anyone really wearing them.
Hopefully, the cloud passes soon and we can see sunlight unobscured by floating foreign soil. In the meantime, I am thrilled that we live in air-conditioned home with windows that can remain shut.