Strange morning

In March 1996, in the middle of Harmattan season, I was scheduled to make a trip to visit translation projects. I got up before dawn to the strong smell of dust. Then, instead of dawn, a sinister crimson radiance came through the windows, painting everything with the same tint. Outside, I felt like I was living in the aftermath of some nuclear disaster. I discovered that a gusty wind, saturated with particles of deep red laterite was the source of the strange morning colors. In short, it was a dust storm.

Banana tree covered in Harmattan dust

Banana tree covered in Harmattan dust

As I drove out of town, the headlights of other cars looked blue. The sky turned blood-red with the sun a mere disk of only slightly brighter red. At the checkpoint on the outskirts of town, the officials were troubled. They had never seen anything like it. Someone said that according to the radio news, the dust storm covered all of Burkina Faso, Mali and a large part of Algeria. One policeman, his eyebrows covered with a layer of the red dust, said: “Good, that way we won’t die alone.”

We traveled all morning and part of the afternoon to our destination, always in the grimy wind, marveling at the blue headlights of oncoming vehicles. Late in the morning, we went through a city; its streetlights still blazing as though they could dispel the gloom. It lasted 2 1/2 days. The grit got between our teeth, in our food and, well, everywhere. Ladies who like to keep a spotless house were propelled to the threshold of psychosis.

It was quite an experience. My only regret is that I did not take even one photo! The photos you see here were taken later under conditions which were not nearly as extreme.

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