The cold, dusty, harsh Harmattan wind which hits Nigeria every November to early February is here again, sweeping across the land, drying up skin, sending many to hospitals, altering lifestyle, affecting the workplace and the way we live and travel.
I wrote about this brand of wind in this column some years ago. The wind is not letting the people go. Here is an update in this story.
As Uchenna waded through the heavy traffic in his over-heating car after a hard days work, an embarrassing problem was waiting for him at home. He got there; two hours late, very tired, walked tiredly to his front door, slotted in his key, turned it, and tried to open the metal door. It did not open. “What could be wrong? Am I in the wrong place?” he wondered. Satisfied he was in front of his home, he pushed the door again to open it, no way. He heaved it with the little strength remaining in him; nothing happened. He gripped the door handle and raised the frame slightly and pulled. Still it did not open.
“What has gone wrong with this damn door that it refuses to open?” he blurted out in frustration, to no one in particular as he leaned on the door in exhaustion. “Life in this city is hell,” he grunted as he straightened up and threw up his hands in despair. “No water supply, no electric power, the roads are bad, nothing is working. These problems just have to let the people go.”
“There is nothing wrong with your door,” a familiar voice said behind him. Uchenna turned to behold his neighbour, Funke, a pretty girl smiling at him. Obviously, she had been watching him struggling to open the door. He has been trying to date this girl, no way, as she rebuffed all his love advances. She is unemployed and prefers to date rich guys to survive the hard times.
‘That’s her business. They will only use her and dump her. And who asked her to intervene in this matter anyway?’ Uchenna thought serially as he managed to smile back without saying anything. ‘If only this girl will yield to my advances, let me know who she is, and if things work out well, I will propose marriage,’ was all he could think again, even momentarily forgetting the frustrations of his office, driving through the terrible traffic, and attempting to open his door. Before he could speak, Funke spoke again.
“The problem is not your door?” she said on seeing Uchenna’s smile fade into a puzzled expression. “It is the Harmattan wind, an annual visitor to Nigeria which sweeps from North Africa to Sub-Saharan Africa from the last month of every year, to early months of the New Year. In Nigeria, it is known as Harmattan. It is a cold dry wind that throws up dust and causes a lot of medical problems, especially breathing difficulties. The effects are many: Cold, catarrh, cough, pains, dry skins, and blisters on the lips,pale faces, poor sight, and respiratory diseases.”
“So, what has the Harmattan got to do with my door?
“Plenty,” she replied. “The reach of this cold wind is total. It affects everybody, everything, changing lifestyles and the shape of objects, including metals, home fittings and furniture. In your case, this dry wind changed the shape of some of components of the lock and hinges of your door. The contraction in turn altered the alignment of your door on its frame making it jam the floor. That is why it cannot open.”
“I see,” Uchenna said, surprised. “So, the Harmattan affects metals too. I thought it only affects people. Why doesn’t this wind come and go and leave us alone. Why create problems for us.”
“It affects properties too,” Funke continued. “It shuts many people in, shuts others out. People are not free when Mr. Harmattan comes. Nobody, material, place, or thing is spared the harsh effects of this wind. You just have to be prepared for his visit to minimize the impact. Please go and get a welder to open your door else you will sleep outside.”
“I will do as you say,” Uchenna said as he left to find help still thinking of how he will nail this girl, Harmattan or no Harmattan.
This cold comes uninvited and stays for a minimum of ten weeks. Is he welcome? Yes, for those who know him and prepare for his coming and no, for others who don’t. It depends on what he means to you and how prepared you are to receive him. Many youths are careless. Others are wise and respond by wearing thicker clothes during the Harmattan season. To protect their bodies, boys use petroleum jellies and oils while the girls apply appropriate cosmetics to save their precious skin.
Mr. Harmattan is a surprise brand, a seasonal visitor who can deal with you if he takes you unawares. But if you are prepared, he can be your friend. He has no apologies for coming at his season and you cannot stop him. You will know he is around when the wind becomes cold and dry. If you wash your clothes and hang them on the line, they dry up in far less time than usual. If you spill water on the floor, do not bother to mop it up. He is a good laundry man and will do it quickly for you without any charges. He is a good friend of those in the laundry business
You can see him on land and sea as a thick haze of dust hanging in the air. When you breathe, he reaches your lungs instantly. It is usually a harrowing period for asthmatic patients. You cannot stop him from touching you or your business.
The wind throws up other challenges. You have to cope with layers of dust that settle on home furniture, beds and beddings, cooking utensils, and other household items. The most vulnerable are television sets and electronic gadgets such as CD and DVD players which youths use a lot. It is either you cover these items up properly or you wipe off the dust regularly. The clothes in the wardrobe are not spared. Even if it is securely locked, Mr. Harmattan penetrates, depositing dust on fine linen and other expensive fabrics. This translates into more spending on commercial laundry else the fabrics will be damaged.
The Harmattan season is a period when dry cleaning services enjoy a boom. Also caregivers face more challenges as they provide domestic and paediatric care. The highways are not spared. Driving early mornings during the Harmattan is risky because of the haze of dust hanging in the air.
This haze creates problems for the aviation industry causing low visibility that make work difficult for aircraft pilots. The airports are crowded with stranded and frustrated passengers held back by cancelled or delayed flights. Mr Harmattan is an aviation nightmare. “You are dust, and unto dust, you shall pay respect,” appears to be the message of this dust brand whenever he comes.
Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as http://www.ezinearticles.com, www.ezinearticles.com and www.writingcareer.com. He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at http://sallywantsahusband.blogspot.com