The harmattan is still hovering, and Lionel might not make it home.

Wikipedia defines harmattan as “a cold-dry and dusty trade wind, blowing over the West African subregion. This northeasterly wind blows from the Sahara Desert into the Gulf of Guinea between the end of November and the middle of March.”

Well Wikipedia got at least one thing wrong, because it is now the middle of April and this harmattan is really, obviously here. What makes the harmattan inconvenient is not wind – it’s dust. Sahara sand blowing down from 1000 km or more away, mixing with local sand on route, leaving the sky a thick fog made of solid particles instead of water ones.

I was in Mubi when this harmattan hit, filming, and the sky in the video is brown, casting a dusky tone over all the footage. When we arrived in Yola it was even worse – we pulled in just before nightfall but visibility was a hundred meters at best. It’s like the worst smog you’ve ever seen but it isn’t pollution, it’s nature.

Lionel has been in Yola the whole time, watching and worrying. He works for TV Gotel news. Every three months he returns to South Africa to see his wife and kids in Joburg. He is scheduled to travel Monday, and the harmattan has grounded all flights over the weekend.

One of the richest men in Africa was stuck in Yola yesterday and missed Jacob Zuma’s birthday party. The harmattan does not respect status or wealth; like most extreme weather it hits everyone equally. Rich or ordinary, flights have been grounded for three days. Now Lionel’s flight to Lagos this afternoon where he had to catch the SAA connection is under threat.

By the way the Sahara is not the world’s largest desert. It’s only the third largest. It IS the world’s largest HOT desert. Antarctica and the Arctic are both larger. A desert it seems is merely a place with almost no rain and nothing much growing either. The other interesting fact I enjoy about the Sahara Desert is that the word “Sahara” is literally the Arabic word for “deserts” – plural to reflect its enormity, that it is actually the conjunction of many smaller deserts.

This morning Lionel was not thinking about the Sahara 1000 km north of us, but his family 7000 km south. He got up early, came outside, and saw the dust was still hovering.

I’d love to draw out the drama of Lionel’s stress, but there’s not much more to tell. By late morning the lingering harmattan has burned off, and both he and the rich man are able to leave town.

Although Lionel ends up with the better of it – he remains on schedule, while Jacob Zuma’s birthday is long gone.

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