Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Hamattan

above: Using the slash and burn method to prepare their farms in the hills (for the growing mostly of upland rice), farmers would burn their brush. Fires would be going day and night around us at the end of the dry season, this diminishing the air quality considerably. In combination with the dusty air from The Hamattan, these fires made the air (and your clothes) always smell smokey. This view from where we lived - looks down Dama Road to Kenema. The smoke is from fires on farms in the Kambuii Hills.Taken from just in front of Holy Rosary Secondary School Kenema

above: at night toward the end of the dry season as farmers were getting ready for planting rice on the upland - farmers would clear areas with their machetes then using this slash and burn technique burn the great piles of brush that they had created. Fires would go both day and night adding to diminishment of the air quality already present by The Hamattan. This is a view from our house.

We lived in the tropical rainforest where during the rain season (May to October) there could be upwards of 150 inches of rain. When the rains came, the days could be cool with low temperatures in the 70's and with intense humidity. A large umbrella was helpful in keeping you dry when you were out and about, but nothing really dried during the rains - at least so it seemed. As the rain season tapered off and the dry season took over days still could get quite hot and the vegetation turned brown and dried up. Mornings might start off quite comfortable but when the sun came up days would get progressively hotter. But during the dry season it was a rare event for there to be rain. And by December the Sierra Leoneans talked about The Harmattan - the cold wind that came off the Sahara. Two Hundred and fifty miles to our north sttod the Sahara. And when the Harmattan came, the sky turned a bit brown, the air became much less humid and dry, and school kids came to school in pullovers, and rubbed their skin with of all things Ben-Gey - which worked as a counter irritant to make their skin feel warm. For me the air was pleasant but for my neighbors it was too cold. By this time the upland rice was getting harvested and new farms were in the planning stage. The hill farms would be brushed and the brush would be burned (typical of the slash and burn method of farming). The night sky might be lit up with farm fires burning in the hills around us. It was the rains that allowed these farmers to grow their native rice on the hills, and it was the dry season that allowed the rice to mature and get ready for harvest. North of Kenema it was said that the Harmattan brought dust everywhere and a brown tinged air. Although in Kenema it was less striking - the Harmattan still was waited for expectantly - there was a whole mythology that was created around it. The Harmattan did provide relief from the heat and the humidity

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