Sunday, 20 May 2012

Soul Destroying Heat

I've been in Bamako three and a half weeks, and I can conclude that the weather so far has consisted of the following options:

Soul destroying heat:
45 degrees. As soon as you step out of the a/c, it hits you. Air that hot is heavy and hard to breathe, like being in a sauna, or like the wave of air that hits you when you open the oven. Walking anywhere happens slowly, and you still feel the sweat trickle down the back of your spine within seconds of stepping outside. When we have a meeting and there's a power cut, so no a/c or fan, I drink a litre and a half of water in just over an hour, and by the time it comes back on I'm light-headed from sweating and have to eat a teaspoon of salt and a mango to be myself again.

This heat lasts from about 7am to about 10pm. A few times I try to go running in the morning, but the weight of the air and the heat combined makes me light-headed, and I realise that my current training motivational line ("if Woods can finish the boat race, you can harden the fuck up and keep running") has a flip side - I don't want to end up collapsing in heat exhaustion by the side of the road in Bamako. So I hide inside and skip with the air conditioning on.

Slightly-less soul destroying heat:
Sometimes it isn't 45 degrees. Sometimes it's a mere 40 or even 38. It's amazing how refreshing 38 feels when you've endured a few days at 45. I knew I was getting used to it here when I caught myself telling my local shopkeeper how much I was enjoying the 'frais' weather when it was still 38 degrees outside.

These two make up about 99% of the time here, but there are more options.

We've had one, and it was almost biblical. Winds blew, and suddenly there was sand whirling everywhere. I was on skype at the time being given an impossible deadline, and it felt almost biblical as the sky darkened and the sand rolled in. Fifteen minutes later it was gone, and apart from a bit that had got into my office around the edges of the windows (the windows are Chinese, so they don't really fit the window holes), you'd never have known it was there.

Interestingly, a colleague in Niamey says they had one a day earlier. We aren't sure if it's the same but we're calling her to ask for weather updates now.

It's always quite dusty, but sometimes it takes it to new levels. On the days before we were stuck home because of the shooting, there was a huge dust cloud over the city, so dense that visibility shrank to 100m at times and they had to close the airport. The dust got everywhere - all over our floor, no matter what we did, into your eyes and noses, caking your skin and hair and clothes and keyboards.

There was an element of cruel irony to it as well, as it was actually relatively cool, probably because the dust blocked out the sky, nuclear armageddon-style. But going running was out of the question because I'd have choked to death in about a minute.

Sometimes it rains. These seem to be getting more frequent - no longer once a week and now once every couple of days. When it rains it generally starts quickly, the sky darkening and the rain arriving within ten minutes. Then it hurls it down for anything between half an hour and four hours, and then it stops. If you're out in it, you either need to get under shelter PDQ, or if PDQ is less than 30 seconds, carry on and ignore it because you're soaked anyway.

After the Rain:
After the rain it is actually nice. It's cool and there's a bit of crispness in the air, probably because there's less dust. Unfortunately, after the rain there are also lots of mosquitoes, because you can't have everything.

Tomorrow I am going to Kayes, which has the same weather as Bamako only about 5 degrees hotter, because it's further north, and with less air conditioning. Updates to follow.

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