bright yellow walls a thousand metres high
October 12, 2009, 2:02 am
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , ,

Here is a list of winds and sandstorms in the Middle East and North Africa described by Michael Ondaatje in his beautiful book The English Patient.
There is a whirlwind in southern Morocco, the aajej, against which the fellahin defend themselves with knives.  There is the africo, which has at times reached into the city of Rome.  The alm, a fall wind out of Yugoslavia.  The arifi, also christened aref or rifi, which scorches with numerous tongues.  These are permanent winds that live in the present tense.

There are other, less constant winds that change direction, that can knock down horse and rider and realign themselves anticlockwise.  The bist roz leaps into Afghanistan for 170 days — burying villages.  There is the hot, dry ghibli from Tunis, which rolls and rolls and produces a nervous condition.  Th haboob — a Sudan dust storm that dresses in bright yellow walls a thousand metres high and is followed by rain.  The harmattan, which blows and eventually drowns itself into the Atlantic.  Imbat, a breeze in North Africa.  Some winds that just sigh towards the sky.  Night dust storms that come with the cold.  The khamsin, a dust in Egypt from March to May, named after the Arabic word for “fifty,” blooming for fifty days — the ninth plague of Egypt.  The datoo out of Gibraltar, which carries fragrance.

There is also the ——, the secret wind of the desert whose name was erased by a king after his son died within it.  And the nafhat — a blast out of Arabia.  The mezzar-ifoullousen — a violent and cold southwesterly known to Berbers as “that which plucks the fowls.”  The beshabar, a black and dry northeasterly out of the Caucasus, “black wind.”  The Samiel from Turkey, “poison and wind,” used often in battle.  As well as the other “poison winds,” the simoom, of North Africa, and the solano, whose dust plucks off rare petals, causing giddiness.

Other, private winds.


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