The Harmattan

The hills in Koforidua are usually quite green, but have been washed away by the Harmattan sands in the air.

Characteristic of the Ghanaian dry season is the “harmattan”, which is when huge clouds of dust and sand blow down from the Sahara—and we were lucky enough to get to experience a mini-harmattan at the beginning of our stay in Koforidua.

The dust and sand sucks all the humidity out of the air, leaving your lips chapped and your throat constantly parched (similar to that feeling you get at the back of your throat when you have a cold).  The lack of humidity also has the interesting effect of allowing the air temperature to cool down quite significantly overnight—a phenomenon that left me quite perplexed the first morning that I woke up cold… in Ghana… at the height of the dry (hot) season.

Also, for you contact wearers out there, the harmattan is brutal because you’re walking through a cloud of fine, fine dust that is constantly itching at your eyes.  And on the topic of visibility, there are so many particles in the air that it gives the impression of a brown “fog” that, even in our mini-harmattan, was so thick that you couldn’t see much farther than a block away.

The sun behind a brown fog.

Fortunately, our mini-harmattan dissipated in a couple of days and Ghanaians assured us that what we experienced was nothing compared to the harmattan at the height of the dry season.  This harmattan had actually been only the latest event in a climatically confusing month, wherein it had also rained way earlier than usual.  This messed everything up because the first rain of the year usually marks the end of the harmattan—so when the country then got hit by a harmattan after it had already rained, it left a lot of locals shaking their heads and wondering just what the heck was going on.

I’ve been able to draw a couple of similarities to the Canadian snowstorm and the harmattan.  Both have a significant impact on things like visibiliy and peoples’ willingness to go outside during them.  Likewise I’m sure the novelty factor of the harmattan wears off as quickly as the novelty factor of seeing your first snowstorm.

However, all that said, I would still pick the Canadian snowstorm over the harmattan for two reasons: 1) the harmattan will often go on for days, whereas a snowstorm rarely lasts more than 24 hours and 2) you can actually have fun and play in the snow, whereas dust and sand…. well let’s be honest, it’s not like there’s any shortage of either of those here.  (On that topic though, you’re never going to have to shovel your way out of 3 feet of sand and dust, so that’s one point for the harmattan).

-David Caughey, Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2012

We are currently recruiting for Youth Ambassador positions in Ghana departing in May. Check out the Project Description.

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One thought on “The Harmattan

  1. Pingback: YCI’s Volunteer of the Year « Youth Challenge International

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