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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dust and Dusty

One thing you notice after your first day in Cairo is the dust. It's obvious the first time you look at your shoes. Cairo is a dusty city.

The solutions to the problem vary. For shoes, don't worry.

Someone is waiting right around the corner to solve that problem. Of course, the shoe shine in or near your hotel will cost more than the one farther away. And the shoes may get dusty again before you return to the hotel.

And here's an important tip. While you are carefully negotiating a cheap 5 pound price for the shine (about 90 cents) make sure you cover all the details. Otherwise that Egyptian entrepreneur is going to tell you, "Yes 5 pounds for that shoe - and 5 more for the other shoe!"

A few people protect their cars with a dust cover.

The dust is actually the sand from the Sahara that has blown into town. In the pictures, the sand may look like beach sand but it is much finer - more like volcanic dust than like sand. The sand in the air is responsible for the beautiful sunsets.

But, as you can imagine, it doesn't take a lot of wind to cut the visibility pretty severely.

The wind was maybe 15-20 m.p.h. when we took these pictures near the Fayoum oasis.

And of course, any place where there is wind and sand, the resulting dust storm gets its own name. Here, it is called the Khamaseen. That means fifties, and it is claimed to occur in April. Some reports even specify it blowing from Coptic Easter to Coptic Pentecost.

Regardless of the actual dates, Khamaseen time can produce some dramatic weather. You will occasionally hear of the Cairo airport being closed because of it and NASA has some pretty spectacular photos showing the blowing sand near the Libya/Egypt border.

Local residents and personal experience shows that February is a pretty likely time to experience Khamaeen winds. Khamaseen or not, the dust accumulates on our western balcony pretty regularly. During February, I could sweep once a day and always find plenty of dust.

And on the February day after the strongest wind, I found this dust covering the front balcony. The pictures are taken after the first stroke with the broom.

And so, what else could we call this poor gray kitty that has moved onto our Welcome mat outside the front door. We named her, Dusty!

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