Monday, 20 April 2015


Dust is an inescapable and prominent feature of life in Chad, and its presence has been especially felt over the last couple of months. Now, before I go any further, let me just say that there is no dust like Chadian dust. It is not the light covering that settles in the lounge and can be ignored for a few days (!) but a fine powder, like talcum powder, that invades every space, every nook and cranny, it crosses barriers such as rubber seals around the cooker, and pays no heed to any vain attempts to flick it away with a duster. No, it’s a flighty, invasive being that, while at times may lull you into a sense of its innocence by being ever present, irremovable, irritating, yet gentle, every so often, it exerts its full force of chest rattling, mouth crunching, air choking power.

Many mornings, on waking, the sun is to be found shining strongly without a cloud to be seen in the bright blue sky. And yet, recently on waking, a thick fog seems to have descended overnight, covering everything with a dull sickly grey casing the landscape to take on a monotone muteness. The full force of the dust has arrived….

The dust fills the atmosphere

If, for some reason, you should you ever find yourself in such a dusty place as the Sahara desert, here are some of my tips for survival and warnings as to what to expect in the D.U.S.T:

D- Deep Breath.

Breathing. An activity that for much of the times takes very little effort or thought for the majority of people. And yet, when the air so thick with the dust, that as you go about your day you find yourself crunching it in your mouth, feel it coating your eye lashes and can see tracks as the sweat pours down your face (sorry, not the most attractive picture!), it’s not heard to imagine why so many people at this time of year have problems with their breathing. But for some reason, this year has been particularly bad which is very obvious to see here at the hospital with the high number of children hospitalised with severe breathing problems.

The one available oxygen concentrator, run by a small generator, has been working almost full time to help these children in the first day or two of their treatment. But one concentrator and many children? Yes, it’s been time to be creative once more! Out with plastic ‘Y’ pieces (no idea what they are actually meant to be used for but they’re helpful here!), oxygen extension tubing, chopped up oxygen tubing usually placed into nostrils to provide two way oxygen supply, sticky tape to hold it all together, upturned plastic kidney dishes to mark the tubing criss-crossing the floor, secured in place with a well-placed rock and hey presto, you have oxygen supply for a maximum of four children!
The battered and well-worn concentrator has worked hard, but it has literally been a life saver!

Our hard working oxygen concentrator supplying oxygen
to 3 children

U- Undercover.

As the dust invades there truly is no escape, there is nowhere to hide. So the best way to avoid the unpleasantness of continual fruitless cleaning is to go undercover. Close all doors, shut all windows, draw all curtains. Forget the sweltering heat and the lack of ventilation this has now caused, close up and keep shut up until the dust has relented.

These efforts you understand of course will not prevent the dust entering, merely reduce it. You will still find that on opening a cupboard, your food inside has a cover of dust and the inside of the cooker you can write your name in. 

In fact, I’ve come up with a new game recently. It’s based on Kim’s game where you put things out on a tray, memorise them, hide the tray and see how many you can remember. The Chad version is to leave a selection of items on your table at the start of the day. Go to work come back, lift off each item and then based by the outlines in the dust, identify the items!

Kim's game, Chad style!

Sadly, while the house can be shut up, work and life still call for attention and so for myself, I appreciate another role the required head scarf has- reduction of dust in ears and hair. Sunglasses are worn despite the lack of sun and as for the rest of me, a regular dust down is required to keep from myself taking on the monotone grey of my surroundings. 

But it’s the Arab men that are really sorted for this weather with their white turbans wrapped around their faces, exposing their eyes only. While a new fashion statement is seen all around town- eye covers usually used to aid sleep are seen sported over the mouth and nose, acting as a filter.

Talking of questionable fashion statements, attractive 'tan lines' are not uncommon:

The 'tan line' on my friend Claire's legs at the end of a meeting
that took place inside, while a sand storm raged outside!

S- Shut down.

The disruption brought by the dust is not restricted to the individual alone. The airport experienced shut down as several flights to Chad were diverted or cancelled completely, some for several days, due to the poor visibility and potential risk to planes.

T- Top Tips.

Despite all your best efforts, the dust has won. The house looks grey, as you walk through the lounge you can see puffs of dust rise around each of your footsteps, you wash the dust off your face with water pouring from the dusty tap and after you dry your dusty face on a dusty towel. You pour yourself a cup of water in a dusty cup and as you set the dusty cup down on the dusty table you here the subtle but distinctive crunch of the cup displacing the dust. 

What now? Take as a deep a breath as you can without setting off into a coughing fit and reach for the duster. And at this point, here is my top tip following a dust storm: the temptation is to give everything a good clean and wash with water. Mistake. All that fine dust then turns to mud, which streaks and smears. Dry dust, then wash with water. 

Then watch the dust resettle and carry on with your day.

At the end of the day, the clean up begins...

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