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Monday, January 24, 2011

Living in Cairo: Dust

Once when I was at a friend's house, I saw a plaque on her wall.  'You are in the world's biggest sandbox,' it read, 'to dust or not to dust is up to you.'  When I look out my window, I see green everywhere and I often forget that the Nile Valley is a thin ribbon of life sandwiched by endless desert.  Across that desert often blows wind, and that wind always brings dust.

When I went to my parents' house this summer and my mother told me that, having no children home to sew chaos and destruction, she only cleaned some rooms once a month, I was shocked.  What about the dust?  Surely after a month, the floors would be coated, not to mention the mouldings, picture frames, lamps, tables, and furniture.  Then I remembered that North Carolina is not in the Sahara.

Rere comes twice a week, and twice a week she sweeps and mops and vacuums all of our 2500-plus square feet of flooring.  By the time she comes again, however, our feet are brown from the dust coating the floor.  On the days at the end of summer when a cool breeze finally comes and I open the windows, the dust can be seen spraying out from around the window to any surface nearby.  I once left French Cooking by an open window for half an hour and had to wipe off the open pages before putting it away.

In the outer courtyard of the Alabaster Mosque stands a very ornate clock, completely out of place.  The clock was a gift from the French in the mid-nineteenth century.  A few weeks after the clock's installation, the works froze.  When the clock case was opened, fine dust was found throughout.  The dust was cleaned and the clock put back in order.  A few weeks later, the same happened again.  This was repeated a few more times until the clock was given up, and now stands as a pretty ornament.

This dust coats every surface in Cairo, building up day after day until apartment buildings that were once white turn dusty brown and green foliage becomes muted.  Cairo is a desert, and so the dust has nothing to wash it away.

Until it rains.  Last week those rains came.  But the funny thing about rain here is that it never lasts long.  Most rain is a passing, chancy thing lasting thirty seconds.  Last week we had several very long spurts that lasted into five minutes.  We even got hail.  The girls were very puzzled.

After the rain, I looked out my windows to a fresh, green world.  I smelled clean(er) air, and the trees glowed.  Then I looked at my window.  The rain hadn't lasted quite long enough.  Dirty before, they were now caked with all of the dust the rain had washed off the walls.  Maybe I'll get them cleaned before we leave.  Maybe not.


kelley said...

Living in Rexburg, Idaho is surprisingly similar. Though not nearly as exotic, I'm sure. I spent my first two months of college coughing.

UnkaDave said...

So, the French gave them a clock? This was, I guess, a while after Napoleon had 'conquered' the place, had some battles around the pyramids, shot off the nose of the Sphinx (OK, that one was apocryphal), then hightailed it northward and conquered Russia for, like, five weeks or so.
I say build a big wall along the border to keep the dust out, or illegal immigrants or whatever.

PaulaJean said...

Oh, the dust. Isn't that the English developed khaki colored clothes, to disguise the dust?

PaulaJean said...

Oh, the dust. Isn't that why the English came up with khaki cloth? To disguise the dust?