“Hoo-bey” – dust (Susu)
The Dust in Africa deserves its own religion. It billows when the wind blows and sticks like a second skin to children’s bare feet. It clings to chicken’s feathers, goat’s fur and lamb’s wool. When the sunlight slants in the window just right, you can see that the air is made up almost entirely of dust. Cars that aren’t washed daily are quickly reclaimed by it, laying thick as paint over tires, hood, and windows.
The shutters on my bedroom window don’t let the morning light in, but I know the sun has risen when I can hear the ladies sweeping outside. With their homemade brooms crafted out of stiff blades of dried grass tied together, they sweep the previous evening’s trash and yes, the dust, out of the house and out of the common area of the yards into small piles behind the outhouse. These piles will be burned when they grow too large, the smell of the plastic bags hovering in still evening air and entering everyone’s homes through open doors and windows.
When I stepped outside this afternoon, I saw one of the girls cupping the ever-present dust into her hands and mixing it with water to form a thick paste of mud in a bowl. When I asked what she was doing, she and her mother giggled at my ignorance. They were slapping mud up on the walls and ceiling of their home to repair holes in the walls. Built from a frame of bricks, the homes are apparently sealed with the abundance of the dust mixed with water – adobe!
Rainy season lasts from May to December, which means my trip perfectly straddles the dry season. The dirt here is a shade of red reminiscent of pictures I’ve seen of Utah or Arizona. The red outweighs the green in landscapes unless you travel to the more verdant farmland, where rice grows under luscious palms that provide the red palm oil everybody favors in their cooking. When the rain falls, I’m told, you don’t want to leave your house unless you must. Stains on ceilings and cracks in tin roofs remind me that not all homes are waterproof. I’m not sorry that our visit coincides with the dry season – the time of the hube.