15-16 January 2010
Harmattan is a characteristic season of the Sahelian West Africa. Starting late in November and continuing up to late February, it is the most talked about season here in this part of the world.
Sahel is that part of the West Africa which lies between Sahara desert and the tropical forest regions near the coast. It is a hot and dry region with grassland and also sometimes called as West African Savannah. As the rainy season ends in the first half of November, cool temperatures start to take over the hot weather. This cooling is not part of the regular winter taking over the summer however. The region is not close enough to equator to be completely free from its unchanging hot climate and not far enough from it to have the sub tropical changing weather patterns. Vast expanse of Sahara desert to the north of the region, however, makes a large impact on the climate of the region.
As winter starts in Sahara, its sandy plains cool down and the wind blows from the desert to the southern Savannah region. It brings along with it cool air and dust from the desert. The wind and the season both are called as Harmattan. The Northern part of Ghana is highly influenced by Harmattan. Effects of Harmattan are these days seen all the way up to southern tropical forest region and the coast as well, as desertification process is rapidly spreading. It reaches its peak in the month of January.
Dryness in the air also dries the skin. People here apply Shea butter as a skin moisturizer. Shea butter is a vegetable oil extracted from nuts collected from Shea tree. It remains solid at the room temperature and hence called Shea butter. It has some skin rejuvenating properties and also used for hairs. The drying of ground takes place and as a result there is reduction in the number of mosquitoes. Many of the trees lose their leaves. The giant leafless baobab trees dominate the landscape. The same trees full of leaves are also dominant in the rainy season however.
The temperature becomes lower and coolness of the air is a pleasant relief from the hotness of the air in the summer and rainy season. There is no need to put on the fan but one needs to sleep under the thick blanket. Clothes, which one feels to take them off in the summer, are again badly needed in this season. The local people can sometimes be seen wearing sweaters throughout the day, which I find it bit too much. The day temperatures are also pleasantly warm so that there is no sweating at all and one can easily wander in the streets during mid day.
The dust is another part of the Harmattan season. The wind brings it all the way from Sahara and it is always in the air. It finds its way in the rooms regardless of ones efforts to keep it away by closing windows. Every day as the morning sun rays enter the room, one gets a view of fresh layer of dust on the floor, tables and every flat surface on which light falls. The mornings are almost always foggy and it remains like that throughout the day sometimes. The fog is of course due to the suspended dust particles in the air. The outdoor day light photographs captured are almost always hazy. On some of the days because of the winds and the dust, the visibility is less than 500 m and vehicles have to put their lights on during the day as well.
The season is not actually as bad as one may feel after reading it, however. That is Harmattan.