Khamsin Days

The Khamsin
Image: Duggout Doggerels

"The first spring morning in Egypt makes its presence felt by a dryness of the nose and mouth and a prickly sensation of the skin when one awakes. One looks out from the window, or through the tent-flap if one is unlucky enough to be out on patrol, and sees that there is a greyish-yellow haze over the horizon and that the rising sun instead of being a blazing orb of gold looks rather like a cake of yellow soap at the bottom of a basin of dirty water. There is no breeze, not even the customary faint cold air that comes in from the high desert at dawn, but every now and again one will notice faint scurries of lifted sand and tiny dust devils writhing and dancing among the scrub. Then comes little puffs of hot wind that scorch and these grow stronger and more regular until at eight o'clock the wind is in full blast—a roaring, burning, sand-laden gale from the south, and one knows that the Egyptian spring has arrived!

The thermometer goes steadily upwards until by midday it may be anything from 102° to 112°, and all the while the gale roars along carrying with it not only the dust and sand of the desert, but the powdered clay from the wadi-beds, and the dried filth from the villages and camel-lines. The doors and windows are closed and shuttered and every precaution taken to keep within the house the cool, clean air of the night before, but the south wind of Egypt will penetrate into and drive out anything. Gradually the temperature within the house rises, the air becomes thicker and staler, and a film of yellow dust collects on the furniture, until by evening everything within the room is a uniform dun colour.

After sunset the wind will drop and a ghastly breathless night will follow during whech one's pillow-case will feel as if it had come straight from the iron of the muckwagi (?), and the sheets will be harsh and gritty. One awakes to another day which will be precisely the same as its predecessor except that the thermometer will be two degrees higher and the wind stronger and more dust-laden, whilst the third day will be even worse. Just before sunset on this the last day, the wind will show a tendency to follow the sun and will work slowly round to south-west. Then suddenly with a bang it flies into its accustomed quarter, the north-west, and after this it all depends how far one is from the Mediterranean before one experiences that delightful sense of coolness and humidity that comes with a wind from the sea. Life during these horrible three days of scorching heat is a burden, but it would be more or less bearable if one did not think of lines such as 'From a lone sheiling on a misty island' and others that breathe of the softness and moisture of spring at home.

This is the normal herald of spring in Egypt—a burning Khamsin wind from the south bringing with it all the stored heat of Central Arabia and the southern Sahara."

Desert and Delta, CS Jarvis