Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The War on Dust

I live in a part of Jinotega (one of Nicaragua’s departments (like states)) that is known as “the dry zone”. And let me say that the dry season in the dry zone is, well, dry. Every day we have bright blue skies with nary a cloud in sight. It’s still chilly after the sun goes down, but once it pops up above the hills, the heat is immediately intense, starting at 7 in the morning.

Dry season is great for doing laundry, since it takes about 30 minutes for my clothes to go from soaking wet to bone dry. But where the hills were once a lush green, they are now brown. The cows and chickens have nothing to eat. Milk is scarce, so there’s no cheese and no baked goods either. My garden has shriveled into a ratty mess of sad-looking plants barely clinging to life under a shroud of dust.

The river has become a narrow trickle. The other day I saw a group of farmers using plastic cups to scoop out the silty dregs of what was once the town swimming hole, where during the rainy season the water was so deep I couldn’t stand. It is especially bad this year, people say, since Nicaragua is in the midst of a bad drought. During the second half of last year’s rainy season only four good rains fell, where people are accustomed to daily soakings for a straight month and a half.

To make matters worse, there is a road project on the highway I live on. A road crew is set to come through and pave (by hand, with cement tiles) around the end of the dry season. That will be helpful when it’s finished, but for now it just means that trucks come through constantly and kick up huge dust storms. I am fighting a personal war on dust and losing horribly. Everything in my house is covered, no matter how many times I wipe it down. If I leave for more than a day, you can practically measure the accumulation on my table and chairs with a ruler. I sweep out my house daily, have a huge sneeze fest, and then by the time what I’ve stirred up settles back down it’s like I never swept at all. When I shake out my sheets at night to look for scorpions, even my bed smells like dust.

The war on dust is like the war on terror or the war on drugs. It’s long and protracted and it cannot be won definitively. All I can do is hope for mud.

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