Wherever we might live, and in whatever circumstances, there are always trials and challenges. Even when our lives seem wonderful when seen from outside, we on the inside know the difficulties and the tests. When hearing about a tornado approaching the Florida coast, I tremble at the thought of what those people have to bear. Or I read about the collapse of a glacier in Switzerland. That sounds terrible. Here, when we have snow, it’s usually over in about three or four days. But we have something else. And the older I get, the more difficult it is for me to endure that type of weather. We call it hamsin.
Usually, it’s a hot eastern or south eastern wind that gathers dust over the desert in Africa, and blows it in our direction, filling our skies with dirty brown air that makes it hard to breathe and leaves houses, cars, and park benches covered with dust until it rains. When it happens in summer, it often doesn’t even rain afterwards, and we have to wash everything ourselves. Hamsin means 50 in Arabic, and it’s said that somewhere… doesn’t seem like it would be so in Jerusalem… but somewhere… there are 50 days like that a year. There’s an old folk tale I remember hearing many years ago. According to this story, in one of our neighboring Arab countries, if a man killed someone after a week of such weather, he wasn’t prosecuted. It was taken for granted that the weather had driven him out of his mind. Hamsin refers to the hot wind. In winter, when the wind is cold, it’s called a sharkiah, but it brings the same terrible air pollution.
We get warnings on the radio that the old, the very young, and people with heart or lung ailments should not go outside! When I was young and healthy, such announcements didn’t catch my attention. But now that I myself am suffering from a heart disease, I don’t even have to be warned. Just once or twice outside in that weather, and I knew it wasn’t worth the effort. It’s hard to breathe, and it wears you down very quickly. Some people become irritable, while others become unhappy just having a brown sky overhead.
We’ve had it this week, for a few days now. Started out hot, and then turned into a cold wind. The dust is still here in Jerusalem, because it hasn’t rained yet. In most of the country it’s already raining. That washes away the pollution. So we’re waiting for rain. I like to take a walk every day, but for most of this week, I haven’t even thought about it.
Just a few years back, I wouldn’t have stayed at home because of the weather. I had commitments, work, and people I’d scheduled to see. So I went out and took care of business. Even in the car, though, it was oppressive. I remember once, on a day like this, in a café, asking the waitress (whom I knew from previous visits) what sort of a day she was having. ‘What sort of a day?’ She asked me back, raising her eyebrows with comic despair. ‘What kind of day could it possibly be with all this dust?’ And the café itself was half empty.
I took the pictures in this post on that sort of a day in February of 2009. I was visiting my mother, and had some free time, because I’d arrived early after being invited for tea at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. So I walked around the neighborhood a bit, near where she lived. Strangely enough, though the weather was terrible, the photos bring back good memories. It was nice being able to visit my mother late in life. She lived to be 101 years old. And it was a pleasure watching my stubborn, fellow Jerusalemites doing their best to ignore the conditions of the day.
Nowadays, there is one place where you can escape the hamsin. Not the sort of place I visit often, but the shopping mall is unaffected. There, in a completely artificial environment, and constant air conditioning, one can walk around, go from one shop to the next, without really being bothered by such a primitive thing as weather. The sky is always a blue tinted high glass ceiling; the colors always pleasant. The lighting is easy on the eyes. I do visit once in a while, just to marvel at the work of man. It is an allegory of the city. But most of the time, I prefer to be in the city itself. And so, I’m waiting for the rain. On the radio, they said there was a storm coming. In fact, it’s already snowing again in northern Israel. And there are rumors it’ll soon be snowing here. I don’t know..