I grew up in the deep South and I still vividly remember the violent thunderstorms that used to roll through our area on a regular basis during the summer. First, the air would grow heavy, the sky a dark gray that got darker with each passing minute. The thunder was loud even though the storm was still miles away. Then there would be a calm...an eerie moment or two of stillness that signaled that something ominous was coming. Finally the rain would fall...just a few drops at first...large splats that would lull you into a fall sense of "this storm is passing over". Then the torrential downpour would begin, soaking you to the bones in a matter of minutes if you were silly enough not to have looked for cover. I can still remember sitting on our enclosed porch or in the living room looking out the picture windows and watching the sheets of rain fall. The world outside the windows turned a light gray the rain was so hard.
After a few minutes it would all be over. The ground would be wet and there would be puddles to run around in. But the clouds would clear and the sun would come out, shining down on the puddles and making everything shiny. Off in the distance I could still hear the thunder, making its way noisily across the area and trapping others inside of their homes for a few minutes.
Years later when I moved Chicago and then Minneapolis I experienced the same sort of phenomenon except with snow. We always knew when it was coming. I could track the storm on The Weather Channel as it made its way closer and closer to my house. The sky would turn a light gray color and the world would become still, as if everyone (including the animals) were just sitting...and waiting for that first snowflake to appear. Just like the rain the flakes would fall softly, almost romantically. Unlike the rain, once it started it lasted for hours, sometimes days, until my back porch was a wall of snow.
In Iraq we experience something akin to these events...but with sand. Since our arrival here a month ago we have had several dust storms. There seems to be a pattern...it's windy for several hours but clear. Then there is a lull in the wind and it's almost calm and peaceful. Then the sand slowly starts creeping into the atmosphere. You don't really notice it at first until you lick your lips and you taste the sand, or you blink your eyes several times to clear them. Then you notice the haze around the lights and that the world outside your window has turned a bright orange. Yesterday was one of the worst sandstorms since our arrival. The Al Faw Palace is visible on clear days but yesterday we couldn't see it. In fact, we couldn't see the lake just across the street from us! I went to bed last night with the dust so thick it was making my sinuses hurt. I turned on the fan in my room to move the heavy air around. (At this point I don't even bother to clean up the sand or keep it out of my trailer...it's just impossible to do so.) I woke up at 3 a.m. and had to go to the bathroom. I opened my trailer door and it was pouring rain! Not the "summer in the South" rainfall, but a fairly decent rain. It was nice to get up the next morning and see that the air was clear from the rain but my happiness was shot down a while later when I tried to drive my pickup truck to the medical clinic. See, the sand here is fine, not beach sand, more like powdered sugar. With the rainfall that sand turns into a thick slurry that sticks to everything. I drove down one road sideways and I was certain I was going to get stuck! And forget keeping your boots clean. Once you step into the mud you're up to your ankles. And stepping out doesn't help because you bring lots of mud and rocks out as well.
It was a lot like being back in Bosnia! Except we didn't have boot washes at the entrance to every building.