Sunlight in Djibouti in August is hazy-golden, pretending, half-ass, to fight its way through a mosquito net-like covering of dust blown in by the hot dry winds of the khamsiin. Blue sky is blurred and the entire city is misted with dust, the world turns the color of Golden Grahams. The air is so dry our fingers and lips crack, imagine putting your head into an oven set at 150 degrees, throw a bucket of talcum powder into the air, turn on your hairdryer and blow it on your face. Now you are in Djibouti in August.
This is the season of fresh watermelon juice, frozen homemade pudding pops, and long, lazy mornings in bed. Children play football in the street and cars drive slow. Generators rumble low, like Minnesota lawnmowers and people water the dirt to keep down dust, like Minnesotans water the cut grass. Cartoons and Littlest Pet Shop toys and billowing plastic bags tied to the end of sticks like kites take the place of homework and kids leave sweaty palm streaks on car windows, moist circles where they lean their foreheads against the glass.
The city is quiet, the days heave. The library closes for July and August. Water and electricity cuts increase. Bunches of bananas hang over empty tables at produce stands. Then the bananas are gone and the vendors drape burlap sacks over the tables until September. Parks open only after dark. There are no empty parking spots at the airport, few available tickets out of Djibouti. Rows of empty seats on airplanes coming to Djibouti.
People don’t talk about the heat, what is the point? They talk about their vacations, their xaggag-bax, their summer-escape. People who leave, leave. People who stay talk about where they will go next year, where they went last year, where they dream of going. Children are sent to grandparents in Somalia, cousins visit cousins in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, the wealthy have relatives with money and visas for Europe.
Men lounge on scraps of cardboard and mats made from dried grasses woven in colorful patterns. They listen to the radio and play shaax, a game with stones and lines drawn in the dirt. Women sit in the shade of their kitchens and boil rice or pasta or beans, turn on the television, tell stories. People greet one another with cheek kisses, hand-shakes, and apologize for the sweat-smear and the damp hands. There are many births, and few conceptions, in Djibouti during the summer.
Goats hide in the shade under Ethiopian lorries. Our bunny, Snowball, digs beneath her straw, rests her front paws in a plate of water, spreads her body flat as possible, and pants until evening. Cats cower until dusk and ants stream from cracks in the sink, moving to higher, cooler ground. They will stream back in the winter.
Heat presses up from the ground. The moon shines clear, bright at night when the wind dies down and the dust rests. During the day the sun struggles, simmering and obscured, wearied from the mere effort of being sun, of forcing light through the blanket shrouding the city. But sun cannot stop being itself.
Though the desert sands swirl, though the wind bluster. Though there is no rain for the earth and no bud of living green things. Though the dust blanket hangs thick and smothering. Though people flee the heat and animals slink into shade, yet the sun will shine, the sun will yet praise Him.
And in that, I find my strength. The sun can do nothing but be sun. To produce light, the sun needs only to shine. Clear or obscured, welcomed or shunned, the sun shines.