Fine, red-brown dust covered every flat surface across Europe and the south of the UK just four weeks ago.
If it was ever needed, it gave the strongest physical
evidence that nature does not respect borders as well as telling our
eyes, noses and throats that continents can exchange things through
the air as easily as we can go on our holiday flights.
Apart from local
pollution and pollen, the major source of this all-encompasing powder
was North Africa's Sahara desert. Powerful wind storms there whipped
up the particles making them airborne well into the north where they
were brought down by light rain.
Personally, I like the idea that
someone living in Catalunya (or even London) can be affected by
natural forces from a desert that we have usually thought of as being
"a long way" to the south. (I'm often reminded how close it
really is by the Arabic traffic sign on the autopista near El
This desert, like the others I have visited in the USA and
Australia, is both enchanting and beguiling.
The apparent emptiness,
the sheer width of the open space, the calming shimmer of the sand,
the soft curves of the dunes, the barren beauty of the raw plains and
the friendly proximity of the stars in your face at night, and (if
you are lucky) all from the back of a placid, gentle-paced camel with
extra long eyelashes.
To me, the desert is infinitely more
preferable than trying to look at the irritatingly ceasless,
repetitive and ultimately moronic monotony of the ocean, which for
all it's supposed romance and admittedly great bounties, is to me
just something that makes me seasick.
But this recent
weather phenomenon, including the reporting of it, has another aspect
Many of us are at least subconsciously pleased that it has
come from outside where we live or have grown up. It is easy,
convenient, mentally lazy, to categorise something that has created a
minor health concern like asthma as a problem caused by an "oustide"
influence or created by an "external" source.
without even vaguely realising it, make a casual association with
other "African problems" like
immigration/refugees/hunger/starvation/poverty and this allows us to
wash our hands of any possible moral responsibility simply because it
was not "us" who made it so.
We can quietly form the idea
that it is those from outside our own homelands who bring in
trouble/disease/political extremism/desperation or even "false"
religion and this means that we have logically gone most of the way
to dismissing the needs of negros with "other continent"
And we have barely exercised a brain cell in the process.
Because of the luxury of viewing Africans as others, and not "one
of of us" we also set up a chain of thought (or is it more like
a lack of thought?) that links "their" difficulties as
somehow removed from "our" difficulties.
This permits a
kind of unconscious, indifferent racism. By creating the idea of "us"
we create the idea of "them." Even the word "foreign"
is objectionable to me.
A foreigner therefore, is an "outsider,"
Auslander in German or an extranjero (which has the
suggestion of someone being "extraneous," to an
English-language ear, meaning: " irrrelevant/not forming an
essential or vital part.)
So, weather can reach
out over frontiers. When any person does the same we should be
complelled to consider the Latin writer Terentius' words from around
160 BC. He stated that " I am a human being, so nothing human is
foreign to me."
[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, May 2014.]