Uzoma returned home from a hard day’s work, sauntered to his front door, slotted in his key, turned it, and attempted to open the metal door. It did not open.

“What could be wrong? Am I in the wrong place?” he wondered. Satisfied he was in front of his home, and that the key he inserted in the key hole actually turned, he pushed the door again to open, no way. He heaved it, gripping the handle and raising the door frame lightly above the floor to open it. Still it did not open.

What has gone wrong with this door that it refuses to open?” he blurted out in frustration, to no one in particular.

“There is nothing wrong with your door,” a voice said behind him. Uzoma turned to behold his neighbour, Emeka smiling at him. Obviously, he had been watching Uzoma struggling to open his door

“The problem is not your door?” Emeka continued, on seeing Uzoma’s puzzled expression. “It is the harmattan.”

“What has the harmattan, a dusty wind, got to do with my door,” Uzoma queried.

“Plenty,” Emeka replied, “plenty of alterations to lives and property. The reach of the harmmatan wind is almost endless. It affects everybody, everything, altering lifestyles and the shape of objects, including home fittings and furniture.”


“In your case,” Emeka continued, “this cold, dry wind has contracted some of the components of your key lock, and the hinges of your door. The contraction in turn, has altered the alignment of your door on its frame making it to jam the floor. That is why it cannot open.”

“I see,” said Emeka in bewilderment. “So this harmattan even affects metal objects. I thought it only affects human beings causing dryness of the skin, mouth and throat, and cracking of the lips. How come it also affects metals?”

“It does,” Emeka said. Nobody, place, or thing is spared the harsh effects of the harmattan. You just have to be prepared for his visit to minimise the impact. Please go and get a carpenter or welder to help you open your door, else you will sleep outside. If you do that, you can be sure the harmattan will penetrate your lungs and send you to the hospital tomorrow morning.”

“I will do as you say,” said Uzoma as he left to find help.

Difficulty in opening a door is just one the many domestic effects of the harmattan, a chilly, dry wind that blows across sub-Saharan Africa, January-February,  affecting persons, places and objects. You just have to find a way to cope Mr. Harmattan. He is an unusual visitor.

The signs of the harmattan are many: Chills, cold, dust which hangs as a haze in the air, dryness, chesty coughs, sore throats, dry skins, cracked lips, layers of dust covering household furniture and domestic appliances. The   number of patients going to hospitals and clinics to complain of respiratory problems also rises during this period. That is Mr Harmattan for you.

When you breathe during the harmattan, the dusty wind causes dryness of the throat and bronchial problems. It is the period to cover children properly, even adults, with cardigans; else you take a bed in the hospital.

When Mr. Harmattan comes, sales of cough syrups soar. Go to busy bus stops inLagos,Nigeria, you will see youths hawking sweet menthols and throat lozenges chanting, “Buy your (brand of sweet); no more coughs, no more catarrh.

The harmattan also affects the body. It is also a period when sale of petroleum jellies for dry skins also go up, while ladies apply heavier doses of cosmetics on their bodies to cushion its harsh effects.

The harmattan  throws up other challenges. You have to cope with layers of dust that settle on home furniture, beds and beddings, cooking utensils, and other household consumer durables. The most vulnerable items are television sets and electronic gadgets such as CD and DVD players. It is either you cover them up properly with table cloths or you wipe the dust constantly. Plenty of work. The clothes in your wardrobe are not spared either. Even if the wardrobe is securely locked, the harmattan wind penetrates depositing dust on fine linen and other expensive fabrics. This translates into more spending on commercial laundry; else your fabrics will be damaged.

The harmattan period is the time to secure your clothes. Any fabric exposed to the dusty wind may not regain its original strength and texture. It is a period when dry cleaning and laundry services enjoy a boom in business. Also caregivers face more challenges as they provide domestic and paediatric care.

The highways are not spared. If you walk along a road that is not tarred  during the harmattan, and a car zooms past; oh dear, the hail of dust that trails the car will envelope you making you to choke and cough. Driving early mornings during the harmattan is risky because of the haze of dust hanging in the air.

This haze creates problems for the aviation industry. It causes low visibility making landing and take-off, of aircraft, difficult for pilots at the airports. If you go the airports inNigeriaduring the harmattan period, you will see frustrated and stranded passengers held back by cancelled or delayed flights. The harmattan is an aviation nightmare.

“Thou art dust, and unto dust, thou shall return,” appears to the message of Mr. Harmattan whenever he comes. So, is he a friend or foe?  How do you cope with him?  Much depends on how hospitable and how prepared you are for his visit. You just have to manage him with wisdom because this visitor changes the weather and affects your health too. Take this advice from health and other professionals:

“Just be prepared for his coming and make adjustments. Find a way to accommodate him and be hospitable to minimise the trauma. Wear cardigans and thick clothes. Cover your children properly especially at night; drink plenty of water, avoid cold drinks, spend more time indoors, reduce  air travel, keep all household utensils dust proof, and clean up the home frequently to check the inhaling of dust.

“Make Mr. Harmattan very comfortable when he comes. And when he departs, bid him farewell, and begin to prepare for his visit next year.”


Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as, and He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at

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