Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dust and Mud

One thing have as yet been unable to figure out about Afghanistan (one among many things) is the atmospheric physics of this place. When it's warm and dry, the dust* is choking and pervasive, and when it rains that same dust turns to cloying, suffocating mud.

*Afghani dust is unlike any dust I have ever encountered. It's not the yellow cake of the Middle East, more wind-blown sand than dust, and it's not the gritty, gravelly dust of the American Southwest.** It's not the stinging, pulverized rock of North Africa, like invisible spirits are throwing tiny fistfulls of gravel in your face. And it's not the white, pulverized limestone of certain Mediterranean islands that coats everything like flour.*** Afghani dust (or khaak-baad in Dari) is a sui generis element, distinct in both form and function from any other type. Geologists should come here just to study the dust.
**The dust of the American Southwest, in my limited experience, is more akin to flying dirt. Admittedly, "my limited experience" consists of having to consume a slice of wedding cake that was positively black with the stuff during a particularly ill-advised and windswept outdoor Western-themed wedding in Arizona.
***And yes I know that paragraph makes me sound like quite the world-traveler, but I can assure you that is not the case. Those four examples constitute the all-too-short and near-comprehensive list of all the interesting places I have ever been. Well, not counting Arizona obviously. Arizona is not all that interesting.

The dichotomy between dust and mud here is perennial and all encompassing. No corner of this country (at least not one I've found thus far) is immune to the twin effects of these two elements, which are really no more than the solid and semi-liquid form of each other. Sort of the yin and yang of the dirt family.

But the thing I can't figure out is the behavior of the crucial element in the dust/mud equation, namely water. Specifically, it never seems to evaporate. It must, or else there wouldn't so much dust in the summer months. And any quick survey will show that, despite Afghan claims to the contrary, this is not a country well-endowed with water resources.* It is largely an arid, dessicated place.

*Afghans living in certain areas will proudly point at their pathetic little mountain streams barely scraping out a channel in the rocks and extol the virtues of "their river" and the bountiful harvest it will bring. Obviously, they have never seen the Mississippi River valley or the rich, black soil of the American Midwest. If you took an Afghan farmer from Helmand to Illinois to see the farms there, he'd probably shit himself, praise Allah and die.

Nevertheless, water seems to evaporate only extremely reluctantly, and over time-spans measured in days for even the smallest puddles. Simple condensation in the bathroom will take the whole day to disappear, and even then leave the bathroom floor slick and wet.*

*I know, 'cause I fall down a lot. And not always because of the whisky.

With so little moisture in the atmosphere, one would think that water would evaporate nearly immediately, sucked greedily into the air to redistribute it's value somewhere else. But no, mostly it just sits in pools in my bathroom, puddles on the kitchen counter, small lakes and trenches in the street. Waiting for an unwary victim to slip, or be splashed with the foul slop that lurks near the curb. If one could gather all that useless, standing water and dump it somewhere, maybe Afghanistan could actually attain that fabled agricultural excellence the locals are always claiming is their birthright.

Yeah, I'm a little obsessive about the water (and the dust, and the mud). Not an healthy obsession, I realize, but if you knew what was in the water here you'd be worried about it too.


mud poisoned said...

On the interior floors it may have to do with a lack of ventilation that allows the water vapors to remain trapped in the room where they condense on the coolest surface which is most likely the floor.

As for outside, I haven't got a clue.

PaladinSix said...

Christ! Even I didn't put that much thought into it and, as noted, I'm obsessed with it. Thinking of switching careers from Architect to Hydrodynamics Engineer?