Oasis Magazine Articles

A Crash Course in Egypt's Seasons

By Vibha Das-Singh



‘Khamasin’ was the word that stuck with me when my husband was describing the Egyptian climate a couple of years ago. At the time, we were having one of our many pre-departure discussions on all things Egyptian before our diplomatic posting to Cairo.

I remember voraciously Googling the word ‘Khamasin’. It was described as the dry, hot, and sandy local wind that blow from the south towards North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The word itself is derived from the Arabic word for “fifty”, as these dry, sand-filled windstorms often blow sporadically over the course of 50 days.

In Egypt, the khamasin usually arrive in April, but occasionally occur between March to May, carrying great quantities of sand and dust from the deserts at a speed up to 140 kilometers per hour, and a spike in temperatures up to 20C in two hours. I remember wondering to myself, “If this is what happens in spring, what exactly happens during summer time – it must be unbearable!”

Since that conversation, I have lived in Cairo for a year and half. It hasn’t been as unbearable as I initially thought. Coming from Canberra, Australia, I did miss experiencing and enjoying all the four seasons and the clean, crisp air but with time, I have gotten used to Egyptian weather. I experienced my first Khamasin last year, with its rapid sandstorms and really fine sand particles descending on my pristine washing, hanging outside on the veranda. In fact, the fine dust was everywhere; it’s as if the whole city was covered with a thin brown veil. It was a surreal and strange experience, like an apocalyptic event. No sunlight for days and sand particles filling the sky and every space – even in the nooks and corners of your ears and nostrils. I found it difficult to breathe, sneezing and coughing non-stop for days with no relief in sight.

“You hardly ever get any rain in Cairo,” my husband said. At the time, I thought this would be extremely interesting for someone like me, a Piscean, who just loves water. Surprisingly enough, I do miss the rainy season, but I have learnt to live without it too. Human beings are very adaptable creatures, you learn to adapt and survive under conditions you previously thought were not your cup of tea. Life goes on.

Spring time brings moderate temperatures with bright, sunny and cool days - despite some glimpses of heat, sand and hot wind. I have been bitten by few BIG Egyptian mosquitoes, but most of them die as the heat increases in June. Splashes of colors begin appearing on the trees and plants, especially orange, yellow, red, green and pink. I live in Maadi and was glad to discover that it is so green compared to many other suburbs of Cairo. It’s so refreshing to see that there are some avid gardeners around, despite the harsh and unfriendly climate. Against the backdrop of brown buildings, dusty skyline, tall pine trees and numerous satellite discs, springtime brings some color, joy and fragrance to Cairo. The nights are very pleasant and you can feel the cool gentle breeze, a huge thanks to the Nile. For this reason, felucca boat rides remain very popular during the months of spring. I have noticed that in Egypt people are nocturnal by nature, which makes them come out in hordes after the sunset. Going out is a family affair involving grandparents, in-laws, sons, daughters, and siblings enjoying extended family time together. Cairo becomes a lively and colorful place after the sunset; you feel an infectious vibe in the air of general happiness and laughter. Nile cruises run almost all year long and serve as a host for belly dancing, banging music and exotic Egyptian food.

Spring gives way to the dreaded months of summer – June, July and August. The onset of June is the start of summer and coincides with the last term of the school year. Everything slows down, the locals look lethargic and not in the mood to engage you in conversation. Cairo looks and feels empty. In my neighborhood, the streets and shops appear deserted and abandoned. The shopkeepers and taxi drivers look more introspective than usual. The days are long and dreary. The kids come back home from school looking all crimson, sweaty and irritable. The swimming pools offer a cool respite, but then your eyes still burn from the hot blazing sun. Your skin darkens a few shades and you feel dehydrated most of the Stores open really late and close in the early hours of the morning. You can see many people, especially men, enjoying shisha (the water pipe) and chatting the night away till the wee hours of the morning with their friends.

These last couple of years, Ramadan has begun in June. Colorful lamps, decorations and sweets begin popping up all over the shops and malls around Egypt. People start visiting each other and have delicious dinners together. The Ramadan traditions range from fawanees (the colorful lamps) to madfaa’ el iftar (the cannon blast symbolizing it is time to break the fast) to the mesaharaty (tradesmen who roam the streets before dawn selling food to fill up on before fasting). I find it to be a spiritual and a reflective time of the year.

Many people seek the cool comfort of Egypt’s beaches in the North Coast, Ein El Sokhna, Sharm-el-Sheikh or Hurghada. However, having bored kids at home on summer break and facing extremely hot temperatures outside will provide you with the perfect excuses to travel outside Egypt. Most expats go back home for a visit. A majority try to make the most of Egypt’s geographical proximity to Europe and book a holiday there. Some try different Mediterranean countries and many go global – heading to countries they’ve always wanted to visit.

Last year my family traveled back to India, my birthplace, just in time for monsoon season. Feeling the raindrops on our faces was like paradise. It was a heavenly feeling to witness and hear the incessant raindrops hitting on the window panes of my parents’ home. The grass was wet, the sky was pouring out waters with no end in sight and the earth smelt like a river bed. Coming from dry Cairo, we fell in love with the monsoons. After a six week holiday, we returned to find most of my potted plants dead due to the extreme heat, but my bowabs

(doormen) did manage to water my plants occasionally and a few survived.

This year we will be taking a holiday in Cyprus, then spending the rest of the summer here in Cairo as I want to experience all the elements this city has to offer – heat and cold, sand and dust, breeze and the stillness of Egyptian summer nights... Honestly, I am oddly looking forward to my Egyptian summer!





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