Tuesday, January 15, 2019

La Calima

Contrary to popular belief, living in the Canary Islands isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Well, maybe 98% of the time it is, but certainly not 100%. One of the few less-than-ideal situations that plagues the archipelago from time to time is none other than la calima: a hot and dusty wind blowing from the Sahara directly to your front door. Close your windows and don't even THINK about putting your laundry out to dry unless you want it to end up plastered in dust and/or in the Atlantic.

Where I live, calima is a relatively infrequent visitor that stops by once every month or two just to remind everyone just how close we are to Africa. Here in Valle Gran Rey, it's about 250 miles. But the easternmost point of Canarias is closer to Africa than Cuba is to Florida. While calima is just a colega to me, it's a true [en]amiga of my friends on the eastern islands.

For most canarios, calima is just a minor annoyance. But I always get a little worked up thinking about our first encounter. I was flying back to the islands after Fulbright orientation in Madrid. I was exhausted, and was really looking forward to resting and settling down in such a beautiful setting. As we neared Tenerife, I glued myself to the window... but all I saw was haze. Uh oh... I had read about calima before leaving the States and was relatively prepared, but wasn't expecting her to be on my welcoming committee. Upon deplaning, I noticed my nose stuffed up immediately. This didn't bother me much until I drifted off to sleep in my sweet friend Nelli's apartment, and woke up in a panic 40 minutes later because I couldn't breathe. I looked out the windows and saw the neighboring buildings cloaked in haze. I then proceeded to have the closest thing I've (thankfully) ever experienced to an asthma attack, which was most likely just an anxiety attack with a stuffed up nose. I called my mom and dad and frantically texted my brother and best friend, and eventually calmed down enough to sleep again. But the grudge was fully in place. 

Lately I've been trying to be more perceptive of colors. The past few days I've taken my journal along to watch the sunset, and attempt to put the flash-in-the-pan colors I see into words. One night I was writing about the glass blues and greens and pinks of backlit waves, and the next:

"Today everything is metallic and steely. Calima hides the vivid colors behind its dusty back, settling over the valley like a lethargic cat. I see mostly gray blues and blue grays, but directly in front me there's also a pearly almost-gold. It's like if you made beige shine. All the valley has this hue thanks to the haze. It sits atop the gunmetal of the waves like a glaze, dimpled by capillaries and interrupted by foam. The foam itself looks like white fabric that was accidentally put in the wash with a new pair of jeans; there's a subtle blue hue that just won't let go. The sun, meanwhile, hangs tired in the sky, ready for this blustery day-that-sort-of-wasn't to be done."

As I finish writing this post, calima has mostly blown away, and the bright blue sky is back. I'd love a cleansing rain to rinse off the thin layer of dust stuck to (literally) everything, but that's a pipe dream. For now, I'll just breathe freely and deeply.


I'm back on the island now and away from my family. But here's a beautiful personal update from my dad: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/bt3updates


  1. I wish a cleansing rain for you, too. But probably the best I can do is keep sending snow videos from Ohio to amaze your friends. Interesting exercise, to write about color! Thanks for keeping the blog going. You're a better soldier than I. xoxo mai

  2. Thank you for sharing your world, you have your Mom's gift of words.

  3. Phoebe, I also enjoy ed reading your description of the colors! Very 'illuminating' indeed:)

  4. Nice imagery. Very impressive, but why wouldn't it be?