Haboob

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Village barber shop.

From Osian we continued northwesterly on our way to Jaisalmer. Occasionally we would stop for something to drink or a bathroom break. Whenever we did, I’d look around to see if there was anything interesting to take a picture of from my seat in the car. It was too hot to keep jumping out for photos.

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A camera-shy Pushker getting exfoliated from the grit blowing by during the haboob.

After a long stretch without seeing any town, village or anyplace serving food, we finally found a place describing itself as a “resort,” which had a restaurant. It had been recommended to Rafiq as being the place where all the tourist buses stopped. They may have stopped there only because there was no other choice. The food wasn’t good at all. As we were about to leave, a strong wind kicked up and suddenly the temperature dropped about ten degrees, from baking to almost comfortable. A haboob (Arabic word for huge dust storm) was blowing through, turning the sky beige.

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The haboob shrouded everything in a ghostly, gritty haze.

We took off and motored through the ghostly, gritty haze. The atmosphere in the car had quieted down. We had been laughing and singing the whole way, but now we were getting tired. We were still five or six hours away from Jaisalmer, where we would spend the night.

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We rolled through another nameless, trash strewn village, just a line of shops where people congregated out of boredom.

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A villager gazes at us with listless curiosity.

Madu pulled over suddenly and got out. We had a flat tire. Across the road there was a tire repair shop with a cluster of bored Muslim men sitting around. We pulled in over there.

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In soul crushing places like these where life is hard and there’s nothing to do, anything attracts attention. I was quietly observing the group of men who were gathered there. There were plenty of interesting faces, and I wanted to start taking pictures. I usually like to break the ice by talking to people first, but it’s not recommended that a strange woman strike up a conversation with village men. They take anything as a sexual overture. Even though I was much less at risk because I was with a group, and my three male friends were only steps away, it didn’t seem like a good idea to start chatting up these guys. Plus we were in a remote place, and I guessed there probably wasn’t a lot of English spoken here. I go with my gut. The only thing to do was to try to surreptitiously snap a few shots and hope like hell I didn’t offend anyone.

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This guy caught my interest, but he was looking away.

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This was exactly the shot I was hoping to get!

As soon as I snapped these shots, the men nearby hollered out to the man on the motorcycle in Arabic. Or it could have been Mewari, Punjabi or any of a dozen non-English languages spoken around here. I only knew it wasn’t Hindi. I also knew they were telling him I had taken his picture because they were pointing to me and my camera. A half second of suspense… but wait, they were smiling! I showed them the photo on my camera screen and instantly made 20 new friends!

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Now they were asking me to take their pictures.

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Always fun to take pictures of them taking a picture of me.

It didn’t occur to me until much later to wonder why they were so excited to get their pictures taken, like it was some novelty, when there were guys who lived there who had cameras on their phones. Maybe they thought they had a better chance of getting a copy from a “rich” foreigner. They’re probably right.

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Me and my village homies.

Twenty minutes later, with the tire repaired, I waved goodbye to my new home boys, and we continued on to Jaisalmer.

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5 thoughts on “Haboob

  1. You are very brave – a natural skin-exfoliating duststorm? I’d try it with goggles! Great photos as always. I always wondered about the significance of the henna-dyed men’s hair. I only ever saw older (and I think only Muslim) men with this. Any ideas?

  2. I have no facts on the hennaed hair, only observation: I’ve seen both men and women with hennaed hair. Some of them were Hindu. They were always older. Maybe it’s simply the least expensive, most easily locally obtainable way to cover the gray.

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