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  • Writer's pictureLiz Totton

Cloudy with a Chance of Haboub

Haboub in Abu Dhabi

The “stormy” beach.

Yes, I have the sense of humor of a 9 year old. I’ll say it, I think the word “haboub” is funny. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. It turns out certain cab drivers like to say it too, and that made me twitter quietly in the back of the cab, but I’ll get to that.

So, I learned this weekend and yesterday that’s it’s not always sunny in Abu Dhabi, despite what I have written in the past: here and here! In fact, it’s sometimes cloudy with a chance of sand and sprinkle. Friday (our Saturday here in Abu Dhabi), a haboub (هَبوب‎ habūb “blasting/drafting”) pulled through. It looked just like a storm, but it was just a cloud of sand, and the normally blue sky turned a dingy, grayish tan—“cloudy looking.” I have to admit, it was very strange to see a gray sky.

The morning came in unusually gloomy. The city skyline was in sight as it is most mornings and evenings, but out-of-focus. The haze of day generally obscures the skyline, but it’s largely visible at dawn and dusk this time of year. I was surprised to look out early Friday morning and to not see it. An hour or so later, a tannish gray cloud wall formed at sea by the horizon and began to move quickly toward us. The wind belted, and you could feel a change in the atmospheric pressure. All of the sudden, we were in a wind storm like I had never seen before—it was really quite amazing because the wind whipped the sand up into a giant wave! This probably amazed no one else here. I am sure everyone else has been through many–they are apparently quite common, but it was my very first “haboub.”  Tee hee.

Haboub at Sea

There was another day full of wind and sand yesterday. I did not leave the apartment until school pick-up time. I got into my cab. The cab driver was unusually effusive—I like that kind a lot! He asked where I was from, and that always generates a lively discussion. Most of the chatty cab drivers LOVE America and all wonder why I would leave there to come here. I tell them that I like it here, and they all seem surprised. I told yesterday’s driver, Mohammed, that I liked it here, but I did not like today’s weather. He said emphatically, “I NO like haboub! How do you call “haboub” in America?” I snickered to myself in the backseat, because I am pathetic and should not find that as funny as I do–at least, I know it, right?! “Sandstorm. We call “haboub,” “sandstorm.’” He looked into his rear view mirror and said “sandstorm” several times, getting better with every determined repetition. He seemed very satisfied to learn the English word. I might have ruined some other immature mother’s good time with my teachings, but so be it. 

The weather forecast for today indicated more storms, so I may have more opportunities to giggle at this Arabic word. I couldn’t get a decent picture of the haboub from my balcony yesterday, but above is an amazing one from Reuters. My haboub looked nothing whatsoever like this, but I am sure there will be more. I am determined to bring you a good photo. The only images online I could find were from Phoenix. Who knew Phoenix had big “Haboubs”? Seriously, look up haboub–most of the images were from the Arizona and Texas! I guess the English language has no more fitting word for this type of a sand/dust storm?! Random linguistic thought of the day to mitigate my childish sense of humor. 

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