By the time I met him, decades of flying among Liberian villages had taught Gene Levan a few things: never to overload his plane; always to make an initial pass before landing (in order to move soccer players and goats off the machete-mown airfields); and to do his own aircraft maintenance.
The dust that he washed off his airplane at the end of each flight varied according to the season and the winds: sometimes red, other times gray, pink, or yellow. During the dry season, red predominated. For a few months, the laterite soil of Liberia coated everything: so much so that one of the better-known books about the country is titled Red Dust On the Green Leaves. But if the red dust was local, other colors on the leading edge of the plane’s wings — particularly yellow and pink — came from the north, from the deserts.
When the Saharan air layer turns south and west, as it does from time to time, my thoughts turn east and north, to the deserts of Africa. Some curse the haze hovering over the Gulf of Mexico and Texas, bemoaning their irritated eyes and dust-covered cars. I bask in the diffuse, lemony light, and remember its remarkable source.
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