The Uyghurs in Kashgar are used to sandstorms. The city’s location in an oasis on the edge of a vast desert makes it a reality of life there. When the wind picks up far out to the north and east and arrives in Kashgar with a thump, Taklamakan sand squeezes through windows and scatters all over the homes of the city’s residents. As a young English language teacher at Kashgar Teachers College, sandstorms were as far as anyone could get from rain sodden England, where I grew up; however, in the time I had lived in the city, I got used to sweeping up small piles of sand in my apartment.
On one occasion, I woke in the morning to a particularly fierce sandstorm. I could hear the repeated slamming of unlocked doors and the whooshing sound made by the poplar trees when the wind surged through them. As I looked out of the window, the only sign of human life was the Kyrgyz yoghurt seller battling to stay upright as she was buffeted by strong blasts of air racing between the apartment blocks that housed the college’s staff. As the morning went on, and I prepared for my afternoon class, the wind never relented. The natural light became poorer and poorer to the extent that I had to put on a lamp to be able to see what I was doing.