"we were in the sandstorm that hit us out of clear morning"
Sandstorm Over Egypt
Public DomainSandstorm Over Egypt - Credit: NASA

Sandstorms, or dust storms, are common in dry regions. They occur when sand or dust is lifted into the air and carried across great distances.

Sandstorms were especially dangerous to early explorers in arid regions as the build up of sand could bury an entire expedition, or erase tracks and landmarks.

In the novel Ondaatje quotes directly from Hassanein Bey's description of a sandstorm, in 'Through Kufra to Darfur' (1942).