June 3, 2008

The Winter of My Discontent

It is getting to be winter in the southern hemisphere and I’m about to write something I never thought I would, after moving from Alaska to South Africa: I’m cold! My indoor thermometer says it is 57˚F/14˚C in my rondavel right now. It puts in perspective the disagreements I’ve had with roommates past about whether to set the thermostat at 65 or 70. I have not yet seen anywhere in South Africa any sort of central heating system; everyone makes do with space heaters. I don’t use one of those because it takes so long to heat up my rondavel it is barely worth it and I shudder to think how much energy they must use.

The upshot is that here I am much more in tune with the weather and the rhythm of the day than I ever have been before, even in Alaska where weather determined whether we would get mail or groceries from the planes. When I wake up and forsake my pile of blankets, it is so cold and I skip across the floor and bundle up in lots of layers just to eat breakfast. But as the sun rises a bit higher (and it is almost always sunny now as we are into the dry season), it becomes warmer and during the work day it is quite comfortably warm. (After a summer’s worth of complaints about the heat, Jenny is now enduring a winter’s worth of complaints about the morning and evening cold.) But as the sun ducks behind the mountains, it quite quickly gets cold before getting quite chilly at night. Since the sun is up for less and less time each day (sunrise is about 7 o’clock and sunset around 5:45), that means less and less heat. Sometimes it seems like the only place I am truly warm during the day is in my bed when I wake up or in the shower - neither are places where great mission work is done.

The weather is affecting my daily lifestyle in myriad minor ways. To wit:

  • I realized on Sunday I had to hurry home from church so I could get in some quality hammock time before it got too cool. Even then I was uncomfortably cold in shorts and bare feet and if you can’t lay in a hammock in shorts and bare feet, what’s the point? (The tough life of a missionary, I know…) And while we’re on it, what’s the point of cold without snow?
  • I am changing my clothes all the time it seems, first into shorts for the work day than into pants for the evening and always seem to be putting on and taking off shirts to keep warm.
  • I sleep with socks on all the time after never once sleeping with socks in Alaska. But I had 18-inch thick walls in Nome.
  • The car takes forever to warm up when it is first started and sometimes even in the afternoon when I leave Itipini. I must be quite a sight when I am in a hurry and try to make the car move, only to have it shudder and stall and stall and stall again while I try to get it going.
Of course, as the hammock comment indicates, I am perhaps still finding it a bit warm. There have been several times when I’ve seen people walk past in scarves and gloves and realized I was only wearing shorts and a t-shirt. It is remarkable just how bundled up people get here. I never thought I’d see ruffs on hoods in South Africa. I associate those only with Alaska.
The other thing about the changing of the seasons is that it has dramatically affected what is available in the grocery store. I had grown accustomed to cheap watermelon on the shelves but that is now gone replaced by incredibly cheap oranges. I can buy a 7-kilogram bag of oranges for $1.50 and they are all perfect for juicing.

In all of this, I am trying to keep in mind just what it would be like to be experiencing this weather in Itipini, where the tin walls surely don’t keep much heat in and the wind and cold comes in through all the holes. Blankets have been in high demand lately. It rained today (so much for that dry season) and I amazed when I went in a shack just how many pots, pans, tubs, and assorted other devices they had had to muster to catch rain coming through all the holes, including over the bed where the sick patient I was seeing was resting.

Ultimately, I have to keep reminding myself, it is a gift to live for a while with less distance between me and nature. Most people all over the world do not have the benefit of the protective cocoon of furnaces, worldwide fruit and vegetable shipments, and so forth we’ve created for ourselves in the rich world. It’s giving me a new appreciation for the rhythm of Creation.


Anonymous said...

Conditions at Kotzebue are cold too, it's all relative.
Well said Jesse, I enjoy your writings.

2008.06.06 0053 UTC
Wind from the WNW (290 degrees) at 20 MPH (17 KT)
Visibility 10 mile(s)
Sky conditions overcast
Temperature 39.0 F (3.9 C)
Dew Point 35.1 F (1.7 C)
Relative Humidity 85%