Archives For weather

Lessons in Perspective 4

October 2, 2012 — 1 Comment

I hate bwild-rosehips-autumneing cold. And being cursed blessed with really low blood pressure, it happens easily. So with fall beginning to throw its colors around and the first chilly rains coming on stage — of course my furnace wouldn’t work after its summer break. My feet were so cold sitting in my office this weekend, even with my little space heater turned on.

It never got above 56 degrees outside on Sunday (that’s 13 for the Celsius crowd)… and my house didn’t get above 63 (17C). I was relieved when the furnace guy arrived and fixed the problem, so I could just take the chill out with the thermostat set to 68. (Still too cool for my taste, but I’m not made of money!)

Now I know these conditions weren’t that cold. Still, I wasn’t happy. But as I grumbled about the lack of warmth and felt a bit uncomfortable, I thought about Mtuseni — who has no heat whatsoever in his house. Winters in the rural fields outside Johannesburg can get pretty cold; he’s told me of nights below freezing. And days in the 40s. And yet when he’s home there is no escape from that cold — being indoors is virtually the same as being outside. I can’t imagine it.

I tease Mtuseni when he gripes about the cold, mainly to take his mind off it. But he knows I’m sympathetic. I’ll pick up some more sweaters and a set of flannel sheets for him before my next visit. For now, he’s already griping about spring heat in the 70s. (That’s my boy!)

Being in different hemispheres with opposite seasons, it’s can be hard for us to empathize with each other’s weather experience. But this winter when my feet are chilly and I crank the space heater or kick up the thermostat to a luxurious, devil-may-care 69 or 70… I’ll remember that when it’s winter in South Africa, Mtuseni and his family don’t have that option. And that’s cold.


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Seasons Turn

July 15, 2012 — 3 Comments

It’s hot here in the Northeast, actually across much of the country. I’m locked in my office working to finish the Long-Distance Dad book proposal. It’s over 90 outside, but I’m comfortable with the A/C cranked. I was thinking about how hot it was in Johannesburg when I visited in January — and how Mtuseni not only doesn’t have air conditioning, he doesn’t even have electricity for a fan. His mother’s windowless brick shack must be like a mini-oven on summer nights. Mtuseni is now in the “annex” that he built with his brother. It’s made of gypsum wallboard or something, just panels haphazardly nailed together into walls, the dirt floor covered with blankets. I’m certain that it must be a bit cooler than the shack in summer.

South Africa-settlement-shack-JohannesburgExcept that it’s not summer in South Africa; it’s the middle of winter. Last night Mtuseni’s MXit status line said “cant feel my legs, the Cold has completely paralysed me.” I laughed. As a writer myself, his ability to paint evocative word pictures is one of the things I most love about him. And he does have a flair for drama. He’s been complaining about being cold for months, well before winter set in. It’s not like he has any fat on his bones to keep him warm. When we were in Cape Town during the Southern Hemisphere summer, he slept in long-legged, long-sleeved pajamas, complaining about the barely-there air conditioning. We fought like an old couple over the thermostat setting.

I checked the weather online yesterday and, indeed, the overnight forecast for Joburg was 34 degrees. But the city gets the urban heat island effect. Mtuseni has often said that his area 15 miles from downtown gets much colder. So it is likely well below freezing in his community — and the forecast shows those conditions for the next several nights. Mtuseni told me that the gas-powered fridge in his mom’s shack throws a little warmth, perhaps from the compressor. But now that he’s in the ramshackle annex, he is essentially sleeping outside with walls. He only has one heavy blanket and thin cotton sheets.

As I dial the thermostat to ensure my own temperature-controlled comfort while working on this book, I hope that one day I’ll be able to buy flannel sheets and warm blankets for the whole family. Perhaps even sleeping bags. Someday, maybe I’ll explore a more comprehensive solution such as solar panels for all the community shacks — to power a cooling fan on hot January nights, and maybe a little extra warmth in the bitter-cold South African July.


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