What’s the Weather?!

November 11, 2011

These past few days have had me thinking a lot about the weather here in Swaziland.  There has recently been a pretty spectacular increase in the temperature, and it has led to plummeting motivation, restless nights, and somewhat strange events surrounding our attempts to deal.

Moving to Africa (especially from Wisconsin) came with the expectation for drastic increase in our average temperature.  In fact, I remember a plea I made to the woman at Gap as I tried to return a sweater without a receipt.  “I am moving to Africa, I have no need for this, and have never worn it.”  Our first day in Swaziland (June 10) saw record low temperatures (below freezing) and I ended up wearing the few sweaters I did bring (including that one the Gap lady refused to accept) for the majority of training.  Feeling quite at home with highs in the 40s (F), I was shocked that my expectations for heat had not come to fruition.

Getting a little tired in the lack of variety, I was pleased to hear our principal complain of how unbearably cold it was at our training site and that the temperature at our school was much more comfortable.  For the last few months that has been the case… I would estimate daily temperatures to be about 80 degrees (F) and sunny.

About a week ago, it seemed like the ‘wet season’ had arrived and we were treated to an incredible electrical storm every night.  A few days passed with no storm and then the heat came.  With my Swazi counterparts saying temperatures had soared over 40 degrees (C) [which is about 104 F].  The worst part is that our concrete house absorbs heat all day long and, like a sleep saboteur, releases all of that heat inside once the sun goes down.

Our preparations for such an event included the creation and installation of a make-shift screen for our bedroom window (because once the sun goes down the masses of dive-bombing beetles and malaria-carrying mosquitos make themselves known).  A few nights ago, following the first real scorcher, we quickly realized that this was not adequate (the cooler night air simply does not enter the window for a number of reasons beyond our control).

I started the desperate attempts to fall asleep by bringing in a frozen bottle of water to bed with us.  While this was successful in cooling us off, it is pretty hard to fall asleep in a puddle—no matter how cold it is.

Then it was Rebecca’s turn—freeze the pillow cases.  It was nice, but the cool only lasted a few minutes before it was warmer than we were.

After making it through that night with very little sleep and both of us doing everything we could think of from trying the get the air circulating by swinging the door open and closed, and laying on our concrete floor—we were resolved to plan ahead.  The next afternoon, we cooked our dinner early with every window and door open; put the entire pillow in the freezer; and precisely angled the window to try and persuade the air to flow.

Everything seemed to be going well… that is… until the flow of air we were successful in creating slammed shut the door to the room that we were unable to enter for the first few weeks at site (because we couldn’t get the door open).  Realizing that that window was key to our successful airflow, we sprang into action.  I quickly searched for items long enough for me to reach the door from the open window—I settled on a broom.  As the sun had just set, and the faint hum of the insect swarms had begun, we knew it was just a matter of time before the room we call our bathroom became infested.  Armed with a broom and a headlamp, I ran outside and began trying to reach.  Rebecca and I had worked out a communication system and a plan for how this was going to work.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work—the broom wouldn’t reach.  When I got inside, my genius wife said… let’s just unscrew the handle.  It worked!  I removed and reinstalled the door handle and we were able to get inside just before the swarms descended.

Thinking ourselves pretty awesome, we high-fived and entered the bedroom…it was HOT!  Our plans had been successful in cooling the rest of the house, but for some reason our bedroom remained a sauna.  Unfortunately for us, a few minutes after closing up the windows this heat spread to the rest of the house.  Despite all of that effort, we were right back where we started.  Sweating more than ever before and zapped of all motivation and energy (while simultaneously unable to sleep).  What made it worse was that that night… it actually cooled off outside.  It was a beautiful night and even had a steady wind.  Our walls had absorbed so much heat that they were still warm to the touch and the placement of our windows and water tank prevented the winds from cooling the air inside our bedroom.

Pulling our last attempt out of the freezer we settled into bed with a frozen pillow between us.  ‘How nice’ we both said.  A few minutes later…the pillow became just another warm irritant in our quest to find salvation from the heat.  I wandered the house, exhausted every cool spot of concrete I could find, stuck my head in the freezer a few times, and had my worst night sleep since arriving in Swaziland.  Today dragged along, but we still have one more trick up our sleeve….

We have resolved that tomorrow… we catch the bus to town and buy a fan.  Now let’s just hope the power stays on when it gets hot….

-Oliver

P.S. Hope you are all enjoying the snow in Wisconsin

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2 thoughts on “What’s the Weather?!

  1. Ollie, this entire report sounds almost too funny to be true, however, I will try to keep your situation in mind when it gets cold here and I’m tempted to complain.

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