Saturday, January 17, 2009


Once it rains and the wind picks up, it is actually quite cold here. I know it is nothing compared to what Northern regions are experiencing at this moment, but in my defense, my colleague (who just came in from our New York Office) commented on how cold it is. Last night I was freezing my backside off, roaming from room to room in my villa trying to find a place to get warm. And when it gets cold here, it is usually wet as well - nothing worse than being damp and cold. Thanks to the oh-so-clever civil engineers and contractors there are puddles, if not lakes, all over the place after a rain, and it is very hard to avoid getting your shoes wet - and we all know that, once your feet are wet and cold, it is all downhill from there.

The other bad thing about here is that none of the houses (or any other buildings that I am aware of) are equipped with a heating system, so I am actually much colder in my home here than I would be in my house in the US with its lovely furnace in the basement. The central heating system is especially missed at shower time. Back home, I would turn the temperature up just enough to make it start blowing hot air, then I would rush into the bathroom and close the door so that it would stay toasty and warm during my shower. Here, alas, the bathroom is the coldest room in the house, thanks to the little fan hole in the shower, which lets in plenty of cold air as well as a steady stream of giant ants. And the water heater is woefully small as well. If I actually choose to wash my hair and shave my legs in the same shower time, chances are the hot water will run out before I am finished. On the upside, I am so cold that I get goosebumps on my legs which allows for an extra close and smooth shave.

The only people who seem blissfully unaware of the fact that the temperature here has dropped several degrees are the British. All through the winter months, you will still find them sunbathing on the beaches and sporting shorts, tank tops, and ripe sunburns in the malls.

Sometimes I wonder how I ever survived my years at University in the North Mid West of the United States. I was miserable then, and now I would probably die. Since I left home, I have once gone home in the winter. It was at Christmas time several years ago, and I spent 80% of my time huddled under a blanket on the sofa in my parents' sitting room, and the rest of the time perched on top of the heating vent. I had an old nightgown that my Mom made for me - which my sister named old glory because it very closely resembled the American flag (very sexy). This nightgown is made of soft cotton knit with a turtleneck and long sleeves and reaches to my feet. I discovered that when you stand on top of the heating vent while wearing it - it becomes your own personal little warm-air filled tent.

My parents live on the East Coast of the US, much further south than Illinois, where I went to University. In Illinois the first snow starts in November; whereas where I grew up, it normally doesn't start until January. My normal winter attire, when leaving the house during my University Years in the Mid West consisted of thick tights, on top of which I wore silk thermal long underwear. The second layer consisted of jeans, a turtleneck and wool sweater, and socks. The next layer was my hooded scarf, dark blue goose down stuffed jacket - hood pulled up, gloves and wool socks. The final touches consisted of another scarf which I used to cover all of my face except for my eyes, my waterproof hiking boots, and Mittens... and even with all of that I was still cold.

The U of I has a very big campus. I would set out from home looking like a giant blueberry, and shuffle over icy sidewalks as fast as that many layers allowed me, all the while marvelling at the
in-state students casually ambling by glove less, hat less and scarf less in their non insulated jackets. If one can get used to sub zero weather, I certainly never did, but they seemed to find it quite normal.

Once inside the overly warm class rooms, I had to quickly strip off the outermost layers and then, during the last 15 minutes of class, try to quietly put it all back on again, Some times this was quite a tricky thing to do while seated in one of those chairs with the small desk attached. I have no idea how larger sized students managed to sit in those things, because in my winter gear, I was literally jammed in between the back of the seat and the desk.

When the bell rang ending class, I was all set to, once again, quickly slip and slide my way to the other side of campus for my next class. The ice covered pathways were the most challenging part of winter life. Unlike where I grew up, the ice pretty much stayed on the sidewalks all winter, from the first snowfall to the spring thaw, and cutting over the grass wasn't much of an option either since that was buried under a foot or two of snow. A couple of times I slipped and fell flat on my back - but thanks to my 12 inches of padding covering me on all sides, I didn't even feel it.

I remember one especially cold week, when they were warning students not to stay out of doors for longer than 5 minutes, but if we had to then we were advised to keep moving at all times - especially our fingers and toes. If my giant blueberry get-up didn't already make me look strange, standing at the bus stop, waving my arms around and wiggling my fingers and stomping my feet (while wearing my blueberry costume) did. That week it was so cold that the moisture in your breath turned to ice and you could feel a prickling sensation in your nose and throat.

At the end of winter, when it was still much colder than I liked but starting ease up a bit (the same time of year when the instate students would start to break out their shorts), I was able to ditch the blueberry costume and wear a lighter waterproof jacket or my much more elegant long black wool overcoat. One Sunday morning, as I was riding the bus to church, wearing a long black dress black tights, black boots, and my black coat, with my beloved black hooded scarf wrapped around my head, an Arab family boarded the bus at the next stop. They looked at me, respectfully nodded, and said, As-salaam Aleikum.


Empress Anisa said...

great story... and yes, we're having in the single digits here- I'm sure that makes you feel nice and toasty now! LOL

Anonymous said...

Nice story! Enjoyed it! LOL!

Tell me about the cold weather and frost! I come form the Urals in Russia where winter temperature is usually around -15 C and sometimes goes down to around -40 C (-40 F).

Here in UAE I always complain about being cold in winter! I wear socks always and a sweater. And I love taking looooooooooong hot shower in winter, because the air in the bathroom is so cold it makes me want to stay under the hot water as long as possible (until the hot water finishes :)

desertmonsoon said...

Anisa, I know! my Mom told me it is especially cold this winter, they got snow around Thanksgiving time which NEVER happens... I am guessing you got the same or worse since you are North of where they are and the whole East Coast seems to get the same weather in varying degrees.

Asel, the temperatures you are describing sound like Illinois- I remember it being -10 to -20 F during the coldest months and with the wind chill factor it was at -50F - it was horrible. I remember being in Chicago - which was north of the U of I and even windier (The Windy City) around Christmas time and it was so painfully cold and I saw a beggar on the street and I wanted to cry because it made me so sad to imagine his life - I can't imagine being homeless in such weather.