Monday, April 19, 2010

You know it's Hot Season in Mali when...

Recently my friend, Sharon, in Bamako started a discussion thread on Facebook by posting as her status: “You know it’s hot season in Mali when…” I think you’ll find the responses enlightening:
…you don't need a towel, you air-dry in less than a minute.
…you take showers with your clothes on so you can have the illusion of cooling as your clothes dry.
…your ankles sweat.
…even the Malians say, “Boy, it’s hot.”
…you are showering your kids and they scream, "No, it's too hot. Turn on the cold water." You reply, "This IS the cold water!"
…you can bend candles into any fancy shape you want.
…you wear a wet towel as a shawl.
…you refer to a day where it doesn’t hit 115F as “cool.”
…your clothes feel like they've been freshly ironed when you put them on.
h/t Sharon Goertz

We often hear the question, “How do you stand that heat?” especially when people hear that we live in one of the three hottest cities in the world, only 50 miles from the edge of the Sahara, where the temperature-in-the-shade can top 125F/51C. We want to cry, “We DON’T stand it. We complain a lot. We leave for the whole month of May. We do crazy stuff (see above) and it still doesn’t help!”

Nevertheless, I thought you might be interested in hearing about some of our coping strategies.

WATERBEDS: When waterbeds became popular in the 70s and 80s, someone decided they were the solution to a missionary’s problems in hot climates. I remember people telling us we HAD to get one. After all, if you can get a good night’s sleep, it goes a long way toward helping one cope with the strains of the day (which is true). So we got one. How do you say ***raspberry***!?!

I have since become convinced that this waterbed promotion was a conspiracy by waterbed manufacturers to advance sales. All their soon-to-be-dissatisfied customers were moving overseas, so they had nothing to lose.

The problem is that water tries to equalize itself with the air temperature. For a large body of water, like an ocean, the difference remains significant, so you can still have a cool dip in hot weather. But a relatively small body of water, like a mattress, quickly approaches the ambient temperature. Even if the room cools off at night, the warm water is contained in a huge rubber “bottle” which releases heat slowly – a month or more after the end of hot season, but certainly not in a few hours!

We’ve heard funny stories about people trying to cool down their waterbeds. One family bought blocks of ice at the local ice house, siphoned out some of the hot water, and refilled it with the ice water. A time consuming, temporary, and ultimately futile effort at best. They had to choose either to H.ave a Life, or play with the waterbed.

We used to soak towels, and lay on top of them, with other wet towels on top of us, wearing as few clothes as possible, with fans pointing at us. This worked for about 20 minutes at a time before the towels dried out (our humidity is less than 20% most of the time, so the air just sucks up that water!), and it made the bedroom smell mildewy much of the time.

Ironically, in cool season (Dec.-Jan.), the water would become so chilly that we shivered and were in danger of hypothermia (which is why waterbeds are sold with heaters in the States – who knew we would need one here?).

Finally we bought an inch-thick foam mattress for the waterbed. On top of that, we place a sheet, then a bedspread, then another sheet. This makes the bed sleepable in all seasons but defeats the original purpose!

SHOWERS: Did you notice how many people in the responses at the beginning referred to showers? Don’t be surprised if you come to my house and I answer the door dripping wet – if it’s not sweat, then I’ve just taken a shower fully clothed. It’s even more effective if I can sit in front of a fan afterwards.

SLEEPING OUTSIDE: We might have avoided the waterbed fiasco altogether if we had investigated how the local people tolerate the heat. Quite simply, they move outside to sleep at night. It’s even better for those whose houses have a flat, concrete roof to sleep on.

We have a locally made bamboo bed frame on our back veranda, with a thick foam mattress, and a mosquito net suspended on wires above -- although in the very hottest time we don’t even need the net because it’s so dry there are no insects. When it’s really hot we also bring a fan outside and go to bed in wet clothes.

FANS, SWAMP COOLERS, AND AIR CONDITIONERS: We have lots of fans, but when it gets really hot they just blow hot air. However, they aren’t too bad if your clothes are wet.

A swamp cooler is an evaporative cooler or humidifier, common in the American southwest, that blows air through water. We have a portable one which is helpful at siesta time. Some of our friends have mega-units which cool big rooms or even the whole house, but we haven’t made such an investment yet.

We don’t have a/c either, but Jim dreams of eventually getting a split for the bedroom. We do have it in our car though, which is nice when it works.

SWIMMING: There’s a great swimming spot on the river about 10 miles out of town and we enjoy going out there, especially when our kids are home. Not far from there is a rocky area with swimming holes and waterfalls which stay quite cool even in hot season, and we love to explore there as well. During Spring Break we sat on a flat rock under a waterfall which was a fabulous experience.

For years we dreamed of having a pool in Kayes, and finally a big hotel installed one. That has been a great relief as well, although it potentially has the same problem as the waterbed. It’s a relatively small body of water which absorbs heat. Last year the pool got to 98F/36C in hot season! This year, however, they drained it to make repairs before it got hot, so it was refilled relatively recently and has not achieved ambient air temperature yet.

VACATION: This is the ultimate solution to Beating the Heat: leave town. We save up all our vacation time and head west to the coast of Senegal for the month of May. Interior Senegal is just as hot as Mali, but the coast is quite pleasant (besides the obvious benefit of being close to our children). And in just 15 days from now, that’s what we’ll be doing.

But until then, I’m here today, gone to Mali…

PS As I was finishing this, yet another friend here, Tim, posted his Top Ten Reasons to Love Hot Season in Mali:

10. Working late at the office takes on a whole new significance - Free AC.
9. The Malians finally agree with you when you say it is hot.
8. If you have problems deciding what shirt to wear, no problem. You'll be wearing at least 3 today.
7. A chance to practice your Fahrenheit-Celsius conversion with big numbers like 41 or 46C (106F or 114F).
6. For those of us who have no hot water heaters, we can finally take a hot shower!
5. It's a great time of the year to do swamp cooler maintenance.
4. Everyday household tasks become an extreme sport.
3. Clothes have that wonderful "fresh out of the dryer" feel when you take them out of the closet.
2. The oven is automatically "pre-heated", and hey - most food is already pre-cooked.
1. A daily occasion to regale your facebook friends with complaints about how hot it is (just as they are expressing joy that it is finally getting up to 70F!)
h/t Tim Tillinghast

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