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Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground

Let me paint a picture for you:

I wake up around six o’clock in the morning.  I’m in my room, on my lit pico, and snuggled in my sleeping bag (which is designed to keep someone comfortable down to 32 degrees).  I don’t want to get up because not only am I very comfortable, but I know that I’m going to get a rude awakening when I open that door to my courtyard.  However, I must start the day.  My neighbors will be eating their bouille soon and I want to get in on that.  So I kick off my sleeping bag, summon all my strength, roll under my mosquito net (which isn’t exactly necessary this time of year but I like it anyway), and walk to the door…

The metal door creaks as I open it and…Ah!  It’s so cold!  I get goosebumps immediately as I step outside in my shorts and ultra-hipster WRBC tank top (thank’s Nora).  The harmattan, finishing its journey from the Sahara nearly knocks me over into my garden.  My toes feel as if I’m wearing flip flops in November, and my ultimate mission is to just go to my latrine, pee, and get back inside so that I can bundle up with a scarf and hoodie (thanks Mom), make some tea or coffee, and shovel some peanut butter into my mouth before going to my neighbors.

The temperature, you ask?  Oh probably no less than 60 degrees at that point.

I’ll be the first to admit it:  I’m cold.  Those volunteer blogs I read before coming here last June were not kidding around; a sweater or hoodie is certainly key this time of year.  During the day, it would be safe to say that the mercury hits the low or mid 90’s.  And that’s perfectly reasonable.  No layering necessary.  However at night, some people here have measured the temperature at around 55 degrees.  Can you believe that!  I grew up in the Northeast (Philaelphia’s not exactly the coldest city but cold enough), spent four years going to college in Maine (ah!  cold!), and spent another two years living in Boston–a city famous for its ever-changing yet constantly shitty weather.

One of the more striking examples of my changing biology was an evening I spent sitting outside.  My parents called and we were talking about–among other things–the weather.  They asked if I was cold.  I was wearing my hoodie and exclaimed that, yes, I did feel a bit chilly but it was the evening so that was to be expected.  Upon their inspection of weather.com, they found that it was actually 82 degrees where I was.

However, this weather is great.  Not only does it feel great to be bundled up in the morning and at night, but sometimes when the cold wind blows, it can trigger pleasant wintertime memories of home.  In fact, one morning, my neighbors and I were eating breakfast and talking about how cold it got in the US.  I brought out my New England picture book and showed them photos of harbors frozen over in the winter.  They were blown away but I’m not quite sure they fully comprehended how much colder it needed to be for that to happen for they were already bundled up in winter coats and sitting around a fire.  In fact, I’m not too sure I comprehend it either anymore.

But the hot season is approaching.  At the height of the day, it definitely does feel a bit hotter with the sun beating just slightly harder on my skin.  I’m trying to enjoy the cold as much as possible for I’m told that the hot season from March to May is just shy of hell-on-Earth.

And to close, how does one say that he or she is cold in Jula?  Well, to say that I am cold, I say:  Nene bi ne la.  If I want to ask if someone is cold, I say:  Nene bi ele wa?  In case you didn’t pick up on the common denominator there, “nene” means cold.

Lastly, I have uploaded more pictures.  I’ve finished uploading into the album “First Months at Site” so check it out to see what’s new.  In that you’ll see some pictures of what everything looks like when the harmattan blows into town.  In addition, there is an album of my Christmas I spent in village.  I actually do have more pictures but they’re on my camera and you’ll have to wait to see them.  Sorry!

Work is going well, I have been making a good deal of soap with the womens groups and we are putting together money for our moringa project which will begin in earnest very soon along with an extensive reforestation initiative.  I hope all is well back home, and wish everyone a happy continuation of winter.  Stay tuned for more updates on my work!


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Jason Tsichlis

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January 2012