The temperature has fallen again, this time into the single digits. It is so cold at school that my fingers freeze up when I’m typing and I am constantly rubbing my hands together to get blood flowing again. I wore a scarf and jacket all day long, not once thinking for even a second about removing either. People are getting sick all around me and I, too, am having trouble deciding if my throat hurts because I’m getting a cold or if it hurts from talking too much. Either one could be true.
A colleague today described what a Brazil winter is all about. He said it’s made up of a series of cold fronts that come up from Argentina. It’ll be nice and sunny one day, and then rainy the next, and then freezing cold the following. And then back to warm, then rainy, then freezing. Rather than a Northeast US winter, where once it’s cold it stays cold for four months, the season here works in spurts and spasms. Apparently the months of June and July are chilly throughout and then by August it goes back to being inconsistently cold or warm. When I first arrived, in August last year, I remember it being cold–needing to go out and purchase a sweater, jeans, close-toed shoes, and a scarf. How I wish I had my winter coats from home here with me. I joked with my students today about wearing my snowboard pants to school, but by the end of the day, as I walked home while the sun was setting, I would have done anything to have those pants on, regardless of the fact that my gait turns into a waddle while they’re on. Today I would have embraced the waddle just to stay warm.
It’s not that it’s entirely freezing here–in comparison with winters in the States, this is like beach weather–or at least picnic in the park on a spring day kind of weather. Nor is it the sudden change of temperature, the kind that happens overnight, the kind that doesn’t even give you a warning that you’ll need to get your winter clothes out of the closet that makes it so uncomfortable right now. What is so wrong about this weather in this place is the fact that there is nowhere that is safe from the cold. No building is insulated, therefore, to come inside is basically just like using an umbrella in a hurricane: symbollic protection. Classroom walls are thin like rice paper; my apartment is made of concrete and slate, and restaurants keep their windows open. That third thing is really just a mark of insanity, and I can’t blame that on insulation. However, no building shelters anyone from the cold. It’s not like in the States, where if you’re cold because of the snow and wind you can go into a building and feel that nice hot air coming through the radiator as soon as you walk inside. There’s no such thing as radiators here, or insulation that would keep the radiator heat inside. (Right now, as I type this in the comfort of my home, I am in jeans, slippers, a jacket, scarf, and sweater. My hands, when not typing, are wrapped around a giant mug of coffee.) I thought, being from New England, that I knew how to handle a winter. But put me in a country with 50 degree weather and leave me without all the things that keep me safe from the elements up home, and I’m about as useless as a fish bicycle. I can’t wait to come home.