Looking back on the year, I feel like I’ve been in a constant state of complaining in reference to the heat and humidity in this country. I think it’s justified, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish it didn’t get to me so much. Once and for all, here’s what the heat was really like:
When you wake up in the morning, you’re warm and there’s a ring of sweat collected around the top of your shirt and in any crevice of your body that happened to have folded over another part of your body in the night, i.e. the fold in your arm or leg, or perhaps your neck if you slept in the fetal position with your head tucked under. Anywhere skin made contact with more skin, there’s now a pool of sweat. It’s ridiculous. Then, once you actually leave your bed, you crawl out from under the mosquito net which, unfortunately holds in half of your body heat throughout the night. Your fan, which you have on the highest setting, doesn’t offset the amount of heat that the net holds in because it’s broken. It spins, but it doesn’t move any air. It’s a part of the experience that has pushed you closer to the brink of tears more times that you can count. On your way out from under the net, you notice seven (very full looking) mosquitoes in the net. They’ve spent the night with you. Was it even worth it?
After you’re up, you can make yourself a cup of tea for breakfast, but you have to sit directly in front of a fan while you drink it. You’re still going to sweat though, don’t think a fan will save you. Oh, by the way, the living room fan is broken, so you’re on your own anyway. As you sip, your entire body reacts to the hot liquid. Your back sweats, your brow sweats, your arms sweat, your fingers sweat–is that even possible? Yup, sure enough, your fingers are dotted with beads of sweat. Your forehead hasn’t been dry in months, your arms are literally sweating so much that the sweat is dropping off of them. Where did I go wrong in life? Why is this happening to me? By the time breakfast is over, your clothing would be drier if you had just submerged them in the bathtub. So, you shower, thinking it’d be a good idea to go to work clean. The incredible thing is though, even though every shower is cold, it doesn’t stop your body from sweating. You become aware that even as water pours over your body, you’re still perspiring.
When you step out of the shower, you towel off both the water and the sweat, which has already begun to drip off of you again. You go to your room and make deals with God, as you routinely do, as you dress. Long sleeves, pants, socks and shoes. WHY? Your body fights you as you force each piece of clothing on. It’s hopeless, you’ll be uncomfortable all day. You walk out the door for work, slinging your bag over your shoulder as you step into the sun. You immediately burst into flames. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but just barely. The walk to the bus from your house is only partially shaded, and you’re well aware of the five degree difference between the sunlight and the shade as you progress. You trade off which shoulder you carry your bag on so not to allow too much sweat to accumulate where the bag is sitting on your back.
(Nine degrees above the equator, being in the direct sunlight in a humid country is difficult to explain. It’s supremely uncomfortable, especially for me, having lived in the third cloudiest city in the world for seven years and just below the Arctic Circle for two years. The sun, the heat, it’s not my jam—I can almost feel my skin burning the moment I’m in the direct light. By the time I reach the bus, I don’t even realize how wet I am anymore. My back is constantly in a state of panic, never without some amount of moisture between it and my shirt. The actual bus stop (which is just whatever slab of sidewalk you decide to stop on) is in the direct sunlight, but once in a while, a single palm tree from across the adjacent canal casts a small shadow in a place where I can stand. It’s incredible how hot the sun can be at just 7:45 in the morning.)
The actual bus ride up the East Coast to the orphanage takes about 15 minutes and usually proves to be quite pleasant. If you get a seat by a window, it’s especially nice. You can remove your cap and allow the breeze to temporarily dry your scalp as the driver pushes the gas pedal down to far. If you end up in a middle seat with other passengers on either side of you, it can be 15 minutes more contribution of sweat to your daily total. Why don’t I ever have to pee anymore? Is it all coming out of my pores?
It’s a quick, blisteringly warm walk from where the bus drops you off on the public road to the orphanage where you’re headed. Unfortunately, this is a crucial part of your commute. It’s the part that determines how your day is going to begin. There are schools on either end of the street that the orphanage is on and working people commute in the opposite direction of you on their way to the public road to flag down mini-buses. This all means that this part of the walk is kind of fun to experience and be a part of each day, but at the same time, you’re sizing up what everyone else is wearing. The school girls are all in short sleeve blouses and skirts. Many of the boys are in shorts. A lot of the men you pass aren’t in work attire, so they’re marching around in t-shirts and shorts and flip-flops. You envy whatever their mornings look like. There are other men around too though, those in their yards and hanging out on their verandas. They’re only wearing their boxer shorts. Here in Guyana, men going topless is not uncommon. Something else that is not uncommon is getting multiple uses out of boxer shorts. Here, they are used for underwear, swimming trunks, and outer shorts. So when you walk down the street in the morning and see every kind of man from ripped teenagers to overweight elderly men with their bellies hanging over the elastic, dressed in nothing but boxers, they’re not, by Guyanese standards, strutting around in their underwear. They’re just outside wearing their shorts, and they happen to have their shirts off because they live on the sun, I mean equator.
In the 20 or 30 minutes that pass between when you reach the bus and when you get off of it, the temperature is noticeably higher. There’s also no shade on the road to the orphanage from the public road. By the time you arrive to the orphanage compound, you need time to cool off. But instead, a dozen little boys run over to greet you. This warms both your heart and your body as they throw their arms out around your sweaty legs and back and they grab bath of your soaking wet hands. You try to politely get them off of you while ensuring them that you love them just the same.
This isn’t Florida; air conditioning exists in private rooms at the hospital and at the bank. The school sits on the ground floor and is tightly closed up until the teachers arrive in the mornings. You usually arrive to school just after two of the other teachers. They open up a few of the windows, which allows a breeze to blow through. Your classroom is tucked in the back of the school. You’re scorched from the sun and automatically your body’s sweat glands go into overdrive at the shock of being indoors where air doesn’t circulate.
Being inside the school first thing, sitting in your own sweat, is a rough way to being the day. It means you’re heated, your body is telling you you’re annoyed right off the bat. Many days, you go to the grade 1 classroom and sit directly in front of the open window, just to catch the breeze that is blowing through. It’s the only relief you’ll get before the school day officially begins. Sometimes, you remember to bring a washcloth or paper towels to mop your forehead from the walk from the bus, but most of the time you just roll with what life is dishing out.
This is the story of sweat from 7:00am to 8:30am on my body every weekday morning in Guyana. The rest of the story goes pretty much the same way. I sweat all the time. A part of me is used to it. That part of me actually manages to exercise every so often. The other part of me will never be used to being so wet so consistently. I find relief in getting home at the end of the day and removing the work clothes, which I have so much pent up anger toward. The sweating is so consistent that at times I have rashes on my skin. My forearms will sporadically burst into red pumps. It lasts a few hours, and then they melt back into my skin. But they’re itchy and they’re a consistent reminder that I’m always uncomfortable. All of this being said, it could be worse, right? I look forward to the cooler temperatures of North America, the summer, fall, and winter ahead.