Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Season of Heat

These days, Iganga is hot.  Having been previously acquainted with only the cooler, summer months of Uganda, I am every day amazed at the deep, heavy heat of the sun – the incredible, resting weight of the air that presses down on our dusty little town. 


In the afternoon heat, my skin burns red no matter how much sunscreen I put on, and burns in a way that feels less like the result of UV rays and more like the result of standing a few feet away from a roaring fire.  The sensation reminds me of childhood contests, where my cousins and I would sit with our bare backs to the fireplace, right beyond the grate, seeing who could stand the heat for longest before moving forward.  It reminds me, also, of the air that burned my face when I stood, as a 9 year old child, by a river of flowing lava, a river so hot that a stick pushed into it burst into flames at mere contact.  I suppose what I am trying to say is, this heat feels less like the stuff of hazy, ethereal, barely-existent waves and particles, and more like a physical, present layer of something soft and heavy, dry and parched and dusty, laying across one’s skin – invisible, but no less tangible for the fact.


At the house, our conversations revolve around the heat.  All greetings have been replaced by statements about temperature – when one of us leaves the house and returns, we greet the rest with a statement about the heat.  When we wake up in the morning, our first words are about the relative cool of the morning, and our hopes for how long that cool might last.  As we go to bed, we attempt to quantify the heat of the day – was it hotter than the day before? Didn’t this week seem hotter than the last?  We are never successful in such comparisons, for it is so ultimately hot that no further statement can really be made, like attempting to comparing infinity with infinity plus 3.


Perhaps I sound too harsh, in my description of the heat.  Every word is true, but I shouldn’t like to sound as if it is unbearable or hateful, or even a major problem in our day-to-day lives.  The thing is, the heat is tremendous, but it is a dry, heavy, dusty heat – it lays over us, pressing down so that we slow our walking to the pace of a crawl, seek shade whenever possible, drink bottles and bottles of water warmed to the point that they might well be used for tea – it is hot, but it is not a sticky, humid heat, and it is not an oppressive heat.  It is not that heat, from the south of the US, which causes one to sweat while simply sitting in the shade, that damp and blanketing heat which makes one feel like one’s very soul is leaking out of one’s pores.  And it is not absolutely inescapable, as I imagine it might be in South Sudan or even in Northern Uganda; the morning are cool, the shade is always a slight respite from the sun, and late, late in the evening, as the stars shine high in our rural sky, the heat begins to fade and smooth breaths of wind flow through the town, lightening and cooling the air until around 8 or 9 the next morning, when the sun shall begin to warm us again. 

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