25 May 2007

Winter in Africa - Part 1

For some reason, I haven't been able to log in for any good length of time on my blog to post for the past couple of days. I'm not the only one who's had issues with the internet here, but I'm happy to say it is working tonight.

Winter has finally arrived. We've been flirting with it on and off during the past few weeks, but this week it finally stuck. Mornings are cold (40-45F/4.5-7.2C), and in the daytime the temperatures climb into the high 70s (25C) and low 80s (28C). That sounds pleasant, but when you are used to 90F (32C) at 6:30 AM it is freezing. I vaguely recall wearing shorts and a sweater to school in northern NY on spring days when the temperature climbed to 40F and melted the remaining 2 feet of snow on the ground. I don't think I could do that anymore.

I started wearing a sweater this week, and have stopped rolling up my pant legs to catch a cool breeze. No more tank tops, or skirts, or even shorts. Three nights ago, I broke out the blankets. I've been sleeping much better now that I don't spend half the night shivering.

People here look funny all bundled up in snowy weather gear in the early morning. Big puffy jackets and hats with fur trim. But that's mainly for people who can afford it. Sometimes I do a double-take because men wear coats or sweaters that are obviously made for woman. The colors (lavender, baby blue, mint green) and flower embroidery are a dead giveaway. At the same time, many women wear men's woolen suit jackets - brown, grey, tweed. Roupa usada. Africa is full of castoffs and hand-me-downs.

Most people wear several layers of thin clothing and a sweater. A lot of the women wrap themselves and the babies on their backs in multiple capulanas. In the early mornings they might also wrap themselves in a blanket. Wool touks are very popular. All the babies wear them, most men, and quite a few women. More traditionally dressed women wear cotton head scarfs.

Homes here don't have insulation. Sometimes they don't even have walls - just thin reed matting. Women charcoal sellers hawk a day's worth of fuel for cooking all year round, but as winter sets in this fuel source becomes more important for household heating.

A lot of the charcoal sold in Maputo comes from the forests and woodlands at my field site, and from other communities in that region. A big bag costs about 100 MTN ($4 USD) and can be stretched to last a month (sometimes a little longer). The driver and botanists that accompany me and other researchers from the university, regularly buy big sacks of charcoal offered for sale along the road to the reserve to use at home. I always feel a bit strange riding in the biology department car when the roof is loaded up with charcoal. It doesn't feel kosher.

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