Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Being cold

When you apply for the Peace Corps, you can choose which region you prefer (although they want you to keep an open mind and be ready to go anywhere). I thought about this for a while before I submitted my application and finally decided to select Eastern Europe. Not only did I think it would be amazing to live somewhere with such an old and colorful history, but as a sufferer of frequent migraines, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to survive the heat of Africa. Oh, hindsight...

Right now, I'm in my bedroom and it's registering a cool 38 degrees. I'm fairly certain it's warmer outside. I'm wearing 2 pairs of wool socks, long underwear, fleece pants, a long sleeve t-shirt, fleece pullover and a scarf. My heater is 2 feet from my face but since I'm trying to save money on my electric bill this month I've opted to turn it off. Sometimes I lie in bed under my sleeping bag and 2 blankets trying to remember what it feels like to be warm. This is my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Don't get me wrong… I don't regret selecting Eastern Europe and I don't wish to be in another country. I'm just really cold. And after awhile, it starts to get to you. I don't think most Americans understand what it means to be cold. I'm not talking about the cold you feel when you first get in your car in the morning – before your heated seats warm up. I'm not talking about the cold you feel when you leave your heated office at night and the cold hits your face – before you get back in your car with heated seats. I'm talking about being REALLY COLD. I certainly never understood it until I came here, and now I think I understand it a little too well! 

To get a sense of what it's like to be really cold, imagine the following (all of which have really happened):
  • You keep your electric heater close to you at all times, even carrying it with you from room to room. You get dressed, eat, work, and brush your teeth in front of your heater. It is your best friend.
  • Before you get tucked in for the night, you make sure your laptop is tucked in under the covers next to you – otherwise it might freeze and crack.
  • You lie in bed an extra 2 hours every morning because it's just too cold to get up. You can literally see your breath.
  • You try to hold it as long as you can because your bathroom is outside and you just don't feel like getting bundled up again and taking another 30 minutes to warm up after you get back.
  • Speaking of the bathroom, most mornings you have to use the toilet brush to crack the water in the toilet bowl before you can go.
  • You dread brushing your teeth because the water is so cold; it literally hurts your teeth. Oh, and your toothpaste… it's so cold, it's hard to squeeze it out of the tube.
  • Showering… Your choices are to 1.) not shower at all, or 2.) shower with lukewarm water with freezing cold air hitting you from every direction. Then you have to turn the water off, leaving you standing in the freezing cold air, dripping wet and rushing to dry off as quickly as possible. 
  • After showering, you have to blow dry your hair immediately because it starts getting stiff and crunchy the minute you walk back into your cold bedroom. This isn't so bad though; you can use the blow dryer to warm yourself up (assuming the power is still on, of course)!
  • Later that day, you walk into the bathroom, forgetting that you had showered that morning. The steam from your shower has now frozen on the tile floor, serving as a lovely ice-skating rink.
  • You turn your electric water heater on to make tea, and use the body of it to warm your hands. Then you pour the hot water in your mug, but it instantly shatters because the mug was so cold.
  • You spend the majority of your day in bed because it's the only place that is somewhat warm.
  • The power goes out and you watch the red coils on your heater slowly disappear. Tears well up in your eyes.
  • It takes 2-3 days for your clothes to dry on the line outside, so you have to construct an indoor line and walk through the maze of clothes in your room.
  • You absentmindedly forget about your heater and set your coffee mug down in front of it. Two minutes later, you scald your lips and tongue on the rim of your now 140-degree mug.
Indoor clothesline!
My best friend.

  • You would never leave the house wearing just one layer of clothes! Two layers is the minimum; three is preferred.
  • You spend half your day sitting next to your electric heater and now have dry red eyes, a stuffy nose, and one side of your face is hot and dry.
  • You don't remember the last time your fingers or toes were truly warm.
  • You're invited to dinner at your friend's house and as their guest, they put you closest to the wood-burning stove. At first, you're grateful for their generosity but then you realize you are sweating because you have on 3 layers of fleece and wool. You can literally feel the sweat dripping down your back. After dinner, you walk home, but since you've been sweating for the last three hours, the cold air makes you THAT much colder.
  • You no longer have a need for a refrigerator; you can store all of your items on your windowsill!
  • Your fruits and vegetables have suddenly gone bad, not because they have rotted… they have frozen.
  • And the worst one yet… your water pipes burst, but the ground is frozen so you can’t replace them. You spend the next 4 weeks without any running water
That, my friends, is what it's like to be cold. And that's why I'm escaping to warmer climates for the next month. Southern India... here I come.


  1. Ummm I'm scheduled to move to Georgia with PC in April AND I LITERALLY have no tolerance for cold. Is there ANYTHING that I could do/bring or any way that I could prepare for what is to come???? Please tell me you figured out something...

    1. Congrats on your Georgia assignment! Try not to worry too much about the cold. There are ways to deal with it, I promise (electric heaters, blankets, water bottles, etc.) Feel free to email me if you have any packing questions -- s b u r k h a r t 2 0 6 [at] g m a i l [dot] c o m (minus all the spaces, of course). Try not to stress about it... we've all managed just fine. :-)

  2. You had me at "toothbrush in the toilet bowl".

    How many more months?

  3. I'm sorry, Susan, but I had to laugh! In spite of it all you have maintained a wonderful sense of humor. Someday you will look back and be able to laugh, too. In the meantime, enjoy those 90+ degree days in Dubai and India. HHI will also be in the 90's when you finally come home in August! Oh, I just realized, Tbilisi will be in the 100's before you actually depart. Regardless, I can't wait for you to come home. I miss and love you.