Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Grass is Always Greener in Someone Else's... Season?

As far as days go, April 15th is no stranger to complaining. In fact, if statistical data exists on the subject, I’d bet cash money that the first half of the fourth month of the year is one of the most grouchy periods in the United States of America. This year, however, encouraged an exceptional volume of bellyaching--and not solely in regards to state or federal tax codes. On April 15, 2014, Chicagoans woke up to snow accumulating where spring should have bloomed. 1.4 inches of snow--to be exact--may not usually cause outrage, but this snow appeared on a date where the average high lingers just under 60°. (Not to be outdone, the following afternoon 10.5 inches piled on Duluth, MN.)

Scenes from the winter wonderland that I fantasized about while battling a heat rash on my face that required steroids to clear up.
By the weekend, grass reappeared as temperatures more appropriate for the vernal equinox moved in. Still, though, the residual sting from the coldest winter in Chicago’s history remained. Polar vortexes, four months averaging 22°, cabin fever rage--my city seemed poised on the edge of a Shining-level breakdown.

Meanwhile, in Paraguay, we nearly melted.

At the risk of speaking too soon, traces of fall have snuck up around Asunción. After weeks of on-and-off intense storms, the temperatures have finally dropped into the 80s. It feels positively chilly. [Editor’s Note: I started this post over a month ago, days after the official start of autumn. During this period, temperatures have spiked multiple times into the high 90s with humidity so thick you could scoop up the air and hold it in a coffee mug.]

Months ago, as Kevin and I packed our bags for our December home-leave, many Paraguayans asked me what I was most excited about for our trip. Of course, I was trilled to see my family and friends, but mostly I could not wait to feel cold. Usually, this response elicited a thoughtful smile and agreement. Cold. Hmmmmm.

Terere: The most reliable heat management in Paraguay. In site, the our home’s wiring could not handle the power requirement of an air conditioner. In Asuncion, however, we could not survive without artificial climate control.

Despite the warm fuzzy feeling that overtook my body every time I saw a magical snowy scene in a movie or on Facebook, as I wiped nostalgic tears from cheeks I refrained from sharing this glee with those actually battling winter.

Admitting defeat with terere in the hammock after the 
sticky part of our self-adhesive hooks melted and all 
our stuff fell into a pile on the ground.
Why? Because it makes me crazy when people dismiss my stress (heat exhaustion is real) and tell me that they’re jealous of our endless summer.

For reasons beyond my comprehensive people keep telling me that I have nothing to complain about; they would switch places with me in a snap. They have no idea what we deal with. Yet, even as I explain that the heat here does not compare to any of their vacation spots, some individuals insist on telling me that we have it better. (I suppose the grass is always greener, but it’s like we’re somehow closer to the sun.)

Although I wouldn’t put this lack of sensitivity in the same category as the sleep deprived new mother who tells her friend struggling with infertility that she’s lucky to get to sleep through the night, it still feels pretty rude.

I still not sure how any of us survived our first summer in Paraguay. The nastiest drought to befall the region in a decade provided a mere 10% of the average rainfall typical of the season. Despite heavy humidity, rain never came. The sun brought day after day of triple digit temperatures and nightfall offered little relief.  Crops failed, animals died, and wildfires took everything else. 

During our third Paraguayan summer, Asuncion gained international recognition as the hottest capital in the world. To drive the point home, WWF did a cooking demonstration to illustrate the impact of deforestation. (Paraguay is one of the most deforested places on the planet. Most Paraguayan adults will tell you that the summers of their youth were not nearly this hot.) In cartoons, folks will fry eggs on pavement to prove the heat on a sweltering afternoon. In Asuncion, in we cooked up steak and polenta.

In other words, this year Mother Nature doled out beatings on both sides of the equator. Can’t we all be happy accepting our collective misery without making it a competition? Who knows the impact we could make if we redirected that energy toward, say, addressing global warming. If anything, we should at least make sure to leave ourselves room to complain when the next season rolls in.

Many Volunteers employ similar tactics to beat the heat, but Capy looks a lot cuter. The sun is so strong here that I have one friend who once got sunburned while using the latrine. There are multiple issues to address within this anecdote, but for now let’s focus on the sun part.

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