Word to the Wise, Avoid New Delhi in the Summertime
When I told my Indian acquaintances in the U.S., or anyone who had spent time in India, that I was to arrive to New Delhi in July, I received a universal response – a sharp frown, shake of the head, and the admonition that it was much too hot that time of year. I was told to anticipate temperatures above 110 F, nearing 115 or 120 with humidity. Unlike mental preparation for culture shock, there is little to be done to prepare oneself for extreme temperature change (unless you are Ann Bancroft about to head to the North Pole, then you eat sticks of butter like they are Snickers). I knew the heat would be one of the hardest things to get used to, but hey, I’ve lived through many a hot and sticky Minnesota summer, it couldn’t be so bad right? Wrong.
While the mercury can push 100 F on a summer day in Minnesota, and even higher with humidity – as proved by last week’s heat wave which had the Twin Cities hotter than New Delhi – the heat of a Minnesota summer does not usually last more than a week at a time. Mother Nature’s mood swings plant surprisingly cool days among the heat of summer in MN, and a dip in one of our many lakes or your backyard kiddie pool makes even the hottest day tolerable.
I’m the sort of person that would much rather be too cold than too hot. After all, when you are cold there is a lot you can do to warm up. But when you are hot, there is only so much skin you can appropriately expose, and in the decidedly more conservative Indian culture, this amount is very little. In the dry heat of the desert it is advisable to cover oneself almost entirely. The cloth barrier between the sun and your skin actually makes you cooler. But even in 100% cotton, covering up in this sort of humidity makes for an unavoidably sweaty existence. One of the things I miss most about home is the freedom to wear whatever you want. Examples: Feel like wearing a string bikini to a public beach? Go ahead. Want to go grocery shopping after the beach? No problem, just throw on your sandals, a pair of Daisy Dukes and (maybe) a sheer tank top over that bikini and you’re set. Don’t feel like getting dressed in the morning? Go to school/the bank/the mall/a coffee shop in your pajamas! Anyone who has visited People of Walmart, walked down the street in San Fran, Austin, or NYC, knows that many Americans take the right to wear anything quite seriously. The fact that the U.S. doesn’t have one cohesive cultural framework from which to judge what is appropriate and what is not means there are few boundaries on fashion creativity.
But back to Delhi heat, let me try and describe exactly what this feels like. First, think of how you feel after waking up from an afternoon nap in a hot and humid room, before washing your face. Next, imagine the temperature and moisture of the skin on your back after an 80 rod portage carrying a Duluth pack. Finally, conjure up the smell of any fifth grade field trip. I think you get the idea…that is New Delhi in the summer. Many of the offices on campus have air conditioning, the library is kept quite cool, but at a certain temperature even AC doesn’t do much good. I slept with the AC on in my room for the first few nights but got a nasty cold so I’ve had only the ceiling fan on lately. I’m recovering from my cold, thankfully, but the only time I don’t feel like a sweaty Duluth pack that’s been sitting in the sun are the four minutes after a shower. As mom says so wisely, this is a case of bourgeois suffering.
In other news, my friend and fellow Ambassadorial Scholar, Daniel Liles is set to arrive in New Delhi tonight. He had a similar experience trying to get to India – his first flight was delayed, rerouted flight to Frankfurt was cancelled, so now he will arrive via Hong Kong. He is sponsored by a Rotary Club in his home state of California, but worked in Minneapolis for the past year through Americorps, so we were able to meet a number of times before departing for this year long adventure. I know we are both extremely grateful to have a friend from back home who we can rely upon this year, I am very excited to see him soon!
In other news, I’ll start most of my classes on Monday. It looks like we won’t be able to move into our apartment until Sunday or Monday. We are on Indian time so 4 days for the flat to be ready actually means about 7. Video uploads are in progress, but taking an incredibly long time so I thank you for your patience. I’m going to see a movie with Lena & Lesly. I’ll write more soon. Namaste.