The first week I spent in my city it felt like summer, but just a week later the weather changed and it started to feel chillier and chillier and since the beginning of November it’s been downright cold all the time.
No, wait, I take that back. I lived in Vermont for 5 years. I know what the cold is. 0˚F for weeks on end, snow storms where you loose your car in a parking lot and never a snow day because Vermonters are well prepared for dealing with ridiculous amounts of snow and are completely fearless in the face snow and ice. Here we just had our first frost this week, and this city still hasn’t seen snow yet this year (one of the only places in Georgia).
But, the one key difference between here and there is a little something called heating. In America, even a cold house is still probably tolerably warm if you put on a sweater and warm slippers. Here, well, it’s normal for the temperature inside the house to be the same as outside the house. I was a little worried back in October when I realized that our house only had one tiny electric space heater. Then once November came around, my family dragged in a wood stove that hooks up to a pipe in the wall. Of course, wood stoves can only be lit when someone is home/awake to feed the fire. And while I know many Americans use wood stoves to heat their houses (and I’m not sure how the system works), wood stoves here are only capable of heating the room in which they are located. And even then, while they certainly take the chill out of a room, you’ll never really feel warm unless you are sitting within a one meter radius of the stove.
Another problem with keeping houses warm is the fact that houses here are basically cinderblocks or cement covered with dry wall (if you’re lucky). A little thing called insulation is conspicuously lacking, causing any heat that is generated to be immediately sucked from the house.
I guess I’m lucky that that little electric space heater has been now moved into my bedroom since the wood stove was set up, since my room is the furthest from any source of heat, but because of either the cost of electricity or the danger of leaving it running for hours on end (or more likely, both) I can’t leave it on while I sleep, and obviously leaving it on when I’m not home is out of the question. Which means that my room is perpetually cold. If I don’t wear a sweatshirt to bed I will wake up in the night from the cold. Sometimes on cold nights, I get into bed and wait for the blankets to warm up… but they never do. And let’s not talk about getting out of bed in the morning. I’ve now started a ritual that when my first alarm rings, I get up, hit snooze and turn on the heater. Then hopefully after 30 minutes of hitting the snooze button my room will be sufficiently warm that I can get out of bed without completely freezing to death. Then I take my clothes, which all feel like blocks of ice, and warm them in front of the heater for a few minutes before putting them on.
Oh, and let’s not forget about school. It’s clear that whenever the school was built, however many years ago, undoubtedly during soviet times, there was some sort of central heating in the school. Cast iron radiators can be seen here and there around the school, quite like my own home in America. But, the days of central heating are long gone. As in most homes, the school relies on wood stoves to heat the classrooms. But, of course, with probably over 20 classrooms in the school, there are not enough wood stoves to go around. Some classrooms are lucky to get a wood stove, most still go without. We teachers are lucky because in our lunch room and in our teacher’s room there are wood stoves, and so after every class we go and warm our numb hands during the 10 minute breaks between classes. I have no idea how the children are able to study in these conditions. When I am sitting and not moving my whole body turns to ice and all I can think about is the cold. I am always happy when I can get up and teach the class because it means I can move around and get the blood flowing.
But, all this I can handle. Sure it means that I spend a lot of time huddled around heaters and drinking tea in the morning just to hold a hot mug in my hand for a few minutes since the wood stove has been out for the past 8 hours and the house is the same temperature as outside. All this I knew coming to Georgia. All this I have experienced before when I lived in Chile during university. This is nothing. The part about this that irks me the most is what is produced by all the wood stoves.
I used to love the smell of a wood stove when I lived in America. That lovely smell of burning wood on a winter night. It was always something pleasant for me. But here, when every house in the city is burning their wood stoves to warm their houses, the air becomes thick with smoke. Perhaps if they were only burning firewood it could be tolerable, but Georgians use their wood stoves as another form of rubbish disposal. Every form of waste in my house with the exception of glass bottles and food scraps are thrown into the fire. Plastic bags, potato chip bags, candy wrappers, today I even saw a plastic egg carton thrown in. For the first few weeks, the smell of burning trash in the air was absolutely sickening to me. Just walking home through the smoke filled streets was enough to make me slightly nauseous. But, as I write this I realize that I haven’t felt that feeling in the past week or so. I guess I’m getting used to the smell of burning plastic… which is probably not a good thing because breathing in those toxic fumes can not be good for one’s health.
All I can say is, for those of you who are planning to come to Georgia, be prepared for the cold of winter. Long underwear, thick sweaters, fuzzy socks and slippers will all be put to good use in your daily life. Not to mention a good winter jacket, scarves, hats, gloves, and (the one thing I forgot) good boots.