The Cruelest Month

After dark on the terrace, enjoying the cooling though not cool night breeze and the swarm of bugs around my light. We should be seeing less of those around now, but unseasonable rains have kept them in business. We went through what should have been the start of the dry season weeks ago, when trucks turned up seas of dust to wade through, eyes slitted and lips tight.

What your boot looks like after a dry season dance

What your boot looks like after a dry season dance

But each evening shower that’s damped the dust  has brought the bugs and the humidity. Jalpan sits at one end of a long valley of hot weather growing things. Which means that when they get rain, they hold onto it, dispensing it back into the air not over days but over weeks. Each drizzle pays back an hour of relief with half a month of swelter.

Heat is a common denominator for volunteers. There are some in Eastern Europe and others in more mountainous sites than mine that escape it, but for the rest of us, even those of us here in Posh Corps Mexico, heat is a constant. I arrived at the start of Jalpan’s only prolonged cool, between late November and early January. Even then, we only escaped under cloud cover. If the twelfth day of Christmas saw sun, it was a scorcher.  Our recent little rains have let us think that it might not be so bad, that claims might be exaggerated, that campesinos who aren’t pegged to might not have a great conception of what 115° is and just mean ‘real hot.’

But we’re getting into it now, the sun creeping across the bedsheets at six like the sand map from Raiders and the opening-the-ark light of the outside door at nine. We’re feeling the lingering ovenlike warmth of our apartments into the long hours of the night and the permanent dampness of a bed that won’t dry and a body that won’t stop sweating.

For him an ark, for us a laptop

For him an ark, for us a laptop

Heat, when it’s held at bay by gentle seasons and air conditioning, is a discrete thing—it’s in the shower, in the stove, in July. But when it’s ubiquitous, when it’s always hot, it begins to manifest as individual experiences, miserable little vignettes. Like cold in Michigan, which is car doors frozen open on the way to school, peering at the road through a porthole in the frost, scarves frozen into icy shields and post-storm trees delicate, crystalline and dangerous for powerlines.

Heat is giving in and carrying a rag to mop your forehead and feeling the skin chafe from the sweat and the salt and the cloth. Heat is struggling to peel denim over your ankles so you can step into the skin-warm embrace of a shower from the roof reservoir. Heat is sitting in the coolest office in Jalpan and trying to work while your clothing soaks onto and into you. It’s forgetting what it felt like to have your sack unstuck from your thigh or have your boxers dry. Heat is ceasing to wonder if that smell is you and beginning to know it, starting a drip test instead of a pit test when you dress.

I haven’t bought a fan yet. I’ve managed to make it through the summer in DC without one. I was cheap enough and drunk enough to make it seem like a good idea. And around midsummer, I always got to a point where I could lay out naked and sogging and sheetless and almost feel good doing it.

Danny, a volunteer in Xichu, which is at about the same elevation and farther from the ecuator, has told me horror stories about weeks when the mercury topped 110° every day and when the nights never got below ninety, Kipling-esque stories of people laying on roofs and in the streets at night, going to sleep in wet sheets and waking up with heat rash. About nights when everyone walks to the town center and talks because to sleep is a dream.

But I still haven’t gotten a fan. I think half of that is I just don’t want to fuck with it. I find the heat, the extreme heat, alluring, and not for itself. I think it’s the tropicalness, the physical weight, the total lack of escape. Because even if I work on websites and a radio show, this is a little bit of the Peace Corps’ common experience that touches me too. It’s something that’s going to make me miserable just the same as volunteers from here to Colombia and across to the Sahel—we are all of us communing in the awful, scorching, sopping, glorious hot of it.



One thought on “The Cruelest Month

  1. Pingback: Time to Face the Change | Another Peace Corps Blog

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