It is, of course, a human tradition to moan about the weather as a conversational gambit. Like most of us, I can extract a good minute and a half of chatter about the finer nuances of a climate that veers from mildly interesting to interestingly mild – chatter that saves me from revealing the terrifying truth about my social ineptitude – but I’m at a loss when it comes to discussing the heat, because everyone else seems to have some sort of an opinion about it, ranging from the downright idiotic to complete nonsense.
One day as I strolled along the narrow streets of Asmara in the midday sun, a friend who saw me stooped me and remarked that I had to be mad to take a walk in such an ungodly time and suggested that I kept to the shaded part of the sidewalk. I was not convinced.
“I grew up in Asmara.” I explained. “No amount of my country’s chilling cold or scalding heat or roaring wind is going to stop me.”
I know that the highland sun does strain the eyes and can burn the skin with its undiminished supply of ultraviolet rays, but we Eritreans, either by nature or by custom, do not like to carry umbrellas to protect ourselves.
According to tradition, walking in the midday sun is not recommended, especially for children. The old folk used to say that the time between noon and two o’clock was when all types of evil spirits stalked unwary victims. If you passed by a heap of garbage or a very dirty spot, you probably got stricken by these evil spirits which left you lying on the ground dead or half-dead. But if the place was an open field where the wind blew as it pleased, you were led by some of these thermo-spirits to a far away land where the world as you knew it would be dissolved into nothingness, and you continued walking and walking to infinity like a zombie until some villager with a sixth sense stopped you and took you back home.
This phenomenon is known in Tigrigna as shukushuka. Probably a sun induced hallucination. Strangely enough it doesn’t seem to affect the children of this generation.
Oh to be young again!
Urbanization has not only destroyed the environment, but it is also responsible for the extinction of our forest spirits and fairies.
How do Eritreans keep cool? This is a good question. The answer lies in the peasant’s Garth. One should bear in mind that the majority of our villagers wear white and loose fitting clothes and light thong sandals. The white color reflects the sunrays and the thong sandals keep the feet fresh and odorless. For more ventilation around the armpits, the peasants carry their stick astride their shoulders and let their arms rest on either end parts of the stick. The sweat evaporating from the armpits will create a cooling sensation.
Another way of keeping cool is not to eat foods with high caloric contents like milk, butter and fatty meat. Fortunately, just when the hot season starts, it is Lent. And during Lent Orthodox christians and Catholics abstain from animal foods and dairy products. After eating nothing but vegetables for one week, the sun’s rays and heat will lose their sting. You can now thumb your nose at that fiery ball in the sky.
If, however, the weather gets unbearably hot, reaching such a point where flies commit suicide by nose diving into a hot cup of tea, then either you run for cover under the shade of a tree or find a stream and drink as much as you can without disturbing the cattle.
Should your journey get you across a hot semi-desert where it looks there is more water in your body than in the whole godforsaken region, you are advised to drink entati’e, a mixture of powdered flax seed and water, the oil in the flaxseed will keep your gullet and entrails moistened for long hours.
However, peasants who harness or yoke their oxen for a day’s plowing prefer suwa to pure water probably because it is more refreshing and more stimulating.
And then there is the ill wind that blows no good. Sometimes it lifts the dust from the ground and sprays it into your eyes and nostrils. Girls with newly done hair dread it as if it were the devil, and list it second to rainfall among natural hazards that threaten their looks.
Peasants welcome it during winnowing time on the threshing ground, but are very much terrorized when it blows with full force in the middle of the rainy season. It means disaster. For such a wind comes with a ‘conductor’s baton’ to signal the finale of the grand summer rainfall in mid concert. Drought and famine follow causing displacement and social disruption.
In some ways the wind is also associated with the devil in our tradition. Too much of it and the people think that there is war or some kind of skirmish somewhere. In case the devil feels that he is not getting proper attention, he is believed to come as a wind and waylay people in some corners of the street or even in one’s own backyard and imparts a vigorous slap in the face to cause temporary facial paralysis in the victim. That’s partly the reason why passengers in the bus shout at you to roll down the window pane for heaven’s sake. Nobody likes to have bronchitis or facial paralysis just because some ‘idiot’ wants his day’s share of oxygenated air.
There are two rainy season in Eritrea. In the highlands and in the Western lowlands the rain comes in the months of June and July. The Eastern lowlands, however, enjoy their wet season during the months of February and March only.
Why is it then that we are having shower at present in the highlands? People say that there is so much rainfall in the Eastern lowlands that it is simply spilling over on the adjacent highlands.
The farmers consider it a good omen for a sure appearance of the short rains that fall in April and May before coming once again in June –July or kremti. Traditionally it is called Seglelet meaning a sign of good summer ahead. That is so much good news and it calls for a dance in the streets. Some people already feel like singing in the rains.
A little shower now means a heavier shower in April and May. And this in turn will cause the great rains to come on time in heavy downpour.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed.