In South Sudan, the “dry” season is about to come to a close, and I’m all too excited for it’s duration to end. It has been unbearably hot the past couple of months. I was warned that February and March were the warmest months for South Sudan, but I didn’t understand the brunt of its affect.
Today, the temperature is 43 degrees Celsius, or 109 Fahrenheit (the temperature average is 100+ for this month). Add to that a good amount of humidity and you suddenly feel the urge to take it easy all day. In buildings with a high roof, like a cathedral, the weather doesn’t seem as bad. If you’re fortunate enough to work in a place with an operable fan, you can also have a moderately productive day. If you are really in bad shape, and work in a place without a fan or high ceilings, it’s better you just sit under a tree. Inside my bedroom, the daytime temperature is usually 7 to 10 degrees higher than what I experience outside. If I walk in my bedroom, or any other room without a fan or high ceiling, in the middle of the day, within seconds sweat is dripping from my face.
We seek relief with water, but most places don’t have cold water, as that would require constant electricity. Water with a hint of chill is highly coveted these days. Usually, I drink about 2 liters of water by the close of the workday, and I still find myself with dry mouth and lips by the time I reach home. When I first started the program, I refused to drink soda as a testament to avoiding things I know to be unhealthy. Nowadays, a soda seems almost necessary. In actuality, the sugar is quite good for the body. People experiencing almost any sickness are advised to take Oral Rehydration Salts. If you’re in the village, or you don’t have the money for the fancy concoction, you just take 1 liter of water, mix in10 teaspoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, and walla – homemade oral rehydration salt. This mixture saves the lives of many people, especially those suffering of dysentery or advanced malaria.
When I first arrived to South Sudan, I was amazed to see an air conditioning unit in my room. It was the first time in my four trips to Africa that I’ve seen an air conditioning unit. Now, I don’t understand how people survive without it. My air conditioning unit is relatively functional, but that is only during the times when we have power. City power has been non-existent for the past two months. At my guesthouse, they turn on the generator for 4 – 5 hours in the evenings. These are the moments when I praise God for relief. Everyone closes their windows and puts their air condition on full blast in an attempt to significantly cool the room and help the room contain the cool once the generator is turned off. This is how we make it through the night with reasonable comfort.
Most South Sudanese neither have electricity nor air conditioning. To make it through the night, those living in Juba lay their mattresses outside their homes and sleep in the open air. Some of the young people seek refuge in the hills of their respective villages. During the first months of the year, school is out, like June – August for most American east coast children. It would be impossible for the children to concentrate in this type of heat.
In the early morning the air is still cool (around 80), and people can be seen moving actively throughout the city. Those who work, remain active during the day. Others, whose primary occupation is farming, spend the peak hours of the heat lying under a tree. The South Sudanese government releases employees at lunch on Fridays to give them a break from the heat, or to travel to their village to prepare their fields for the rainy season (I’ve heard gov’t officials give both reasons). I used to question my NGO friends, who always looked so refreshed, how they were able to keep their vibrancy. They would reply somewhat astonished, “You don’t have air condition? Where is your office?”
Last night, it rained for the third time this month, which also is the third time in the past 5 months. I’m very excited at the prospect of regular rains that will undoubtedly cool the air. More importantly, it will also refill many of the wells that have gone dry due to the annual 6-month drought. Streams that now look like they have been dry for years will begin to flow water through many of the village areas again. The weather will become cooler and hopefully my energy level will increase. Until then, I’ll just continue trying to push through, pray for energy, and maintain my weekly visits to one of Juba’s ice-cream venues for relief.