Strangely enough, a country this close to the equator and surrounded by sand isn’t actually that hot. I often imagined this city as a baking hot oven stuck on the cusp of the Sahara but it’s a far cry from that. Admittedly I was both pleased and upset knowing that it wasn’t that hot, the heat can drive you insane sometimes but we don’t get nearly enough in the UK. There are studies that link the amount of sunlight we receive with our levels of happiness, which is probably the reason I married a California girl. Maybe all this sun would stop me from being miserable? Obviously not, I wouldn’t be complaining here otherwise, I think us Brits have an ingrained characteristic to be morbid. Take for example the faces of your fellow commuter on the train in the morning. You get the picture?
Wait a second though, there is so much sunshine here but where has that heat all gone? There isn’t any sea nearby to absorb the heat away over its waves, there are thousands of high-rise apartment blocks to act as windshields against the chill factor, so where does it go? Whatever it was I didn’t care, I can take the cold but the heat in contrast saps everything out of me and my regular laziness proliferates tenfold.
The pleasure was short-lived, and here is the part when I became upset over the lack of warmth. I hope you notice that, it’s not a lack of heat but a lack of warmth now, that means any kind of heat because warm was something in the middle. It never hit that high a level either. There are moments that you’ll feel a chill that’ll make a guy shrink., now this isn’t any normal chill, this is a seeping through to the bone kind of chill. I don’t even think it touches the skin. Understand this if you can but be warned that even MENSA level geniuses would be scratching their heads at the following: Outside the house, it’s warm yet inside it’s cold but the cold is bearable. Now when that cold goes deeper and penetrates your skin, it hurts, almost as though the deeper it goes the higher the pain. Look, it’s like when you have a flu and you know that your body is boiling over but you feel freezing, you’re breaking out in a sweat but shivering. It’s a lost cause bar medication because you can’t do anything about it right? Well, these the same symptoms of the cold I’m talking about.
It’s even more strange when some of the Russian students who have experienced subzero temperatures, call this cold a phenomenon.
The first day I slept on that living room floor. I never would have imagined the deep sense of discomfort I was about to feel. It was absolutely freezing. I tried to curl up into a ball to prevent the heat from escaping while giving a smaller area of impact for the cold to hit. I worked well enough temporarily but as the temperature dived and the wind bellowed through the living room I knew I was at a loss. Maybe, I wished, this miraculous cold will disappear tomorrow, but it never happened. I had arrived at the start of the winter season which meant that if anything was going to happen, it was that the temperature would plummet rather than soar.
Thinking back, that first night was a real shock to the system and there were a number of things that I tried with the distant hope of increasing my body heat. Turning over in the mattress didn’t really help, neither did rubbing my shoulders because both served to increase extra brain activity and not enough relaxation. I tried the curling up thing and that sort of worked, I couldn’t wear any extra clothes because I was wearing the same clothes that I just travelled in right down to the socks. Until eventually I stumped for wrapping my thin sheet so tightly around me that there was no room for anything to get in or out. I needed to perfect my technique and it wasn’t going to happen for a while.
The cold, no I don’t want to call it that, the blitz was getting the better of me and I had to find a way to restrict its impact on my sleep. I already had the sunlight yanking me out of my bed in the morning, I didn’t need this thing keeping me up. The advice I so generously received from others helped to sway my decision, I had always considered my ability to brave extremes of temperature as a great utility but this time I had had enough. My next investment was a thick, comfortable and fluffy, albeit essential blanket. I freed myself of any commitment and grabbed the nearest person I could, then we embarked on my shopping trip.
There is a store where the two main roads meet, it’s rather like a Argos or a catalogue store just not as glamorous, believe me they are glamorous in comparison to this place. The store is called Tawheed wa El Nour, and it eclipses most other retail outlets in the province. I walked in and scoured the place for something to keep me warm at night, I went past the soft toy section with relative ease and arrived at the blankets. All polyester and with bright designs I decided on the most floral of the bunch, it was also the cheapest. After fifteen attempts of hailing the salesman’s attention I got through to him. Salesman tend to ignore you until you shriek at them or unless you’re a fellow Egyptian. He came to me and said some stuff which translated as nothing more than a mumble, I responded with a stare and shrug. He did the same with me, only he had his eyebrows raised in anticipation of some sound from my direction. If it was a game of Stare I would have won because Egyptians don’t have the patience to stay in one place. Time wasn’t of the essence for me but I didn’t feel like playing a 5yr olds game which involves staring at your opponent until they look away.
“Hadha,” I said to him pointing to the object of my desire. It means this but they don’t use it in Egypt, instead opting for a skewered variety of the same word. He smirked and lifted the item from the display and onto the counter. A token was handed to me and I inspected it, I wasn’t sure what I had to do with it but he made a few vague motions as only Egyptians can or as that happy guy (Lionel Blair) on Give Us a Clue always used to. Body language is great sometimes. Token in hand I walked to the payment zone as gesticulated by the guy behind the counter, I responded to him by waving in a Molotov cocktail of flailing limbs which translated as “Bye”. I paid and wandered lost for a brief second before being directed by a helpful soul to the pickup point, it was simple- he pointed left and I walked right. Screaming eureka in my head I scuttled across to the collection zone and finally after the laborious nature of Tawheed wa El Nour’s strict procedure-based scheme, I left happy.
That night I covered myself with my purchase, dreaming of a good nights sleep- and all this before the real R.E.M. Naturally, you would presume that a thick polyester blanket would help retain enough heat within your body to be able to ride through the cold. Standard thought procedures don’t work very well here, I had learnt that already. Though it was no worse than any of the previous nights, neither was it much better. I struggled to sleep and rummaged through one of the wardrobes and eventually I found extra ammunition, the bed cover. Even though these blankets would serve me well I knew I had to take extra action because the latter part of the night was always colder.
In special circumstances you need to adapt and fight a new battle and up until this time my enemy, the cold, was getting the better of me. My new strategy involved refining the method of wrapping myself into the blanket. I took one side and slid it underneath me, then I rolled over it so it sat securely beneath me. I did the same at the other end, I was strapped in so securely that if I had been in a sanitarium they couldn’t have restrained me any better. My feet were still loose so I rotated them until I could feel the softness of the polyester tickle my heel and I pinned it down. With a last flick of my head the blanket dropped over my face, and in that unorthodox comfort I fell asleep until the call for prayer seven hours later. It was miraculous that this unconventional method of sleep would be the most comfortable way of retaining my sanity during the night.
Believing that the task was complete was a little premature, more than on the odd occasion the covers would come loose and I would have to dance in the bed to get back to the optimum position again. My reluctance to conform in my battle to be warm would again suffer a dent, I knew I needed to buy a heater. Fortunately one of the guys next door was leaving and although I was sad to see him go I knew that I couldn’t wait around for other vultures to pick at his belongings. I nipped into his room and without even prompting him he offered me his heater, problem resolved! Money paid, transaction completed.
I returned to my room and lay there looking at the allegorical metal hole in my pocket, I knew it would eat right into my budget but I had to buy the heater and I was pleased about it. The welcoming glow of the orange wire lighting up at night soothed my body from the touch of cold at night, sometimes I would even break out into a sweat. Bliss at last.