Wednesday, February 2, 2011

First snow of the winter

I live in sight of rocky, snow-capped mountains. Since I've been here (mid-November), when it rains here in the village, those mountain peaks get coated with a fresh layer of snow. The day following a rain is lovely and clear, but the wind that comes down off the mountains has an extra chill in it. I like the cool freshness to that wind while the sun is shining and warm, but once the sun goes down and the cold turns biting, the kitchen is the only warm place around.

A few words about heat here in Shamgona.... I've written about the heat at the house I live in -- the only heat-source is the wood cook-stove in the kitchen, and there is no heat in the upper house where I sleep. So, when it is cold out, I retreat to the kitchen until bedtime.

School is a different story. When I first arrived and was given a tour of the new school building where I would teach, the teachers were so proud to show me that the building was constructed with a central heating system. Central heat is great....if it is used. 

The heating system runs on natural gas. Although it had turned cold at the end of November, it was mid-December before the gas truck came to fill the tanks at school. That was the day that the male teachers pulled out the instructions for the heating system and worked at trying to figure out how to turn it on and keep it running. The instructions were printed in several languages, none of which was Georgian! Using the Russian section, they finally got the system working a little more than a week ago. All the teachers were so excited to have the heat on....but should you be able to touch the radiators if the heat is on high enough? I don't think so. About the only to gain any warmth from them is to sit as close as possible to one of them and put your hands on the metal. The teachers sit huddled around the radiators in the teachers' room warming up between classes. If the building were insulated, the heat would eventually build up to sort-of-warm, but with no insulation in the concrete/tile/marble building, every ounce of warmth is sapped by the freezing cold materials. So, even though the "heat is on," we still wear our coats and scarves (sometimes even hats and gloves) all day long.

I now know why women in this part of the world wear long fur coats -- it's the only way keep out the terrible dampness and freezing cold. After a couple of days of relatively warm weather earlier this week, it turned cold. The ladies at my school now don their full-length fur or shearling coats, boots, and hats Dr. Zhivago-style. I don't condone the fur industry, but my puffy down coat that makes me look a bit like the Michelin Man from the waist up doesn't keep my lower half warm. And today I really could have used something long, because.....

Looking out the door of the upper house
into the front yard
It snowed last night. Although I have no thermometer to tell me the temperature, when I went to bed, I knew it was colder than it had been other nights, but I didn't think that it had dropped to freezing. Before I fell asleep, I heard what I thought was rain on the roof. I didn't realize that it was snow until I got up this morning and looked out the window. Everything was coated with a thin layer of heavy, wet snow. I love snow -- dry, fluffy, flaky snow that doesn't stick to anything. This snow was not that kind. It was the kind that soaks anything it lands on. The yard and trees looked pretty with their coat of white frosting, but underneath, everything was just mud and wetness. And the cold that followed the storm was the kind that creeps in under the skin and gets into the bones. Today the wind off the mountains felt like God had left the freezer door open.

Although there was not much snow, the weight of it knocked out the electricity. But we had school anyway -- no lights and no heat, but classes went on. There are large windows in all of the classrooms, so light was not a problem....and since the heating system doesn't make that much of a difference when it does work, that wasn't really a problem, either!

I realized part way through the day that it is Groundhog Day.... at least in the U.S. where there are groundhogs. There aren't any here in Georgia, but if Punxsutawney Phil had been in my yard this morning, he would not have seen his shadow...... early spring!!! (I hope, I hope, I hope, I hope!)

From the upper house porch, looking out to the road and the cemetery

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