Thursday, February 17, 2011


"Warmth" is one of those words that sounds like what it is. There is something about the pronunciation of the word that, when I say it, makes me feel like I have just wrapped a cozy scarf around my neck or settled down into a cushy comforter (boy, do I miss my down comforter....). "Warmth" -- maybe it's because there are no harsh sounds in the word -- all the sounds are soft and round. It is more breath than sound. The English "r" has one of the softest sounds in the language. Move that sound into the hum of the "m" and you have a fluffy kitten glissading underneath the wood stove to bask in its rumbling warmth.

Warmth is all but non-existent in a Shamgona-winter; it is something that only exists in the kitchens of the village right now. Right now there is no heat at school. Since our school is a public school, the government provides funding for heat each month. The person who sends out the heat-money must be sick or on vacation because our school has not yet received the money to pay for February's heat. In a building made of cold, hard-surfaced materials, the freezing night temperatures seep in and take hold while the sun is on the U.S.-side of the world; and with nothing to chase away the biting chill, conducting school is like trying to hold classes in a meat-locker. Because it is so cold, our class-times have been cut from 45 minutes down to 35 with five-minute breaks between instead of 10. That's about all the cold we can stand before retreating back to our respective kitchens for some much-needed warmth.

Warmth found me for a minute at school today. The sun made an appreciated appearance this morning, and the way the school building is situated, the teachers' room gets the full force of the sun's rays whenever it shines. After fourth period today in a particularly frigid room, I walked into the teachers' room to switch my books for the next class. As I headed to the opposite side of the room, I stepped into the sunny spot that the huge windows allow. Warmth! I stopped mid-step, closed my eyes in the brightness, and let the rays of sunlight envelope my chilled being. I felt like a cat -- they always find the sun-spots in which to curl up. I stayed there for a minute, soaking up the warmth.

Warmth -- it is something that I am fortunate to enjoy even though it is cold out, thanks to some of things I brought with me: knee-high Smartwool socks, shearling boots, an EMS down coat (which I almost didn't bring), Smartwool shirts, and wool sweaters. I also brought my 20-degree sleeping bag with me. I had been warm enough sleeping underneath three heavy blankets until the temperatures dropped below freezing. Now I wriggle down into my Kelty bag and pull the three covers up overtop -- including my head. I always feel like I am in my own personal cocoon in there. The headband, hat, scarf, and hand-warmers (which I have dubbed, "hand-sweaters") that I have knitted keep my head and hands comfortable enough when outside the kitchen -- necessities in the form of manufactured warmth.

Warmth is felt not only physically, but also abstractly. I am touched by it on a daily basis by my students' enthusiasm to share their answers to my questions, by the squeezes from my colleagues who communicate readily through loving touches, by Koba's gifts of mandarins, kiwis, or chocolates that appear out of his coat pockets, and by Tea's ever-present hospitality and friendship. Even though it is blasted cold outside, the warm-heartedness of the people I live and work with helps to stave off some of winter's chill. I may be able to see my breath indoors, but I am surrounded by lots and lots of.....


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