Monday, July 19, 2010

Keeping warm: my new best friend

I used to dream of "living off the grid" in a log cabin in the woods with a wood stove for heat.  Pipe dream!  It's so cold here in South Africa, and I KNOW you guys back in Louisville are having a hard time imagining it, but it is so cold here in South Africa, that I stumble along my wall every morning, sleepily looking for a (nonexistent) furnace switch to turn on.  It's COLD.

How cold is it?  The water in my bird bath freezes every morning.  While I'm standing in my kitchen (INSIDE my kitchen) I can see the fog of my breath.  My fingers, even in gloves and wool hand warmers are so cold; I can barely button my blouse and remain stiff until noon, when the day finally warms.

Before I left for my trip to Messina, it had already turned cold and I knew that I would need to visit my shopping town to purchase a heater, but I put this very necessary chore off until after my trip.  Silly me, after my trip, and for a full three weeks, we had very mild and WARM temperatures in my village.  I put off buying the heater until it became painfully cold again, which was last week.

So, trying to arrange a ride to town to buy my heater was quite an adventure in itself, but I'll leave it for your imagination.  Suffice it to say, it took several days--several COLD days before I grabbed a ride to town to buy my heater.  While not huge, the heater I had my eye on was bulky enough and heavy enough that it would have been difficult to carry through the taxi rank and get it on a taxi for transport.  I needed a private car for this purchase.

But oh my, do I LOVE my new heater!  And boy was it worth the trouble, the expense, and the wait!  (Well, maybe not the wait!)  It is my new best friend. It is warm and toasty!  I just love it! 

It's shaped like a radiator and stands about 3 feet tall.  It is an electric heater but it has oil inside that is heated instead of having an element that becomes red-hot.  It takes awhile to heat but it holds the heat long after it is switched off.  It has wheels on it and I can roll it from room to room.  I'm a lucky girl!

So, every morning, I set my clock about an hour early so I can switch on my heater.  (It's so hard to leave a warm bed to an icy house!)  When the alarm clock rings, I spring out of bed, wrap my layers of fleece with my hand-made afghan, and set on the tea-kettle.  Now, if only I could drag my heater and tea to the freezing primary school!

Another way I warm up is to take a hot bath.   I have a hot bath on Wednesday and Sunday. I am a lucky, lucky Peace Corps volunteer, in that I have a bath tub.  However, I am with my brethren PC volunteers in that I live without hot water. (In fact, most PC volunteers live without cold water, and haul theirs from a tap.)   I heat my water for a bath.

I was heating my water for a bath on the stove and using my electric kettle. However, the college campus authorities felt sorry for me (living without a hot water heater ) and bought me a "mini-geyser."  A "geyser" is the South African term for a hot water heater.  See the photo below?  That's me holding my hot water heater.  No sarcastic comments please.

So, how does this implement work?  You place the large end in a tub of water and the heating element inside (the flared end of the mini-geyser) heats the water.  Yes, you plug the other in to an electrical outlet.  Yes, it feels very frightening to put an electrical appliance into a tub of water.  (I do not get INTO the water with the appliance still in--I remove the appliance--and unplug it first--before entering the water.) But still, there is something very frightening about this electrical device to warm a tub of water.  But, it's made for this purpose...

At first I was disappointed, because it didn't seem to warm the water very well. However, I've learned that it takes a long time to warm, and if I can wait an hour (and the electricity doesn't go out), I have a nice, very nice, hot bath. YUM!

With my new best friends, I may survive this cold South African winter, but I'm longing for the hot days--and yes, would happily trade places with you all in Louisville.  Too bad I can't send a little cold air your way in trade of some warm--and yes, even humid! 



  1. I am so glad you finally got the heater!! what luxuries you now have. About the hot water you remember I had this electrical water heater that was supposed to be used to heat a CUP of water? many years, and at the camp, I used it in the bathtub to heat the bathwater. Probably more dangerous than yours, but it worked somewhat.
    Weather is still very hot and humid here, but we got .7 rain last night and it was a very welcome rain.
    You never said if you are taking on the extra large class? Everyone here is good.
    Much love.

  2. Hi Mom!

    You know, I think I do remember that heating element... I think mine is the same thing with a plastic cover on it... Well, it's good to know that, well, this type of thing exists... And luxuries... Well, I'm still wishing I were home every morning when I wake up because it's so cold... It's so cold my eyelids are chapped. :-)

    Would love for it to rain here, but we're in the dry season. I think I'm waiting until January for rain...

    She only wanted me to take the extra large class for the 11 minutes I had before my regular class. Sort of along the lines of me walking to my regular class and she saying, "Would you mind popping in here to teach this class?" Of course, she wanted me to take the class longer than the 11 minutes I had.

    Teachers in South Africa don't plan the way the teachers in the US do. They don't seem to understand (or appreciate) my reluctance at walking into a classroom cold (without preparation). I'm a HUGE planner when it comes to teaching, only because I've learned that the kids will eat me for lunch if they sense I'm unprepared.

    So yes, I taught the large class (130 students) for 11 minutes... It went as well as you can imagine that it did. We had a couple of laughs--even though I was supposed to be keeping them quiet! Love you!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.


  6. Found your blog. It is full of really good information. Thank you for sharing. If you ever need service on air conditioning repair please visit us at We would love it if you would have a look at some of our blogs and let us know your thoughts.