The Inertia of the Tropics

When I was a teenager, I was captivated by the TV show “Adventures in Paradise.”   The  episodes were was set in Tahiti and it seemed to me that this was certainly the place to go once I was free from the confines of my parents’ supervision.  Of course, the fact that the star of the show was Gardiner McKay and that he was VERY easy on the eyes could have played a big part in my opinion.  Nevertheless, I turned my Midwestern bedroom into my idea of a South Seas bungalow and I listened to Hawaiian ukele music a LOT.  It’s a wonder that our neighbors survived my “Red Sails Over the Sunset” phase with their sanity intact.   My mother thanked her lucky stars when I discovered Rudolph Nureyev and switched into my Russian phase.  My dad just spent a lot of time in his recliner downstairs with the TV volume turned up. 

Since I grew up in Michigan and Minnesota, I certainly had no first-hand experience with life in the tropics.  In fact, it wasn’t until I was the mother of two small children and living in Charleston, South Carolina that I first came face-to-face with oppressive heat and humidity.  I remember the first  summer that we lived there.  I would get up in the morning, shower, dress, and then walk outside to the curb to get the morning paper.  The curb was maybe three car-lengths from our front door.  By the time I would get back inside our air-conditioned house, I would be hot, sticky, sweaty and ready to shower again.  Ugh!  How did anyone get anything done in that state in the summer?  I guess I gradually got acclimated to the climate because by the second summer there, it didn’t feel quite as oppressive.

Fast forward to my time here in Indonesia.  Mentally I know that it is January and it is cold back home.  I also know that I HATE winter.  However, sitting in a non-airconditioned house here in Bandung has me yearning for some cold air.  Mind you, this is one of the cooler areas of Java.  At least we had air-conditioning in Jakarta.  But once you stepped outside, Jakarta was stifling unless there was a nice breeze.  I can definitely understand why you see so many people sitting in the shade during the heat of the day here.  Who has the energy to do anything else?  The heat is just draining. 

Here in the kampung, you’ll see people sitting on their porches or on benches along the alleys in the heat of the day just resting or visiting with neighbors.  In Jakarta, I noticed lots of little stands/benches with thatched roofs over them along the roads and people sitting cross-legged on them just resting.  Of course there are the modern office buildings with air-conditioning and work goes on in these just like it does in New York or Philadelphia.  But for those who don’t have the benefit of air-conditioning, there is a definite rhythm to work in the tropics.

Honestly, I go to bed here at night and the sweat is just trickling down my torso.  Gosh, I know that’s not a very genteel thing to admit but it’s the truth.  I wake up with a dull headache and I’m sure it’s from the heat and the fact that I’ve slept poorly.  That headache is usually lurking just below the surface most of the day as I try to find a spot where there is a bit of a breeze.  I have to make a conscious effort to drink, drink, drink fluids throughout the day to avoid dehydration but since ice cubes are a luxury at the house, I find it hard to find lukewarm water very refreshing.  I also don’t enjoy fishing the occasional ant out of my glass so I know I don’t drink as much as I should and that also contributes to the headaches.

I can see where it would be easy to come away from a  trip to the tropics with a stereotype of people who are somewhat lazy.  Believe me, once you’ve spent a decent amount of time living in a climate like this without air conditioning, you have a much better understanding of the lifestyle.  I am realizing more and more that 1.  The tropics….Tahiti or otherwise….are not for me.  2.  People who live in the tropics are not lazy.  They have just learned to adjust their pace of life to what is sustainable within the constraints of the climate.  3.  Those living in poverty in a hot climate have an even greater challenge since they must cope without the conveniences that we take for granted such as air conditioning, washing machines and dryers, microwaves, even modern showers.  4.  Last, but not least, I am ready for a good snowstorm but NOT before I am safely back home in the States.

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Hot Flashed Funk

  • Since I am in the midst of a snowstorm, I can tell you that a snowstorm is NOT what you are craving. 🙂

    Other than that…..It’s kind of late now, but what about a fan? My best friend in Zambia was the fan that I bought soon after my arrival. It was my sanity, for sure!

    And your observations about the pace are well said.


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