One of the hardest things for me to acclimate to here is the cold. I do not like being cold. My fingers turn blue and my toes go numb and my nose won’t stop running. My shoulders hunch up and my back hurts and I get The Spine Shivers. I get snippy.

I should clarify: I don’t mind the cold as long as I can get away from it. As long as there is a warm place to go to, I rather enjoy the cold and the things that go with it, like wool socks, candles, and hot drinks. But put me in a drafty, cement block house with a tin roof and no hot water (except for in the shower—thank goodness we have hot showers!) and no heat source, and then make it rain for days on end and make the temperature plummet so low that it frosts, and you have one very chilled and unhappy mama.

Hugging warm clothes from the dryer.
(After getting some strong encouragement to purchase a machine—we don’t even own a machine in the states!—we bit the bullet and did. It does wonders for my emotional stability.)

I heat up water on the stove and then soak my fingers in it until I can feel them again. I layer up. I steal my husband’s coat. I wrap myself up in a comforter like a human burrito and then slouch down in front of the computer and do not move. I do jumping jacks. I try to pretend I’m not actually cold and wash my hair in the kitchen sink and nearly pass out from an iced skull. I turn on the oven and stick my feet in it. I dream of an oven big enough that I could climb in completely. Or I fantasize that I’m a sick baby bunny with kind owners who take pity and put it, in its hay-lined nesting box, into the turned-low oven to warm up.

Of course I’m being a wimp. All these thousands of people have been living without heat for centuries and they’re doing just fine. It’s doable. I should just relax into the perpetual cold and go with it.

But how is it physically possible to relax when you’re cold? I can’t figure it out.

A friend commented that she doesn’t believe we have bad weather here because the sun is always shining in the photos I post. That’s because I don’t take my camera out when it’s raining! I don’t want to get it wet and the lighting is bad in the gray dark. But this latest rainy spell, I made it my goal to take some pictures. I couldn’t really catch the bleak, cold wetness, probably because we’re living in a tropical wonderland, but I tried.

There’s a pattern to the weather, I’m learning. We’ll have a spell of warm weather that gets progressively hotter as the days go by. Then there’s an in-between day in which the wind blows and clouds clutter the sky. That night it invariably pours rain, great solid sheets of rain. The heavy rains only last several minutes before dialing back to a soaking rain that holds steady while waiting for the clouds to muster their resolve and once again hold forth. It’s like riding waves, but upside down: RUSH, pour-pour-pour, RUSH, pour-pour-pour.

After about 12 hours of this, the clouds are dragging close to the ground, ragged and worn out, and the temperature drops. For the next two days, maybe three, the clouds remain low and shredded. There is a steady, misty drizzle (called chipi-chipi) that hardly wets your hair interspersed with soft rains.

Look closely and you can see the chipi-chipi. 

And then, finally, comes a day of almost no rain. As the cloud cover and humidity lessen, the temperature drops even further. It will be bittingly cold the next morning but that’s a sure sign that the sun will come out, whoo-hoo! In a couple days it will be hot enough to go swimming and wear shorts to bed and drink iced coffee, and the sky will be so blue that the grey clouds seem like nothing but a made-up memory.

Right now we’re on the last day of the rainy cycle, I think. It’s misting lightly and there’s supposed to be sun tomorrow.

But yesterday morning, in the middle of the cold and wet, I decided I could take it no longer.

While the kids were at school, I hopped on a bus and took off for Cobán and its fancy (Walmart) grocery store where I picked out four single bed comforters. By bundling up in jackets and socks, the kids had been staying warm at night, but just barely. It was time they each had their own insulating comforter.

When they came home after school and spied their newly made-up beds, the shouts of joy and screeches of glee were so intense that I actually felt bad. Were they that cold all this time? What kind of a mother would let her children shiver through their dreams? Also, could the cold night temps be the reason the youngest was have trouble with bladder control? Oh dear.

Last night when we gathered for bedtime reading, the kids trouped out to the drafty living area, their colorful, puffy, warm comforter wrapped tight about their shoulders. What bliss!

I go to bed each night hoping that the next day will bring warmer weather. I’m not asking for much—just a few hours of sun in which to thaw out would be plenty!

Written yesterday, on Friday, March 15.  This morning, it is weirdly raining while there is blue sky and the sun is shining, yes!


  • jenny_o

    Hi – have come over from Margo's (Thrift at Home). I read this when you published it, but haven't been able to get it out of my mind. And it has raised this question for me – is there any kind of heat at the schools your children attend? Or do they have to dress for the weather and sit in cold rooms? You and your family are admirable for your commitment!

    • Jennifer Jo

      Hi Jenny-o! Welcome!

      No, there is no heat at the children's school. They are allowed to wear sweatshirts and as many undershirts as they want. I think some girls wear tights, though my girls haven't done that yet. I'm surprised they don't fuss about the cold more—they must be active enough that it doesn't bother them too much.

  • Mountaineer

    There's a distinction to be made between being cold and feeling the cold. You (often, obviously) are cold, but we have been so conditioned to dreading/being uncomfortable in cold that the times we could be amused by it are unrealized. I think of your children in Virginia going outside on frozen ground in bare feet to jump in shorts on the trampoline. The idea of this distinction came to me as I walked in the cold early mornings to catch the bus. I was adequately, as long as I kept moving, coated and relaxed to enjoy the cold playing around me.

  • pam

    This is so well written. I enjoyed it so much but felt so bad for you.
    I am so surprised by so many things you write about. Pre conceived notions I have about other countries are being set to right. 🙂

  • Steve

    This post brought back bad memories from my year in Southern Brazil. I lived in an uninsulated and unheated building similar to yours and was cold and miserable all winter long. Worse yet the only hot shower I had available used this wimpy on demand electric shower head. I had to reduce the water flow to a mere dribble to get it to produce hot water. 🙁

  • Rachelle

    Suddenly I feel bad for thinking 20C was a cold temperature for keeping our house. Ah well. Stay warm! It'll be summer soon and hopefully you'll have warmer days. (I had to look the country up on the map to see what side of the Equator it's on. ha!)

  • Margo

    Does no one have heat down there, or is it just your makeshift barn/house? I so wish you could have a little woodstove and just fire it up in the cold days. THis makes me so cold reading this. I am right there with you – I like cold if I can bundle up against it (I'm wearing long undies right this very minute). Have any bricks or big stones around? Put them in the oven a la Little House on the Praire, wrap them in flannel and put them in your beds.

    • Jennifer Jo

      No, no one has heat. In many houses, however, the kitchens have wood stoves, so that provides a warm spot. And I don't know about very wealthy homes… (I suspect they use space heaters). But the norm is no heat and houses wide open to the elements: dirt floors, mud yards, cold water only.

      I'll keep the rocks in mind—I had thought of potatoes but it didn't seem practical. Rocks I can do.

  • Kathy ~ Artful Accents

    I am not a fan of the cold either. It makes my body hurt and tense up. I spend most evenings in the winter time with a heating pad on my back and a blanket around me. I HOPE you get some sunshine soon!!

    I also thought of the story about my Dad born in 1933 who was only 2 pounds and premature. He too was kept warm inside the oven and was fed with a medicine dropper.

  • Mama Pea

    *I* was getting colder and colder reading this post. But felt oh-so-much-better when seeing the pictures of everyone bundled up in their new blankies! Your posts with pictures (back in your home in the good ol' US of A) always showed the kids lounging, reading, relaxing, or watching a movie while swathed in comforters and blankets so I'm sure these you purchased made them feel all the more at home in your present surroundings. (Much warmer, too.)

  • Suburban Correspondent

    Amazing the difference a good blankie can make! I totally get this. So tempted to send you a case of my Burt's Bees Miracle Salve for those cold days – that weather would be destroying my hands.

    • Jennifer Jo

      But its wet/humid here so there is NO problem with dry skin. That part is nice! (My sis-in-law gave me a kit of Burt's Bees Miracle everything as a going away gift, though, and I'm LOVING it.)

  • Shannon

    BRRRRR! Reading this makes me cold. It is damp here today, too, but the heat is going in the house and I am thankful for that. I am so glad you have nice days, too.
    The vision of the bunny rabbit on the oven door made me smile remembering the story about my grandfather who was born prematurely in 1912. He was placed in a shoebox on the door of a low-temperature oven by a loving aunt after everyone else believed he would die. He lived, obviously, and because of that, here I am!
    p.s. is it like this in September, too?
    p.p.s. I can tell that I am working on my graduate paper because I just proofread this comment and made changes. Then I had the fleeting thought that I needed to look up the source of the story to site it properly.

    • Jennifer Jo

      From what I've heard, it's warmer in September but it rains CONSTANTLY. But only in our area. It's totally different in other parts.

  • the domestic fringe

    That last photo of your husband cracked me up. I hope you get lots of sunshine and warmth!

    I despise being cold too.

    We have a habit of sleeping in a million layers…like real clothes and sweaters to bed. Then I drape my long fleece robe on top of all the blankets on my bed. It's like a personal-size extra blanket.

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