Saturday, July 14, 2007

Things to do in the heat

It’s hot out here – REALLY hot. Not only does the sun beat down almost vertically on us, but the breeze is even hotter, and carries little sand particles that get in our eyes, nose, everywhere. Also, there is no natural shade whatsoever, no grass that might diminish the glare, no rain that might keep the sand down, not a single cloud that might occlude the sun for a short while.

The larks just stand out in the sun, beak open, looking stunned and forlorn. Only the dhub lizards seem to deal with the heat all right. As for myself, I just drink inordinate amounts of water, and I have to watch that I don’t step in and out of air-conditioned areas too much, because that makes me feel sick. In some places such as the command post tent, there’s a good fifty degree difference between inside and the afternoon heat. Going in and out of there makes me feel like I am being repeatedly kicked in the stomach. Jad says it’s because I’m skinny and I have low blood pressure. I think he’s right.

Since this is hopefully the hottest temperatures I’ll ever have to live in, I made a couple of experiments.

First, I ran along the base perimeter at 1700 one day, when the temperature was around 115 degrees F. I made it in 52 minutes and 25 seconds, which for the 6.5 mile distance is slow, but this wasn’t about speed. I stopped sweating around mile four, not because I had run out of water as Army doctrine says I would, but simply because my sweat glands were “turned off.” When I stepped into the air-conditioned gym tent, I started sweating profusely until my body temperature was back to normal, and then I stopped sweating even though I think I still had plenty of water in me. I didn’t get a headache (once again, the Army says I should have), and my skin was not particularly “cool and clammy.” The most disagreeable effect of the run was that my saliva turned into a white paste that was very similar to school glue, but thicker. After ten minutes of AC and a liter of warm water, I was back to normal. So I guess water loss isn’t as dramatic on the long-term as the Army says it is. I don’t know how long I could keep running without any water, maybe another hour or so before losing consciousness. Whatever it is, it’s way past the Army’s limit for hard work in extreme heat. I think I could get used to living and working out here without air conditioning, but it wouldn't be fun.

Second, I read about camel herders in western Sahara (not the country) who spend the hottest part of the day wrapped in wool blankets. I had indeed noticed that when the outside temperature is below body temperature, putting on my ballistic armor makes me hotter, but not as much when the outside temperature is greater than my internal temperature. I put on some long unused polypro underwear to a couple of patrols, and I didn’t really feel a difference.

The only proven remedies for extreme heat remain: going to Southeast Alaska and staying there, or entering an air-conditioned area and staying there. As a result, we’ve been waiting impatiently for the end of the deployment (less than a hundred days in Kuwait left!), and spending as much time inside as possible. Here I am, staying out of the heat:

I just love my computer – how did I ever get by witout it? It’s my post office, radio stations, shopping center, CD player, cinema, and everything else in a single small, relatively cheap, incredibly high-tech toy.

It’s simply incredible what is out there on the web nowadays. For example, I was just trying to by a GPS, and read a comment leading to a link that sounded funny. And of course there went several hours of my not-so-precious time following links from all over the world. I ended up on the blog of a Chilean author I had never heard of before! He writes about interesting books, critics magical realists (“Colombia, un país donde los ‘garciamarquianos’ o los ‘gabistas’ abundan como el café y la guayaba”), and even has some really interesting insights about my perennial dual language problem (he was born in California and moved to Chile when he was thirteen). One of them follows, written in English in the original:

“Yes. Some people believe there is such a thing as bilingualism. I have my
serious doubts. One can speak, even write in different languages, but one of
them must dominate. And in my case, by now, it's Spanish. I am a
Spanish-language author and, more important, a Chilean. In the United States
now, I have an accent. I stumble on spelling and, though I may talk all day in
English, at the end of the day, I will need to revisit things in Spanish.”

So I’m getting one of his books, along with the GPS receiver and some Chinese “Lapsang Souchong” smoked tea. I just can’t believe what is accessible to people almost anywhere in the world. Having grown up in Paris, it came as a matter-of-course that the world’s greatest paintings, libraries that could answer any queries, and any kind of music or food I might fancy, would be readily available. But now this is all easily accessed from my couch!

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