Saturday, December 31, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside

My friend Lime has posted about dear friends of hers from Trinidad who came to visit over the Christmas holidays.  Trinidad qualifies to be called 'tropical', and her guests had explicitly hoped to share a White Christmas with Lime and her family (alas, if the weather in Lime-ville is anything like it is in Our Town, that may have been a forlorn hope).  But actual snow on the ground and in the air, such as is typically to be found where the Lime family lives, qualifies as a major novelty for most Trinidadians.

Besides which, it reminds me of a story or two from my own young life. . .


At the university I attended, there was a dormitory that was more-or-less reserved for housing foreign graduate students, and late every fall, with the first significant snowfall, a wonderful scene unfolded as dozens of African, South-Asian and Latin-American grad students would gather on the lawn, snapping photos of each other in the first actual snow any of them had actually seen in their lives.

There was another graduate student at my school in those days, not foreign, but American-born, who was known campus-wide (and it was a very wide campus) as The Mad Hawaiian.  He was, as the nickname might imply, a native of Hawaii, and when he arrived on campus, he didn't even have a pair of long pants to his name.  Now, one might presume that a Hawaiian coming to live in Michigan, in all its wintry wonderful-ness, might, soon after his arrival, equip himself with some typical Michigan-type winter-compatible clothing.  But not The Mad Hawaiian; he reasoned to himself that 'cold is just a state of mind', and why should he spend a big wad of money on clothes, anyway?  (He was studying Computer Science; 'nuff said.)  And so, in the bleak mid-winter, with snow and wind and sub-freezing temperatures, The Mad Hawaiian could be seen walking around campus in a T-shirt and shorts. . .

(As a footnote, some years later, a friend of ours, who hadn't attended our university, and had only moved to Our Town after Jen and I had long since graduated, told us about this unusual guy he worked with, whom everyone called The Mad Hawaiian.  I couldn't believe my ears, and double-checked the name, and it was indeed the very self-same Mad Hawaiian.  I aksed if he dressed unusually, and he said no, it being a somewhat professional business office, he was obliged to wear long pants and a collared shirt.  Which seemed a little disappointing, somewhow. . .)


Our family hosted a Nigerian grad student, years ago.  It was a wonderful experience for us, to spend a year getting to know a man from a culture very different than our own.  It was delightful just to sit with him and talk for hours about life in Nigeria, and his hopes and aspirations for when he returned (he was married, with four children, so his presence at an American university was a huge sacrifice, not just for him, but for his wife and kids, as well).  He came from northern Nigeria, which is a predominantly-Muslim part of the country, and he told us some eye-opening (and occasionally hair-raising) stories about living as a Christian in the midst of a Muslim majority.  The Nigerian Students Association on campus held a few events during the year, to which our family was invited as esteemed guests, and treated to authentic Nigerian cuisine (of which exotically-spiced cream-of-wheat seems to be a staple).

Over Christmas, the folks who were sponsoring his studies (a missionary society; he was getting a degree in counseling to benefit his church back home) brought his wife over to spend the holidays with him, and they were both grateful for the opportunity to spend a couple weeks together in the midst of the long grind of his studies.  It was the first time she had ever been out of Nigeria, to say nothing of America, or even The West more generally.


A brief aside - several of our friends have hosted foreign students over the years, mostly from Latin America.  Since the American school year encompasses the cold-weather months, they always tell their guests to be sure to pack a warm coat.  Which, to the ears of someone from, say, Costa Rica, evokes what Americans would call a 'wind-breaker' - a light jacket, suitable for spring or fall.  But in Latin America, it is 'a warm coat', and is only worn on extremely cold days, when the air temperature drops below 15C (59F).  One poor girl got off her plane in the midst of a raging blizzard, with snow, below-zero (F) temperatures and howling wind.  When her hosts saw her 'warm coat', they took her immediately to buy a REAL 'warm coat', before they even took her home.

Another family we know hosted a student from New Zealand (the South Island, which is the colder of the two).  He arrived in October, and stayed for six months, returning home in April.  But, New Zealand being in the Southern Hemisphere, the poor fellow lived through 18 consecutive months of winter (or something close to it). . .


So, returning to our Nigerian student's wife. . .  As it turned out, we proceeded to have a record-breaking cold snap the whole time she was here - below-zero temperatures virtually every day of her two-week stay. There is absolutely nothing in the experience of any Nigerian that would remotely prepare them for below-freezing temperatures; but this was cold that made even us hardy northerners shiver.  The poor woman wore about five layers of sweaters and thermal long-johns, and I don't think she ever got warm, the whole time she was here.  Even sitting in our dining room, next to the heat duct, and near the stove, she would just sit shivering.  We felt terrible that we couldn't do something to relieve her discomfort.  And of course, the cold broke the day she flew out. . .


  1. I would have been disappointed to hear that the Mad Hawaiian was wearing pants now, too!

    My son, who plays tennis indoors year round, will wear shorts for much of the winter, as well as just a windbreaker. I told him it's embarrassing (it looks as though we can't afford to buy him a winter coat or pants), but he doesn't care. Meanwhile, his $300 varsity jacket sits in the closet.....

  2. i think every campus must have some variant of the mad hawaiian. ours was indian. went about in sandals all year long. i loved seeing the reactions of foreign students to their first snow. it's one of my favorite memories since my freshman year we had a record breaking blizzard that actually shut down campus for 3 days. much fun to be had stealing trays from the cafeteria and riding them down the hills of campus.

    poor nigerian lady though. i have a ghanaian friend who has lived in the US for well over 20 yrs. i still think she breaks out the long johns as soon as the mercury dips to 45.

  3. Hah! As a computer science major it pleases me to NO end to say that the Mad Hawaiian at my University was non other than an Engineering student. Like yours he was determined to last out his college years without wasting money on unnecessary clothing. Alas, he also tried to save money by living in the same college apartments as I did, just a mile off campus. The first cold snap (a week where the high was 10 below) resulted in a mild case of frostbite. He stopped by and accepted my previously refused offer of loaner clothing ...... Sadly I have never heard tell of him since.

  4. Bijoux - Parents should never take the, uh, eccentricities of their teenagers too personally. . . Just keep telling yourself - "Free will; they're created with free will. . ."

    Lime - You guys went traying? So did we! If we got ID'ed as a trayer, we got a bill added to the next term's tuition for a stolen/destroyed tray. By the time I got to campus, there were no doors on the closets, because so many of 'em got wrecked by people using 'em as impromptu sleds. . .

    An' yeah, they just don't get much snow (or temperatures below, say, 15C) along that whole coast of Africa, do they?

    Xavier - Well, at my school, the Computer Science department was part of the College of Engineering. . .

    And good for your guy, for at least letting the frostbite teach the required lesson. . .

    I recall one winter where we had a week of highs around -10F, and 30+ mph wind. I had to walk home from class one day, against the wind, and when I peeled off my frozen jeans, I had a large pink oval on both my thighs, with a smaller white oval inside it. Hurt like hell. . .

  5. I do sometimes wonder if we northerners are a tad bit insane to live in a region with such severe weather. Then again, the summer months are so much more temperate, which my very pale skin appreciates :-)

  6. Suldog - Yeah, maybe all that cold weather causes some kind of low-grade brain damage. . .

    All things considered, tho, I think I'd take the cold, and let the southerners have the hurricanes, and California the earthquakes. . . But maybe I'm weird that way. . .

  7. I can recall a time or two experiencing the same thing. Youch!

  8. I think it's a crime against nature to make a Mad Hawaiian wear pants. Just saying.

  9. Hi, Flutter!

    I understand what you're sayin'. But it's hard for me to make myself get more worked up about it than the Mad Hawaiian was, himself. . .