Living In An Icebox

Starting in November, it gets really cold in Jordan. December and January are spotted with days, or weeks, when I don't have running water, except between 2 pm and 5 pm, when the water in my pipes melts from the day before. Occasionally, school is cancelled because it's "too cold to concentrate," and it's not uncommon for me to drink five cups of tea a day and dread my shower days (which have now slowed down to twice a week). Since 95% of the families in my village can’t afford central heating, the temperature inside our concrete houses is usually (well, always) colder than the outside chill.
February alternates between (dreadful) stretches of rain, grey clouds, and no sun and (delightful) stretches of hints of spring approaching. March usually has one week of unexpected nastiness, but otherwise, if you've made it this far, it's downhill from here!
You don't really know how cold it is in a village without central heating just ten minutes from the snow-capped mountains of Syria until you experience it. Now that I'm in my second (and last) winter here, I can look back with a proud smile (I came, I froze, I'm still here!) and give advice to anyone about to face a very severe winter in a very isolated village:
1. Get used to wearing running tights, long underwear, turtlenecks, wool sweaters, wool socks, a ski cap, and gloves 24 hours a day. Yes, I do sleep with all of these on during the harshest nights.
2. Shower in segments. Pick one day when you wash your body from the waist down, another when you wash from the waist up, and another to wash your hair. This prevents you from fully exposing your naked skin to the cold; on day 1 (when you wash from the waist down), you can still keep upper extremities warm by wearing your 7 layers.
3. If you wash clothes by hand, mentally prepare yourself for frostbitten fingers when washing laundry in the winter. Schedule a laundry session so that for 4 hours after, you don't need any use of the muscles in your hands (it takes this long to dethaw them) and keep in mind that your now-clean clothes may take up to 5 days to dry.
4. Sleep with a hot water bottle. If you have two, keep one tucked between your feet and one clasped to your chest.
5. Ignore villagers when they comment, "انتي ناصحة (You're fatter!)" There's no reason to diet; it's the fault of those 7 layers you constantly wear.
6. In the mornings, it's normal to see steam rising from your pee (and poo, as well).
7. If you are religious, attend weekly church services. If you know someone who is hospitalized, visit them. If you have Sunday brunch, make reservations at the Four Seasons or the Intercontinental. The places in Jordan guaranteed to have central heating are churches in Amman, public and private hospitals, and any 4- or 5-star hotel. (For budget travelers or Peace Corps volunteers: if you can't afford Sunday brunch at a top hotel, drop obvious hints to your dating partner. If you aren't dating, there's nothing wrong with strolling in to the Four Seasons to admire their humongous Christmas tree and to sit in their lobby for several hours).
8. Visit village neighbors who light up a fire in the middle of their Bedouin tents every night.
9. Maximize running water hours: when I know that my pipes are going to be frozen from sunset (5 pm) until the sun's height the next day (2 pm), I fill up buckets and water bottles in my house with water while it's miraculously flowing from the faucets. In the morning and at night, I brush my teeth with water from the water bottle, and flush my Arabic toilet with water from the bucket.
10. Invest in a warm sleeping bag and make yourself a cocoon's nest each night.
11. Build yourself a fort around your sleeping bag: I've hung up emergency blankets (the kind that marathon runners are wrapped in once they finish) on my walls to reflect any heat that otherwise would just be absorbed by the concrete walls.

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