I am a warm-blooded, heat-seeking creature. Being half-Filipino, I like to think that I belong in the tropics, and that tolerance for disgustingly humid climates is an integral part of my DNA. I grew up in Los Angeles where I happily weathered scorching summers and voluntarily participated in weekend long hiking trips through the Joshua Tree desert. For two years I even lived in sub-Saharan rural Senegal, where biking 60km in 100°F+ temperatures through dirt roads and Sahelian scrub-brush became something to do for fun–just to break up the monotony of village life.
And so it is somewhat ironic to now be living in the coldest of AIF field placements. No need to even think about owning a refrigerator here. We can leave our eggs, vegetables, and tetra-packs of milk open on the kitchen counter for a week or more without worrying about spoilage.
Not that I haven’t ever lived in cold places before. I put in a good four years in Chicago and another two in New York, but figure-abolishing midwestern coats and pre-WWII apartment steam heaters make even the snowiest winter nights bearable. Winters in Darjeeling are another climatic monster all together. Although the winters are truly mild in comparison to some locations in the U.S., the lack of indoor heating means that you cannot really warm up. The chill literally seeps into your bones, and if you are me–whose bones would much rather be baking in Death Valley–this is the most disagreeable phenomenon imaginable.
Then how does one survive a Darjeeling winter that only promises to get colder in the coming months? I offer you my own discoveries in my quest to stay warm:
#1. Wood Paneling
Darjeeling apartments largely fall into two categories: cement walled and wood paneled. I am lucky enough to live in an apartment covered in wood paneling. The insulating properties of this material keep the apartment several degrees warmer than the outside temperature, although still not warm enough to prevent me from shivering. Which leads me to…
An obvious tip that I happen to take to the extreme. These days my work-day attire consists of thermals + two long sleeve shirts + heavy sweater + winter jacket. Gloves, scarf, and a hat keep blood coursing to my extremities and chilblains in check as I type up project reports.
These layers, once on, never really come off either. At night I change into a thermal and sweater, long pants, and woolen socks. Clad for sleep, I then bury myself under exactly three layered comforters and do not emerge until I see the sun the next morning.
#3. Gas and/or Electric Heaters
Marvelous contraptions which, to be honest, we haven’t been taking advantage of for fear of racking up an extraordinary electric bill. Addtionally, the Government of India’s recent decree limiting the number of gas cylinders per household has sadly placed this option out of reach for yours truly. So I resort to…
#4. Warm Beverages
Gone are the days when a cold glass of water seemed thirst quenching. Taato paani (“hot water”) is the only reasonable way to drink H20 here. Non-stop consumption of chai–or chiya in Nepali–is also good for body and soul. Luckily Darjeeling excels in its tea options.
I have to concede that Darjeeling is quite warm in the sun. Unfortunately I spend most of my waking hours in an (cement-walled) office rarely visited by direct sunlight. Lunch-time walks around Darjeeling have become part of my daily routine, helping to both lift my mood and increase my Vitamin D count.
#6. Hide Amongst the Herd
Cold revives one’s instincts, and my instincts tell me that the safest place outdoors is in the dead center of a group of puffily clad Bengali and foreign tourists. Darjeeling is currently hosting its annual outdoor Tea and Tourism Festival. In the evenings I seek solace in the combined body heat of my fellow human beings as we watch cultural performances by local artists. Last night’s performance by what I would describe as the Sikkimese version of KISS was particularly enlightening.
#7. Retreat to Warmer Climates
The fact that the communities in which Broadleaf HEA works are much warmer than Darjeeling itself only adds to the reasons why I love making field visits. Recently, our team has been scouting potential partner schools for next year. It is orange season in the Darjeeling Hills, and in between hiking from one school to the next we stop at neighboring houses to recharge on the sweetest oranges I have ever tasted.