The mornings and nights are becoming distinctly and unusually chillier here in Bangladesh. I don’t know why it is happening but the perceived wisdom is that when it starts getting so cold in November, it means a long and nasty winter is on its way. This is not good news.
UK readers will probably struggle to sympathise with this. In the UK we’re used to the weather turning cold and miserable from about late September and the nights soon start drawing in. I don’t miss the British winter with the S.A.D. I’ve written about before. The whole Autumn/Winter time of the UK I could do well without and, apart from the brief times when we get enough snow that no one can get to work or school and we can all go play in the snow with our kids, there is nothing good about the cold and dark in Britain.
Normally, the lack of both is what I consider to be the reward for us bideshis living in Bangladesh for surviving the Asian summer. From around October onwards you can open the windows (but keep the nets up – a plague of insects of Biblical proportions will come in your house if you don’t) and turn the fans off. For men, we can wear our T-shirts and bear to wear jeans again (without having to peel them off your skin at the end of the day) or – if you are a little daring like me – carry on wearing shorts enjoying, what would be for us Brits, a very pleasant summer weather. The women, I’m afraid, still carry on wearing their shalwa kameezes but they are no longer uncomfortable in the oppressive heat and, as I shall mention in a moment, they begin to have an advantage.
But no reward this year.
No, this year we seem to have gone straight from ‘oppressive heat and humidity’ to ‘a bit chilly around the gills’. Most mornings I am putting on a T-shirt and then a shirt or long-sleeve top over the top of that. My family have started pulling out socks and slippers and even dressing gowns. I refuse, of course. One of the best things I have learned in Bangladesh about personal hygiene is that it is cleaner, nicer and certainly less smellier to have nothing on your feet for as long as possible. The British determination to wear socks and shoes in all weathers and to never take them off except for bed now fills me with disgust – which will amuse at least one of my childhood friends who reads this blog as I never used to think like that…
Anyway, I did think that maybe what was happening was that we were simply acclimatising to the Bangla weather. After all, we’ve always been amused by the way Bangladeshis start getting out the bobble hats and scarves by November and start complaining about how cold it is whilst us bideshis continue to wear T-shirts.
In our first year, I remember wifey and I walking to language school in Dhaka one November morning and I was in T-shirt and shorts and wifey was in a light shalwa because it was a lovely sunny day. Two children walked past us and one of them pointed at me and said “Pagla” before turning to wifey and saying “Pagli”. Our Bangla was still pretty basic at that point so I had to wait until we got to the school to ask what he had said. The boy had said “mad man” and then “mad woman” and it was suggested this was simply because we were dressed as though it were still summer when clearly, in Bangladeshi thought, it was not.
So this thought worried me. We are heading back to the UK in December for Christmas and New Year, followed by a wedding and I was (still am actually) terrified about how cold we’re going to find it if we now, like the locals here, find November in Bangladesh to be cold.
I am taking comfort in the fact that our friends are telling us “no, it really IS unusually cold at the moment”. Our Ayah, Surola (who is, as I never tire of saying, one of the most remarkable women I have ever met) is already wrapped in a thick chador. This is the advantage the women have that I alluded to earlier. Women always have to wear an orna, a kind of long, light scarf around their shoulders, usually but not always covering their chest area. You are considered naked without one. In the summer, even the lightest orna is a burden as it makes you so much hotter. But in the colder season you can wrap them around your head and keep the heat in. When it gets really cold, you can swap them for thicker and bigger material which is much more like a blanket called a chador. It does the same cultural job of covering you up but is much more like wearing a big winter blanket around you.
I dread to think what Surola will do though, when the winter really strikes in January/February. I’ve never seen a woman wear two chadors and have no idea if that’s allowed!
I guess we’ll see.