Disclaimer: The following blog post may seem like a whiny rant. That is because it is basically a whiny rant. I recognize that I am an extremely privileged individual, and that many people in India, and in the rest of the world, sleep in far worse conditions than I did last night. I ask you to please suspend your judgment of me while reading this (including the less politically correct bits)!
I have written about difficulties sleeping before, in my blogpost about “night noises.” More recently, the neighbors across the street had wedding celebrations that lasted for six nights; you haven’t really lived life until you’ve been woken at 4 a.m. to the sound of loud drums and a badly-played horn. Once I realized that it was a wedding, not a marching band sacrificing a bleating goat, I put my pillow over my head and tried to fall back to sleep.
Lately, the heat, not the noise, keeps me awake at night. Last night was my least favorite night since I have been in India. Iris and I each got around 2 or 3 hours of sleep total.
It started with a long, tiring day; I came home with a headache, and by evening I was mildly nauseous, probably from a combination of exhaustion, dehydration and pollution.
After an early dinner, Iris and I decided to go to bed at 10. It was very hot, but the fan in our room was on, so our habit of pre-bedtime showers helped cool us off slightly. However, as we lay there, we realized that our mattresses were even hotter than the air. Because our room is on the corner of the building, the sun heats it up during the day, and it takes hours to cool down.
Before the room could cool off enough, the power went out. Sometimes when the power goes out (and the fan turns off) there is a slight breeze that cools us down. Last night, the air was perfectly still. Iris and I lay in the stuffy, oven-like room (my best guess is that the room was between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit), hoping that the outage wouldn’t last. I was dizzy, nauseous, and felt like I was burning up. Unfortunately, the lack of breeze also meant that the mosquitoes were free to fly exactly as they chose, and they chose to fly towards me. Usually, when I hear the high-pitched whine of a winged vampire, I wave my hand to swat it away. This time, though, I didn’t have the energy to raise a finger. Have my blood, little suckers.
After some time, the fan switched on – the power was back! But our joy was short-lived, as it soon shut off again. When it was clear that this power outage business was not a temporary matter, the apartment building watchman/caretaker switched on the generator. The generator powers one ceiling fan and one light in the main room of our apartment. So, Iris and I traipsed out to the main room, our pillows in tow. We dunked our heads under the sink to cool off a little, and lay on the tile floor in the main room, directly under the fan. This was better, somewhat. But it was still too hot to sleep. Instead of the tiles cooling us, our bodies were heating up the floor.
The power switched on again – for two minutes – enough time for the watchman to switch the generator off and for us to go back to our room. This off and on routine continued for hours. The watchman is only supposed to switch the generator on when he expects the power outage to last for at least 15 minutes, I believe because it is bad for the generator to run it for a shorter time. So, there were many stretches of time where we were baking in the still, hot air. As we lay on the floor, we raised our waterbottles over our heads and dumped the contents on our bodies. This was successful at turning us into soaking wet puddles – for perhaps half an hour, until the hot air dried it all up.
At some point, Iris asked, “is this what hell feels like?” We lost track of time. I remember looking at my watch at 2:30, 2:50, 3:15, 3:50 a.m. I believe we dozed off for a little while.
After one particularly horrible stretch with no generator, we finally heard the familiar low rumble kick in. Iris and I raised our hands in the air, two atheist Jews saying things like “sweet Jesus” and “praise the Lord.”
The whole night was a blur of heat, delirious conversations, attempted sleep, and hysterical laughter at the situation. At one point, my laughter turned to tears, except nothing came out of my eyes because my body was not eager to waste the little salt and water reserves it had. At some hour (maybe 4 a.m.) I realized that the liters of water I was drinking were going through my body without me feeling better. Remembering my pediatrician uncle’s advice on balancing electrolytes, I went to the kitchen and started licking salt out of my hand. I felt kind of like a horse who has found saltlick, except that most horses aren’t laughing hysterically to themselves as their clothes stick to their body with sweat.
At 6:30 a.m., our host family woke up, and the day’s noises began: that was the end of our “sleep.” Iris and I have been through a lot together already, but after last night, we felt like comrade soldiers, bound together in wartime. There are many things I will miss when I fly home in two weeks, but the summer heat of India is not on that list.
P.S. My family’s recent visit was wonderful, and a good time was had by all!