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13.6.10

Equatorial Monotony

It's June and we should be well into Dry Season by now. But we ain't. It's been raining nearly every afternoon and today I had to slog, yet again, through flooded streets in cataclysmic downpours on the back of an ojek (motorcycle taxi). It's strange to say the least. Folks are talking about it because the typical Rain Season is around October to April. By mid-June, it should be blazing hot and dry as a bone here in the Ciliwang river basin.

Rain is not unusual here. In the mountains, it rains nearly every day of the year, but in the plains, the Rain Season is normally about six months, followed by the Dry Season. Rain Season equates to summer in the temperate latitudes. The trees blossom and fruit appears and rice grows like crazy (we're having a bumper crop this year). The Dry Season is like winter: everything dies, the leaves drop and by October, things look pretty bleak. The late rains are enough to get the old folks jawbonin' about weather, which is normally not a topic of great debate, since it hardly changes year 'round, save for the ralative increase and decrease in precipitation.

Life on the equator is maddeningly regular. If you are a freak about routine and you don't live on the equator, then you are out of your element. The length of the day varies little more than half an hour the entire year. The sun comes up roughly 6am and goes down roughly 6pm every day, 365 days a year. The temperature rarely ventures outside 25-33C, or 75-90F. About the only thing that varies at all is the amount of precipitation. People just don't discuss the weather here. Under normal circumstances, that topic would only be surpassed in dullness by the weather itself. When things change, even a little, it makes for quite a stir.

It causes me to reflect on a few things, like a cool, crisp fall morning. I miss those days when the air is clean, dry and cool. You feel compelled to throw open the doors and windows and air out the house. The very light seems to have a shimmering quality and a silvery cast to it. The light breeze stirs the leaves around and it feels as if the world is holding its collective breath, waiting for the Big Blow of winter. I miss those weekend afternoons on a day like that, where you lie in the cool, freshly mowed grass and stare up at the infinite blue, not a single cloud in sight.

I miss a crackling fire on a cold winter's morning: the smell of the burning wood and the occasional pops and snaps. I miss the cozy feeling of walking into a warm house from the bleak outdoors and shedding the layers of clothes that kept you alive. I miss having a hot cup of coffee or cocoa to warm your core, not to keep you from sweating. I actually miss those times of the year when the night is longer than the day.

I miss the long summer days, when the sun rises early and sets well after 8pm. The days seems to last forever. You fight your way home and still have a couple of hours of daylight left for playing with the kids in the yard.

To be sure, there is a certain advantage to living on the equator. The growing season is year-round, so food is cheap and plentiful. You don't need two separate wardrobes. Your toes and fingers are never numb, nor do your face and lips get chapped and wind-burnt. But the lack of variety can be as much a curse as a blessing, like the sound of rain on a tin roof; at first it's pleasing and refreshing, but after several hours, it can drive you to the brink.

Perhaps there is a correlation between weather and food. It seems that the more monotonous the weather, the spicier the food. The correlation does seem to have some validity. Indonesian and Mexican food are spicy, while German and British food are bland beyond tolerance. In my experience, and granted this is only anecdotal, the farther you move from the equator, the less spice appears in the native cuisine. Maybe I'll apply for a grant and travel the world sampling food to see if my theory is valid.

I've seen less worthy topics...

The most bothersome part of an extended rainy season is that I have to carry dry clothes and shoes all the time. I'm beginning to feel like a turtle, both for the amphibious context and for the fact that I carry my net worth on my back all the time.

I am happy that the old folks have more to talk about than just my whereabouts and doin's though. For that, let us give thanks.

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