10 June, 2010

Beating the heat...

…is a necessity here in Iraq. Summer haze is both a mood dampener and a saving grace. The thicker it is, the gentler the sun beats down. In Erbil, Andy tells me, there can be five day stretches of 120 degrees. But one does not see men working shirtless. Shorts and short sleeves are nearly absent; Islamic custom prescribes modest for men as well as women, so i wear jeans to feel more culturally comfortable, to respect the custom.

The secret to physical comfort is loose-fitting clothing. In Erbil, men can be seen in traditional Arab dress, one-piece white cotton garments - called "thoub" - that look and feel like a dress shirt, but extend to the ankles. Kurds wear traditional pants, a style we'd call "parachute pants". (The other thing i've seen a lot of here in Iraq are bell-bottoms, including bell-bottom dress pants.) I find that going "commando" dramatically reduces the sweat factor.  

Indoors can be just as oppressive as the open sun. Andrew has two low-tech units, a technology i've never seen before. He calls it the "poor man's air conditioner" (the units sell for about $50, while air conditioners cost $600, not to mention overwhelming the meager electricity supply). They operate a bit like a humidifier, relying on the energy lost during evaporation to remove heat from the air - simply water dripping on hay, a large surface area for evaporation - and then blowing this cooled air into the room.

Aside from the funky wet-hay smell, it works quite well - as long as there's water. There is not always water in Suly. Public water runs for about two hours most days, filling individual tanks that you'd run off during the day. But today, the water was never turned on. Brushing teeth, washing dishes, flushing an eastern-style toilet…hmm. There are no "austerity measures" to implement here, says my host. In Kurdistan, millenial living is something people do on a daily basis.