Monday, March 21, 2011

Winter in Astana

Today or tomorrow is the first day of spring. Tomorrow (22 March) is Kazakhstan's celebration of Nauriz--the first day of spring, the Persian New Year. It's one of the biggest holidays in Kazakhstan.

So now's a good time to reminisce about winter.

This year's winter has been SO MUCH WARMER than last year's, it's hard to believe. Here's proof that it's been warmer: Last year, I waited patiently for winter to end. I derived a certain satisfaction from being able to out-do all my friends when it came to talking about the weather. (My Chicago friends finally admitted that I was much colder than they were.) And on March 21, 2010, I was able to proudly say, "I survived a sub-Siberian winter." I was quite proud.

This winter I was better prepared--a down-filled Lands' End coat instead of a polyester-filled coat from the bazaar; ski goggles to protect my contact lenses; lambskin mittens; a Wii Fit so I could exercise without leaving the house.

While the Lands' End coat turned out to be a disappointment (not good for weather colder than -20 Celsius), that was alright. I hardly used the Wii Fit because I spent so much time outside. As we entered February, I started to despair--was winter going to end so soon? My weekends passed swiftly, and I just didn't have enough time to do all that I wanted to do. And now, as winter finally ends, I have yet to go ice skating or skiing on the river, yet to take Sophia sledding more than once--and the ice thins on the river, the snow melts and turns to slush.

Winter is over.

It maybe got to -40 once. I never saw it on my computer, but a student claimed that his dad woke up in the middle of the night and it was -40. Of course, I don't lament the end of -40 weather. I lament the end of a frozen river. It's fine with me that we never reached -40.

But that's Astana's claim-to-fame--the land where the temperature gets to -40, the land where Fahrenheit and Celsius meet. And it didn't happen this year.

We had a couple mornings that were around -30 Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) and, yes, it was awful walking to school. But with my ski goggles on, not a part of my skin was showing, and, really, I was okay. Sophia, however, didn't have goggles, and she was not happy. This summer we're looking for ski goggles for her.

-30 C is so cold that your forehead--usually the only piece of skin that still shows after you're bundled up (the part between your eyes)--hurts terribly. So it became a measure of how cold it was. One "warmer" morning we went outside, all bundled up, and, yet, it wasn't as cold. "If your forehead isn't in acute pain," I told Sophia, "then that's good."

It got so cold that for a couple days we said no outdoor recess. Most students didn't mind.

It got so cold that touching metal with your bare hands could burn you. I learned this last year, when I took off my gloves to get my key and then opened the door to the apartment building--ow!!!

This year at the school, we have 5 buildings to go between, and so often we run outside not as fully dressed as we should be--in -20 we might wear our winter coats but not gloves. So I burned my hand touching a door handle. So did a 7-year old. So we had to announce to the entire 2nd grade class--don't touch door handles with your bare hands! Use your shirt sleeves if you don't have gloves!

Never thought that would be a rule I'd be telling a group of 7-year olds.

(The burns weren't bad, just hurt.)

I was better prepared this year--I bought expensive "insulated" boots that are good enough quality to last several years (versus the bazaar shoes I had last year--fashionable and warm, they barely lasted one season). My lambskin mittens, around $10 from the bazaar, kept my fingers warm. Last year I came home one day so cold that I collapsed in front of the radiator on the first floor of my apartment building, unable to go any further until the burning pain in my fingers subsided.

(Notice how extreme cold more resembles "burning" than "freezing".)

And then, towards the end of January, a co-worker who lives in the same building as us, asked us if we'd like a ride to school. She and her husband had recently bought a car, and she had meant to ask us earlier, but it had slipped her mind.

So from then on, Sophia and I had a ride in the morning. There was only one more week of god-awful, -30 Celsius weather, but I'm glad I missed walking in that! And -20 isn't exactly fun to walk in either.

The co-worker has since returned to the US to have a baby; her replacement has been driving us since then. We're getting lazy in the mornings.

Now the snow is turning to slush, the roads and walkways are filthy. And the water refreezes at nighttime so black ice is everywhere.

And, yes, there's still a ton of snow. And the river is still frozen (just thawing)

Spring is here!

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