Monday, November 26, 2012

How's the Weather by You?

Everyone seems interested in the weather---the actual as well as what people say about it. You can learn a lot that way—listening to people's perceptions of the weather in their own countries and other countries.

Take Africa for example; what would an ordinary English person say when asked about the climate in Africa. They would probably immediately think HOT, and then their minds would unconsciously wander to thoughts of Ethiopia—perhaps a starving child, flies in their eyes and belly distended, painfully thin adults dressed in rags, staring balefully at the camera in a fetid refuge camp. Or possibly, a famous self-declared savior from the West, strolling purposefully past the decaying corpse of an animal beside a hot dusty road, or a Masai across endless plains with lion in the blistering heat, and horizons with melting, coppery sunsets.

And there you have it in a nutshell, Africa is associated with a hot and sultry environment, with it's people in dire straights, and animals in the wild—a widespread misconception, a myopic view which we cannot afford to cling to when in a world changing so fast. Sure some of that exists, but think again folks! I was just recently falling into a rhythym as the weather slowly changed from bone chilling cold to sweltering hot. Yeah, I bet you didn't know it snows in Africa, there are magnificant mountains such as Mt. Kenya, Kilimanjaro, Uganda's Rivengori Mountains, and yes, dear Ethiopia's Semien Mountains where it regularly snows, and there is even a ski resort or two in Africa.

But wait, there's more—we have other weather too, like a rainy season that most here pray for. Usually the rain in other parts of the world is calming, but here the storms can transform anyone's peaceful slumber from bliss to a scene in a Tom and Jerry cartoon, where Tom bangs a huge gong in Jerry's ear, and his entire body pops out of bed to Tom's delight. That's exactly what it's like---room shaking thunder that makes one feel like their room has been picked up and moved into a bone shaking, rauchous of a NYC dance club from the disco era. That's reality---huge, dark, looming clouds fill the horizon of a perfectly blue sky, and an absolute deluge of water covers your image of our hot and sultry paradise. Then with heat and rain, menacing bugs pack quite a punch, and you just hope they never crawl across your bed while asleep.

For such a diverse continent, there are fast changing realities, with cafes, malls, BMW's, internet in the Serengetti, mountains, snow, ice, ancient rock art, that all intermingle with the vast plains where the animals do roam in the, also, sweltering heat.   There you are, a whole prejudicial image cluster comes alive via a talk about the weather. I find this this ethnographic way of analyzing and deconstructing a concept quite fascinating---So, how's the weather by you?  

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