That time of the year is once again around the corner- the wintertime in South Africa. Though South African winter is not that severe as that of Canada or parts of the US, it has its own havocs and calamities. About the winter in Canada, once a relative of my friend told me while at a dinner party. She always keeps a shovel with her as an important rescue tool once the winter starts while at home or traveling. In the early morning she needs it to dig out her precious means of transport to work-her car- from under a mount of ice gathered the previous night, as well on the highways when caught in a snowstorm. Unbearable are the tingles on fingers and toes, she told, once they get frostbitten. Also, the general mood turns tense and a kind of uncertainty creeps in while the only certainty is the uninterrupted weather forecast. I used to do a lot of nagging about the South African wintertime, but once I heard her, I stopped it.
In South Africa, the storming of uninterrupted cold, strong and chilly winds marks the start of winter. They howl; roar; twist, turn and snap tree branches, and even make innocent objects fly, hit and lance at you. The storming may last for days. Sometimes, drizzles or light or heavy pouring accompanies the storm and the water on the ground turns ice-cold. And what follows is a sudden drop in temperature. The drop is influenced by other factors too; at places of higher altitude it is sharper than at low-levels.
Winter here starts by the end of May or by the beginning of June and stretches up to August; means it has just started here now.
While the storming is on, you cannot stand in the open for more than five minutes in ordinary cloths; it will run a chill down your spine and tighten the chest pushing up a blood taste into mouth; the skin will turn dry due to water lose. The air is generally less humid here, so even an ordinary wind can enhance evaporation to remove the water content from any surface. So the facial skin turns taut and brittle and the lips dark, some people get cracked heels, lips and hands; it is the right time for a whole lot of skin care and lubricating products like Vaseline, lip ice etc, to find a big market.
Once the winter is on, the storms generally subside followed by normal days with lower temperature ranges; the sun appears in pale yellow because the southern hemisphere is maximum turned away from it.
As I said, there is no uniformity in the way this cold beauty catches up with the various parts in the country; at some places the air storm is accompanied by heavy hailstorms. They can be dangerous; can cause unlimited damages to the life and properties; can shatter the windscreens of cars while traveling or parked in the open; roofs of buildings get broken or shattered. If the properties and vehicles are insured, it is easy to get them replaced though at a cost to the owners. So, it is a time when the insurance companies get business and business means profit.
The poor people who live in uninsured, poorly built, old homes in low-level areas, suffer the worst. For some, it is a yearly disaster, though the government has plans to see that every South African gets a secure and safe home often there is a huge backlog in implementing it. It is a time the charity organizations flex their muscles to see that these suffering people are settled somewhere safe and fed.
Another group, the winter hits hard are the street kids, who also seek shelter with some charity organizations.
At some areas you get heavy snowfalls, which never happened in our area- Grahams town, in the Eastern Cape region. Early morning we get some frost. Water content in the air turns to liquid and is frozen to ice particles due to cold night is once reason for the frost formation. During exceptionally cold years we have seen ice sheets in our yard in the early hours of the day, which had disappeared very soon by sunrise.
Frostbite is a possible health problem during winter; it is caused due to skin exposed to freezing temperatures. Here is a first aid for it.
In order to survive and stay healthy during winter you have to adjust to a winter lifestyle; that includes the use of winter cloths and winter meals; the winter meals means less hot (chilly) food; warm soup is very much recommended; cold salads need be avoided.
With all these care and precaution winter is easily managed here like any other season. Many national and international activities happen here during wintertime; one example is the most prestigious National Arts Festival