In Zambia, October is the cruellest month, breeding dust and flames out of tortured earth.
Some friends who lived here several decades ago asked us recently if people still called October ‘the suicide month’ and I was able to report that indeed they do. At least many of the old-timers do.
In this heat everything becomes an effort. Even sitting on a shaded verandah to type this is making me wilt, and the modest warmth generated by my laptop makes it impossible to use it in the position its name suggests. Anything more vigorous – exercising, walking across sunblasted car parks laden with groceries, or cooking on a hot stove – makes you giddy with heat and wriggle at the cold trickle of sweat meandering down your back.
In the high 30s here in Lusaka I know it’s not hot in the way that Dubai is, or even parts of southern Europe in August, but it feels hotter because we have no air conditioning. A ceiling fan in our bedroom is a lifesaver, stirring the air while the white noise of its sleepy rotation covers up husbandly snorts and sniffles.
The sunsets are spectacular. Fabulous. Partly because they just are in southern Africa, but also because at this time of year the air is full of dust and smoke particles that are invisible during the day, but cause the oranges and pinks and reds of the sunset to diffuse across the sky in a breathtaking way.
We spend a lot of time bobbing about feebly in the pool, arguing about whose turn it is to get out and walk to the kitchen to make tea or get a cold beer from the fridge. It’s tough, believe me.
Some parts of the country are much hotter than Lusaka. On the Lower Zambezi, where my daughter works, and in the South Luangwa National Park, where I was lucky enough to go last week, temperatures are often in the mid 40s. By breakfast time you are frantic for shade and your third shower of the day, and when the wind picks up in the afternoon it offers no relief, but merely blasts you like a giant hairdryer.
The heat forces you to slow down, to lower your expectations and to shorten your daily to-do list. It also increases the irritation factor of dealing with any form of officialdom, which Heaven knows is irritating enough in Africa at the best of times. Call me picky, but a fat immigration officer more focused on her phone than on the snaking line of people awaiting her attention, failing to meet anyone’s eye or offer any explanation when she wanders from her desk mid-transaction is enough to engender murderous stirrings in my bosom.
It’s probably time I got away for a while.