Winter arrived in November, and December was pretty much more of the same, with below -40⁰C temperatures. However, I did learn a few new things during that month.
First, I started having nose bleeds during December, I think because of the cold air on the sensitive skin of my nasal passages. To be totally accurate, it wasn’t so much nose bleeds as it was blood coming out of my nose and onto the tissue whenever I blew it. I only had an actual nosebleed once and it only lasted for a couple of minutes. Since this started happening, I’ve been putting my skin oil (I’ll come to that in a moment) inside my nose when I’m getting ready in the mornings, just like I put it on the rest of my skin. I’ve noticed that I haven’t had any blood coming out of my nose for the past couple of weeks so hopefully, my nasal lining has adjusted to the temperature and toughened up a bit.
The second thing I’ve noticed is that my unti are not warm enough for walking around for longer than twenty minutes in below -40⁰C temperatures. I discovered this on Christmas Eve, when I walked from my place to our bridge host’s flat for bridge Christmas dinner. It’s a twenty-five minute walk and is usually no problem for me. That day, it was about -43⁰C and by the time I was fifteen minutes into the walk, my feet felt like blocks of ice. The rest of me was A-OK but my feet suffered. Thankfully, they warmed up quickly once I arrived at my destination. But now I know why traditional unti made of reindeer fur are the best boots for living in Yakutsk and why they’re so expensive. My Chinese knockoff unti don’t stand a chance for long walkabouts once the temperature dips below -40⁰C.
For example, yesterday I had to meet someone to go over plans for a school project. It was -41⁰C when I left home at around 10:30 am and by the time I met her thirty minutes later, my feet needed defrosting, even though I was wearing my socks made from Mongolian wool (so said the woman from whom I bought them on the street at the beginning of autumn). It was the same when I got home later in the afternoon.
My third observation is that static electricity is a way of life during the winter in Yakutsk. You know how normally when you shock someone because of static, you say, “I’m sorry.” We don’t even bother with that because we’d be apologising all day. We just accept that we just shocked each other, don’t acknowledge it and continue with whatever we were doing or saying. My papers stick together because of static electricity, my clothes stick to each other or to me, and my students and colleagues and I are unexpectedly shock each other.
Of course, the days are shorter now as the winter deepens. Sunrise is somewhere around 9:30 am and sunset is still around 3:30 pm. The fog is also deeper than it was in November. The building across the parking lot from my flat is about one hundred meters away. On Saturday morning, I could just barely make out the building through my window; that’s how thick the fog was. Still, the sun occasionally breaks through in the middle of the day.
We actually had a warm spell over the entire New Year and Christmas holidays. It was sunny and got as warm as -26⁰C. We were all running around outside without ski pants like it was autumn. In fact, although temperatures were below -30⁰C last week – our first week back at school – I went out every day without my ski pants, except for one day when I knew I’d have to go to band practice after school. This came to a halt last Saturday.
I got up on Saturday morning and got ready for school, noting the heavy fog outside. As I was about to leave my apartment, it occurred to me that I should check the temperature on my weather app. I was surprised to see that it was -48⁰C. I promptly removed my boots and pulled on my ski pants then put on my boots again, then my hat, scarf and coat, and off I went. Within thirty minutes, the temperature had fallen by another degree.
Schools here automatically close based on the temperature. When it hits -45⁰C, children in grades one to five stay home. At -48⁰C, grades six to eight also stay home. At -50⁰C, grades nine to eleven get to stay home too. Because of the low temperature on Saturday, only one of my primary school aged kids showed up for class so I ended up having an individual tutoring session with her. This will happen again during the winter but I use the time wisely, to plan lessons, for example.
As to my skin, it’s holding up very well in the extreme cold because of how I take care of it. About three years ago, I stopped using lotion on my skin and started using oils. Knowing that my skin would be exposed to these types of temperatures, I stocked up on glycerin and and grapeseed oils from my local natural products store when I was leaving Jamaica. When I arrived here, I was delighted to find that the previous occupant of my flat had left behind an almost-full one litre bottle of cold-pressed coconut oil from Thailand. So since winter started, I’ve been using a mixture of glycerin and coconut oils as body lotion and my skin looks good because of it.
Even so, there are two areas that I have to work a little harder on. For the first time in my life I experienced cracked heels. Could not believe it! So now I use my foot file to scrub my heels every ten days or so and most nights I apply my oil mixture to my heels before bed. The cracked heels are gone, thank goodness. The other area I have to work on is a dry patch of skin on the back of my hand. This actually came about last winter when I was in New York and didn’t have proper gloves and it has come back in the last two weeks. I’m using extra oil at bedtime on that area as well. Meanwhile, the skin on my face is also doing great because of the face cream I’m using: a super moisturising vanilla and aloe cream that I picked up at my same local natural products store.
So that’s it. I’ve now experienced the lowest temperature of my life so far and my body is holding up well. I haven’t been ill because I try to be smart about how I manage myself: I wash my hands after almost every class (I give a lot of high fives and fist bumps to my students); I dress properly; and I take the bus or cabs when I have to walk further than I think my unti can manage. And I still love where I live.