Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Khartoum Heat, Antiquated Aircoolers and Sandstorms

For the past three weeks we've  been experiencing extremely hot weather. Last Sunday, 23 May the temperatures in Khartoum reached 50°C/122 °F with night temperatures lowering to a mere 40°C/106°F! Many of you have asked how I cope under these conditions. Some have asked if we have airconditioning.

OK so here is an atypical day in the life of this expat in Khartoum:

Last Saturday morning I settled down in front of my computer for a day of blogging, in our reasonably cool office-cum-living room.  This is the day Miriam works for Issam in his downstairs flat.  She did his laundry and then she sprayed the entire courtyard down with the hose. Grant came home from the city and said he hoped there would be enough water for the day after Miriam had finished. The tanks up on the roof (pictured above) are  supposedly filled overnight by an electric pump in the courtyard. However, Issam kindly allows two men to sleep down there and they regularly turn off the pump (as it obviously keeps them awake. Ha!)

Well, this was the case that day. With Miriam doing a  large wash and hosing down the courtyard, we ran out of water. At the same time the whole city's water supply was turned off while the municipality did maintenance repairs.

I took the above photo in August last year. Since then I have shown Miriam how to wash the courtyard and roll up the hose  and store it in the outhouse downstairs. I also asked Issam to get the guys to move their beds under the veranda during the day. He did and the guys complied! Now we have a neat and tidy courtyard around the apartment building. What would the world do without women? LOL!
The surrounding courtyard below looks much better with a woman's touch!
Grant replaces the fan belt on the office air cooler

Now, it's not too much of a problem being without water for an entire day ; it's not pleasant but it can be endured. Being without airconditioning though, was another matter. Because the electricity grid in this part of the city cannot cope with conventional aircondioners, we have antiquated aircooled units.

These coolers have wads of straw lining three sides of the unit. A pump pours water over the straw while a fan blows air through the straw into the room. It is a very effective, albeit, a high maintenance system. And now because there was no water for the air coolers, Grant had to turn them off. Boy was it hot. 

We were just to expire when Miriam told me there was still a little water downstairs.  Grant said he'd prepare the air conditioners to add water manually if we'd bring the water. (He had the muckier job; we, the back-straining task) Miriam and I painstakingly filled a twenty-litre bucket and together we lugged it up the stairs to our flat. We repeated this action until we had forty litres each for all three the airconditioners. Grant added the water, did something mechanical to the unit and turned it on. Viola! Within five minutes we felt tasted the fruits of our labour!

At three o'clock that afternoon, the municipal water supply came on again. Grant turned on the pump and by the time his makeshift water supply would have dried up in the aircons, the water began to pump into the machines via the water pipes. The tanks on the roof would take another eight hours to fill up, so that night I bathed in a bucket! BTW, Grant set the alarm and at two-hourly intervals, checked that the pump downstairs was still on.

On Sunday (which is the the first day of the week and a work day in Sudan) Grant was at the new workshop where he came across a spare pump. He brought it home and that afternoon by way of a long hose connected to the tap in the courtyard and flowing into the blue boys on the roof, he filled the tanks within the hour instead of eight.  Now he has a timetable whereby he checks the tanks before he goes to bed at night and again first thing in the morning. He's turned off one tank and keeps it as a backstop for our personal use. Mmm, even though I'm quite longsuffering and didn't complain at the time, I don't think he enjoyed our waterless Saturday any more than I did!

The straw mats are inserted into panels on three sides of the air cooler units. A pump wets them while a fan blows air through them into the room. Antiquated? I'd say... But for now they're effective and all we have!
Last week Grant found a new type of matting for the aircoolers. Although they are more expensive, they are honeycombed mats instead of straw ones. He has replaced all the old straw mats with this type. The airconditioners have to be serviced every three months. I'm blessed with a handy husband!
 While the temperatures remained in the high forties and fifties last week, the sky began to cloud over. Only this was not rain clouds.  Before we can expect any rain, we first have to endure the desert sandstorms. Crossing the Nile on the Shambat Bridge last week, I managed to snap a few photos (which is not actually allowed!) Note how hazy the horizon is. That is dust... 

On Friday evening while we were enjoying a juice on the balcony we watched the clouds blow across the city towards us. By 7pm the sandstorm was upon us. (We had long since taken the birds, cat and ourselves indoors and locked the door!) I borrowed this photo from a sandstorm which I managed to photograph last year before it actually almost blew me into the flat! The storm on Friday night was just as bad and Grant would not allow me to stay out there and photograph it.

I managed to photograph the street and the spaza shop opposite from the safety of our bedroom. You can see by the way the trees are bending and the blurry light above the shop how hard the wind is blowing and how much dust is in the air

In the same week leading up to the waterless situation, we had four power outages!

On the bright side, all our hard work in April when we springcleaned the flat and Grant sealed all possible cracks and gaps against the dust storms, has paid off. With the violent duststorm on Friday night, we had hardly any dust in the house. Success!

Oh, and the reason why we live in this part of the city? Well, that's a post for another time... soon.

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  1. In the southwestern US, we call the air coolers you describe "swamp coolers". A lot of people use them, and they work pretty well in a dry climate without using much energy.
    You've had an exciting weekend with the sandstorm, water shortage and power outage!

  2. Woooo---I'd better quit complaining about our weather here, Jo... I've never experienced temperatures that HOT, nor have I ever been in a sand storm.

    I cannot imagine being in that heat without air conditioning. Your hubby is a great handyman.

    Great pictures... Hang in there. Hopefully, your weather will change SOON.


  3. I've never been much for air conditioning but in those temperatures couldn't survive without it. Is everyone used to that kind of heat? It is great having a handy man around. Sure glad he could make this antiquated system work.

  4. The cooler shots are real cool, interesting the way you explained them.

  5. The last time we had a dust storm of those proportions, we also had a major bushfire in which our house and garden along with 78 others went up in smoke. You could not see the fire coming for the dust, until it was directly in front of you.

    Thanks for your comment Jo. Sydney is not as warm as it looks in the photo, that was taken in summer.
    I had been ill for so long I had nothing new to post.

  6. Thank you for this interesting post! It's quite a hard life without water. In the concentration camp we lived with 30 people in one house. We had water during one hour a day and we all wanted a quick wash. The temperature was high and it was oppressively hot like in Sudan. I think I wouldn't survive that heat now.

  7. Yours is certainly a very different world! And it sems your main attribute is a sense of humour! That, and a handy nusband!

  8. Grant sounds a very resourceful person. Life without coolers in those temperatures would be unbearable. Those coolers are called 'swampies" here too because they pump water into the air and make it more humid. They work well in dry climates but not here in humid Brisbane. You did well preparing for the dust storms. You must look forward to returning to your home in SA.

  9. Hi Jo,
    Like I've mentioned before, your life is such an adventure!
    The extreme heat and sand storm would be overwhelming for me, I think!
    ☼ Sunny
    Sorry that I am running behind with my comments.

  10. Jo, thanks for visiting! I've enjoyed catching up on your blog--it's always very interesting to me. I cannot imagine suffering through such heat and lack of water, even for a day! You are fortunate to have such a handy husband. Those honeycomb air filters will last a lot longer than the straw ones, I'm sure.

    Your friend Yvonne sounds like a gem!

    The photos of farms taken from your car were really good. I'm amzed how green it is there; I suppose it's because the areas are near the Nile.

  11. You have indeed had an exciting weekend! I'll quit complaining about the rain and chilly temps here in June! But I grew up in west Texas and we used the same kind of coolers and what Janie wrote about "swamp coolers", so I do know what you mean about heat and sand storms because we did have those, too. Hope the remainder of your week goes well!


  12. That was pretty hot, though it's here what you had experienced was incomparable. You're so lucky you have your husband fixing the air coolers.

  13. WOW!!! what a day - and to be outside with that temperatures!
    Sauna for free the whole day long!

    I like your teamwork - om saam deur rowwe tye te gaan, maak die herinneringe soveel kosbaarder.

  14. This is a very interesting post. I need to come back and finish reading it.

  15. I would not be very good in those extreme temperatures. Kudos to you for being so flexible (and your husband so creative). When will you be able to move back to your home permanently?

  16. Jo I can't seem to comment on your two newer posts, there is no "Comment' button??? The text for the bird pics is sooo funny and the recipe is one I will try.


Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate your feedback. Jo