The other day I was wearing the New England Cold Weather Special of an LL Bean Flannel topped by an LL Bean vest combined with a toasty knit hat and thick jeans. As I walked, villagers stopped me, incredibly concerned by my lack of Charlie and a jacket. It was in the thirties and they could not fathom that I was not frozen.
As I thought about this, I understood. In America, we have the luxury of buying really nicely made clothes for the weather we will face. My New Englander Special is most likely warmer than most Basotho's warmest jacket. My fancy winter fabrics are not readily available to people in Lesotho and so the idea that I am comfortable in lightweight but toasty layers is literally incomprehensible and probably giving me a reputation as a little bit crazy!
In my experience, the Basotho believe Lesotho winters are the hardest things in the world. Considering that most people's interactions are primarily limited to Africa and Africans, this makes sense. Lesotho's winters are the coldest and toughest in Africa.
People here are stunned to learn that winters in New England are even colder than here and that we get lots of snow. But, to be honest, winters in New England are a bit easier than this one is showing itself to be. Because in New England, I always had a warm place to go. Even in the century old house I grew up in, where we heated only the downstairs and my bedroom was akin to a refrigerator, there was always a wood-stove to curl up next to when the cold became too much.
Since I am trying to tough it out and save money by not using my little gas heater, the only warmth I am currently curling up around is a warm mug! And the reality is, for most people in my village that is true for them as well. The lucky families can afford gas to cook inside their house. The luckier families have a wood burning stove they will occasionally use when it is too cold outside. But most people still do their cooking outside on an open fire. Their warmth comes from wearing their blankets and basking in the sunlight when it is there. And that makes their winter experience seem a lot tougher than those aggressive New England winters I grew up with.