By ena ganguly
I remember the time I traveled to a small coastal town in India. I was there to teach English to students and learn more about the obstacles people faced as they strived to maintain their livelihoods as fishermen and merchants. While there, I lived in a convent that had huge mango trees and lots of open sky. The students I taught would throw rocks at the mangoes after class and we would compete to see who got the most mangoes within a certain time.
Sometimes I would catch a nun outside, bossing the plumber around or talking to the students, and they would often tell me that there way more of those gigantic mango trees, some were even taller and more bountiful than the ones we stared at as they reminisced about their garden and foliage before the latest hurricane.
As a coastal town, the onslaught of heavy rains and ravaging winds was a common occurrence, but everyone remembered the cyclone of 1999 that took so much from their land and homes, specifically the shade that trees such as the ones we used to pick mangoes from provided to the community.
Despite the lack of shade, the communities were rebuilding and finding ways to stay cool during those blazing hot summer months. Learning from them, I also found ways to maintain my cool. Here is a list of things we can do when are out and about during this hot summer month:
One: Drink plenty of water
My days in India were accompanied by a one liter bottle of soda that I used to use as my personal water bottle. I probably went through six or eight of those bottles every day, and because I sweat so much, I didn’t even need to go to the bathroom as often as I might have.
Recently, I was at Givens during Juneteenth and it was probably a 100 degrees, or maybe even more. It felt like everyone was melting. I know I sure was. Like my father, I sweat a lot when I get hot, and as a result, my body demands that I drink up as much water as I can. I drank probably four or five bottles of water within two hours and I’m sure that wasn’t enough. Our bodies sweat to keep our skin cool so drinking water replenishes those lost fluids and supports our bodies as it works to maintain our body temperature while in the heat. Bring awareness to the amount of water you’ve drank in a day, especially if you’re outside in the heat, and knowing Texas weather, that includes not just when the sun is out, but during these hot nights as well.
Two: Protect your skin
Our skin is a major facilitator in keeping our bodies cool and well regulated. Sweating is a major function that our skin is responsible for, but it can result in prickly heat or sweat or heat rash. A sure fire way to combat prickly heat, or ghamachi in Bengali, in my household was to use talcum powder. I bathed myself in it after taking a shower, and throughout the day, the powder absorbed my sweat. Though I had to re-apply throughout the day, the powder worked in keeping my skin more dry and less irritated by the sweat, chafing and heat.
Another tip, way less popular in my household, is to use sunscreen. Nowadays, there are all kinds of products with SPF in it: chapsticks, moisturizers, body lotions, etc. I’ve heard that there is no need to go beyond SPF 50, but that’s up to the user’s discretion. There are also many sunscreens that are made for darker skin tones so as to avoid the ashy, grey-ish residue that using sunscreen may leave. I would suggest looking into sunscreens that don’t have any heavy metals like oxybenzone which seeps into our skin and can cause serious issues down the road.
Three: Sleep well
The heat takes a lot of us. During my time in the coastal towns of India, I would sleep deep and soundly, but not necessarily a lot. The heat made my body work hard and as a volunteer, I would be going from town to town in the heat, walking or riding a scooter, so when I did get back to my wooden cot, I would be out like a light.
During this time, when you may be outside at the pool or at a cookout with family, make sure to sleep enough, at least seven hours, so your body feels well rested and ready to take on the high temperatures.
Four: Eat cooling foods
While at the convent, the nuns would cook meals for the lodgers, including me. They insisted we eat everything they made, insisting “It’s cooling, cooling!” The foods they made were delicious. There was white rice, different kinds of lentils, fish curries, and salad, which was cut up vegetables, usually radish, onion, carrots, cucumbers, and beets. Once they even made goat brain curry, which I had to opt out of. There was only so much energy I had to explore new foods after a long day in the heat and dust.
I ate most of the foods they prepared to my heart’s content, and tried to focus on the nutrient dense and cooling foods such as lentils and whole vegetables. We often think of food as a means to an end, or at best, an experience for the sense. However, food is also medicine, and should be approached as such when your body is coping with intense temperatures.
Five: Wear appropriate clothing
In the heat, people often think that they should wear shorts and a T shirt, but sometimes wearing loose clothing that covers our bodies helps stay cool as well. I remember wearing lots of long pants and skirts while I was in India because it helped cover my skin from the sun but because they were loose and light colored so they didn’t suffocate my skin or make me feel like I was heating up.
Wearing appropriate clothing goes a long way in aiding our skin to breath and staying cool throughout the day.