I have always learned all my important life lessons through personal experiences. Here is a piece about how two very extreme climates taught me a lot about life, hope, and appreciating everything we have.
I was born and raised in Sonoma County, California. Sonoma County is in the northern part of California, about an hour north of San Francisco. I honestly think it is the most beautiful place in the world, and I have done my fair share of traveling. Maybe it’s because I was raised there, and have personal memories associated to each place. I know that many people feel like this about their hometown. Sonoma/Napa is the wine country of the United States. If you go to a store in any of the states and go to the wine aisle I would bet you would find that the majority of the wine comes from Sonoma/Napa. The vineyards are very beautiful. The endless rows of both young and old vines go on for miles, covering the hillsides. We have a gorgeous river and a stunning and dramatic coast line. The towns are sweet and personal, each with a wonderful quaint downtown. The people are generally progressive and thoughtful. The weather is great, and very moderate. It’s not too hot in the summer and there always seems to be a cool breeze coming in from the coast. The winters are also moderate as well. We do not get snow or severe frost. It often rains at night and the sun shines in the morning. In College I moved to Southern California, for a new experience. I went to college at California State University Northridge, in the San Fernando valley. This was a huge change for me! The summers in Northridge are HOT! I remember dreading the walk from campus to the dorms because the heat was so overwhelming. It was usually 100 to even 110 degrees of dry heat. In the summer and fall horrible wild fires would break out all over southern California, often propelled by famously high dry winds. I got used to this weather and thought that I was ready for anything! I was wrong!
My husband is from Chandigarh , a city in Punjab India. After we got married we had planned to visit India so that I could meet my in-laws and learn more about the food, language, religion, and culture. We had always planned to go in December during Diwali. About a year into our marriage my Father- in- law got hit by a scooter on a busy road and his leg was injured. My mother- in- law soon after this discovered she had tuberculosis ( on top of sever asthma) and lost significant weight and was very weak. My husband and I agreed that we needed to go to India right away to take care of our family. This was in May and our daughter was 4 months old at the time. I remember I was really nervous and excited to be going to India and to be finally meeting my husband’s family in person. My husband warned me that it was going to be very hot. I laughed, and told him I knew what hot meant from college. We had both attended the same university. He laughed and said you don’t know “ India Hot!”.
We successfully made the trip across the world with our infant daughter and landed in Delhi. It was 10pm at night and I remember stepping out of the airport and being nearly knocked over by the heat! It was the middle of the night and there was not a breeze to be felt. It was hot and humid and thick! I looked at my husband and he laughed, he knew he was right and that always delighted him. We saw my Father-in-law at the taxi waiting area. It was so wonderful to see him. He was using a cane and walked with a lot of pain though. My husband had begged him not to come meet us here, but he insisted. He wanted to meet and see me and our daughter right away. We all embraced and then got into the taxi. Luckily there was AC. The ride from Delhi to Chandigarh is around six hours. We entered into Chandigarh right when the sun was rising! Chandigarh is called “ City Beautiful” and it really is quite a beautiful place. When we got to my husband’s flat, I had to cover my head and my husband quickly tied a turban. As we entered into the flat my mother and sisters in-laws were waiting for us. An additional cloth was put on top of me and my husband and I were given a silver plate with fruits and sweets and money on it. I knew nothing that was going on ; my husband did not mention any of this I just knew I was being welcomed and that felt amazing.
The first week was a total adjustment for all of us. The heat was so intense. My inlaws said that it was the worse heat in record. His place did not have an AC, it had a swap cooler. For those that have never had the pleasure of such a device here is a description. A swamp cooler is a metal box that is installed in a wall or window so that half is in the house and half of it out. The outside part of the box is covered in living vines to insulate and keep the inside cool. The bottom part of the box is filled with water. There is a fan and the air is taken from the outside and blown over the water and vine habitat and into the house. This makes the air feel cooler and filled with moisture. It is a little bit of a relief but not complete. As a result we would all rest under the cooler on the stone floor. Nasreen was so small that we used a suitcase for her to sleep on so she didn’t roll away. Now we have installed an AC unit in India so they are a lot more comfortable these days.
The thing you have to understand about “ India hot” is that its humid so your sweat does not even exasperate and provide you with relief. The worst part is that it never ends. There is no night time cooling to provide relief. There is no costal breeze. There are power cuts though every day. The power would turn off, the fans would stop, the mosquito plug ins would turn off. The heat would invade and the mosquitos attack within moments of the power cut. We would all go outside in the common area of the community and so would everyone else in the area. For three months straight there is just unending heat. The heat just sucked the energy out of me and my daughter. I would feel heavy and sleepy and pass out for hours in the middle of the afternoon with my daughter. We were unable to stay awake. This was true for everyone. One day my husband was going for a short walk to get something from the store I begged him to come I wanted to get out of the house. He warned me that heat was intense. As always I ignored the warning and within minutes of the walk I had finished my bottle of water and still felt horribly thirsty. That was the last time I went out in the middle of the afternoon. I lost 30 pounds in 2 months. I think from the sweating and the fact that I only ate small amounts due to the discomfort from the heat.
Before I went to India I had heard the term Monsoon in a science class. I knew that it meant a long period of rain. You cannot truly understand Monsoon until you live it. Heat in India is so unbearable and it goes on for so long. Monsoon comes when you feel like you cant possible take anymore! The monsoon is a blessing! The monsoon is a feeling of relief and happiness and hope. The Monsoon is a gift from God! When it comes you can feel the relief and you can feel the whole city surge with the feeling of happiness and joy! I actually jumped up and down when the first rain came. I was so happy! I now truly understand what Monsoon really means.
This last year we decided to make a huge change and move to Michigan for a new job for my husband. He is a mechanical engineer and needed a permanent job. The job market for engineers in California is a hard one to get into, you need a lot of experience. He found a job with an auto maker in Detroit Michigan that was willing to take in fresh graduates. So we sold our stuff and drove three days from California to Michigan. We moved into a wonderful apartment in Farmington hills about 30 minutes from Detroit. We made the move in July and everything was green and lush and beautiful. We knew there would be snow in the winter but we were not that concerned. Snow seemed fun and interesting and new. Well December came and it got cold! Then it started to snow, and snow, and snow! This winter we had a weather system called an arctic blast, which is an extreme cold front coming from Alaska. This brought temperatures down to -50 wind chill. You can’t imagine this kind of cold until you feel it. Reading these words does not describe the bitterness of the feeling. The freezing of the fingers and the toes! The pain to the face. No matter how many layers you wear it cannot keep the cold out. This was the worse winter in two decades and it happened to be our first ever winter in snow. Every time we had to drive in the snow it was pure anxiety. The slipping and the sliding on the ice. The horrible accidents we saw people get into. I worried about my husband every time he went to work.
This winter was not like the ones you see in sweet movies where the kids go outside and build snowman and laugh and run around. Michigan winters are horrid and extreme. From December to March there was white as far as the eye could see. My daughter and I spent three months inside the house. There was no sun no warmth and no feeling hope. There was not even noise outside. In the summer Michigan is loud. There are tons of birds and Crickets and the very noisy Cicadas. In winter it was deathly silent. It made me uncomfortable. Just snow and wind and cold. I felt myself go into a depression. It felt like the winter would never end. As my friends and family in California started spring, I was still in waist deep snow. Finally when I could not take another day of the cold we had at 40 degree day, then a 50 degree day. Finally the snow started to melt in April and we were all so relieved. Everyone emerged from our homes in to the sun. I went for walks with my daughter to the playground and there were so many children there all so happy. It seemed like overnight Michigan had changed into a new wonderful world full of life again. I truly understand the beauty of Spring.
Summer in India and a winter in Michigan have taught me that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how dire the situation make appear. The heat in India was so horrid and extreme but God sent the rain to cool us down. In Michigan the snow and cold was so oppressive and bitter, but God sent the sun to melt it away. We are never given more then we can handle. These two experiences changed me forever. I will never look at rain the same way. I will always see the beauty of its life giving abilities. I will never take for granted the beauty of the sun. When the sun disappeared from my life for three months I felt lost and alone. When the sun returned I felt overjoyed. Maybe I was meant to live through such extreme conditions to truly be grateful for everything that nature gives us. To remind us that tomorrow is always another day and there is always hope. No matter how hopeless you situation may look the relief may be right around the corner, so hold on!