Cold foods, wet socks, and a cold soda can on the wrist: Goats and Soda: NPR
How do you stay cool without air conditioning during a year of record heat?
Last week we featured a story by heatwave researcher Dr. Gulrez Shah Azhar about how he dealt with high temperatures while growing up in India without air conditioning. We asked NPR readers to share their tips.
Below is a selection of reader responses, edited for length and clarity. We also asked Al-Azhar to weigh in on their advice – as well as share additional insights.
Watch what you eat!
Colette Barry, Boston, Massachusetts: When I grew up in Portland, Oregon, we never cooked during the day in the summer. We ate a lot of uncooked meals like corn and bean salad (recipe: can of black beans, bag of frozen corn, chopped red pepper or other veggies with seasoning/dressing to taste). Anything that requires cooking, we do it at night and then eat it cold during the day or heat it up in the microwave. bloom: Haha, this is very clever – simple and very creative. I’m totally ready for it!
Meg T, Portland, Maine: One thing I learned while visiting India is to eat plenty of cooling foods like watermelon and cucumber. On really hot days, I’ll often switch to these foods, which makes an incredible difference in my body temperature and ability to handle the heat. bloom: Yes, foods that contain plenty of fluids and electrolytes are very helpful in keeping the body cool and hydrated. I would also add yoghurt based drinks like raita and cha (yoghurt) to this list.
Anthea Beck, Sebastopol, California: As a kid from Georgia who grew up in India, I have a lot of memories of the heat. I remember getting heat exhaustion when I was 10 years old after an early morning horseback ride. I remember my father (who worked for the World Health Organization) giving me UN oral rehydration bottles to carry. My school asked us to carry salt packets. bloom: Oh yeah, that’s very clever. Either pack oral rehydration salts or simply mix a spoonful of sugar and a pinch of salt in a cup of water to replenish all the electrolytes lost in sweat.
Lorissa Rich, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts: When I lived in the tropics, I found it very helpful to keep my hair moisturized and manageable. The evaporation action on the head and shoulders is very refreshing and helps to stay cool. bloom: Yes, this is one of the great and underappreciated ways to stay cool! But be careful Avoid hard water Because it may harm your hair.
Jeff Witt, Atascadero, California: Growing up near East Los Angeles, we were too far from the ocean to receive any of its cooling effects, so we relied on my mother for ways to cool down in the hot summers. For example, we’d use daytime water guns, also known as our mom’s Amway squirt bottles, to spray ourselves while lying in bed while my brother and I would fight over how to direct the box fan at bedtime. bloom: In India, it is more likely to be a table fan or pedestal fan. To play with water we used spray bottles to spray water. In fact, the beginning of summer is celebrated with a festival called “Holly“Where we spray colors – dry and wet (using water balloons and water bottles).
Smart sleep – and calm
Scott Taylor, Lawrence, Kansas: When we lived in southern Arizona, some of the older homes had an “Arizona Room.” I asked an Arizona native about these three-sided protruding porches. He explained that before they had air conditioning, families would sleep there. Being open to the breeze on three sides, it was much cooler than the main house where only the windows were open. bloom: great idea. It’s a nice way to stay calm.
El Chun, Prescott, Arizona: I grew up in Monrovia, a suburb of Los Angeles, without air conditioning, and my sister and I had a few favorite solutions for keeping warm on hot summer days in the 1950s. August and September were always unbearably hot. We took advantage of the tiled cement floor in a large room. We would strip down to our underwear, take a good book and a pillow and lie down on the cold floor. Never disappointed! When our chosen spot became too warm due to our body heat, we would move to another location. Many interesting books have been read in this way, although if we tried it today, we would never be able to go back again! bloom: I also remember sleeping on the cement surface after splashing water on it. The evaporating water cooled off the surface, and we would spread white/light colored blankets and lie on them at night. The sheets were important so we could see any bugs crawling around (never found one – I think they were also tired after a day in the sun).
Kevin Webb, Cave Creek, Arizona: A friend of mine who grew up in Phoenix in the 1960s and 1970s and didn’t have air conditioning had a variation on the sleep tricks I mentioned. He slept on a cot in the backyard at night, and his mother would put a wet sheet on him, just regular bed covers. Evaporative cooling made sleep possible. bloom: Old houses were built around a central courtyard or veranda. This is where people sleep at night in the summer. The elders kept a flashlight, a transistor radio, a stick and a whistle near them. Sometimes there is a chowkidar (watchman) who walks by at night and loudly shouts a supposedly reassuring phrase – jagti rahu (stay awake). I wonder about his choice of words: Why should I stay awake if this man is wandering around at night to protect us?!
Ice packs are your friends
Anne James, San Leandro, California: I live in an old house without air conditioning. One thing I do is keep ice packs in the refrigerator. About 30 minutes before bed, I place it between the sheets to cool down the mattress, which often gets too warm. Depending on the weather temperature, I can lie on ice packs as well. bloom: amazing!
Lisa Downey, Lahaina, Hawaii: Another tip (look to your menopausal sisters) is to use a gel pack from the fridge, wrapped in a cotton tea towel, under your neck – and perhaps a second gel pack on your chest when you sleep. Placing your wrists on a gel pack can also help soothe those hot flashes. Cotton tea towels work well for wrapping because natural fibers won’t make you feel as hot as synthetic materials will. You can wrap the gel pack in one, two, or even three layers, depending on how cold you want it. bloom: This looks so cool! I must try this.
Jackie Benkei, Kumamoto, Japan: You know those little gel/ice packs you get to keep food cold? I freeze them, put them in a little tarpaulin, and then stick them in the armpits of some shirts as I head to work in the morning. Game changer! (They sell this stuff in Japanese stores as thin gel patches that stick directly to the fabric of clothing but who wants to add more plastic to the oceans?) bloom: Yes, I have Read about Cooling jackets.
Home air conditioner
Anne Wasgate, Roseville, California: I grew up in California before air conditioning. My grandmother closed all the curtains on the sunny side of the house. She then placed the ice cubes in a tray and turned on the fan to blow over the tray. When I worked in the summer cooking hot dogs and beanies at the food stand under the grandstands at the racetrack, it wasn’t air-conditioned either, but my grandmother’s old trick worked there too. bloom: He’s a genius! Yes, it makes perfect sense to pull heavy curtains when it’s sunny outside.
Keep your wrists cool
Nancy Gerhardt, Westminster, Colorado: I grew up in the South without air conditioning and my mom taught me to pour cold water on the inside of my wrist. bloom: Yes, there is this idea Pulse or pressure points. The blood vessels in these places are so close to the skin that you can cool the blood and body temperature by touching the area with cold water.
Roger Crescentini, Tampa, Florida: I was a kid in Columbus, Georgia in the late 1950s. Kids like me were able to get a quick soothe by spending 5 cents to buy a 6.5 oz. He took a coke and quickly placed it between our wrists. The shock of the sudden temperature change from the chilled bottle spread throughout our bodies. The technique involved keeping only our wrists in contact with the cold glass to concentrate the effect. This trick was used a lot back then and it still works today! bloom: Wow, I never thought of that! But to avoid the temptation of those empty calories I’ll do it with a can of water!
unknown: My daughter-in-law, who grew up in New Orleans, told me she wears wet socks to bed to stay cool on hot nights. I’ve tried it, and it works! bloom: Well, I’ll do this tonight!
at the end….
Some closing thoughts from Al-Azhar:
Many of us believe that we cannot overcome the wrath of Surya, the sun god, in the summer (when he is especially angry)! To cheer him up, some visit his temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Indian state of Odisha.
So we never take the summer heat lightly. And always be prepared.
One childhood lesson that was drilled into my head was to always be aware of your hydration status. Drink water, even in small sips, immediately after engaging in any physical activity. Carrying a water bottle when you go out is not only common sense but a life saver.
When you feel hot, take a cold shower or at least splash water on your face and hands periodically, then immerse your head in the water.
Another lesson was never go out on an empty stomach – always eat something before going out so your body has salt and electrolytes. Even if you don’t want to eat a big meal, a snack will do the trick.
Heavy physical activity, such as farming and field work, can be done during the cooler parts of the day. If possible, work in the shade, under a tree. (Thank you to our ancestors for planting for us! We return the favor by planting trees now even when we know we won’t enjoy that shade in our lifetime. Our children will. That’s what makes a civilization!)
The Rabarese (a nomadic tribe in western India) and many other tribal communities use small mirrors on their clothing to reflect sunlight. The color choice in their outfits is also genius. They cleverly took advantage of the fact that black not only absorbs heat faster than white, but also releases heat much faster than white. Due to the nature of the work, women are frequently in and out of their tents while men herding livestock stay out for longer periods. So, to stay cool, it makes sense for women to wear dark colors (these colors cool down quickly once women go indoors) and for men to wear light colors (they heat up more slowly than dark colors over long periods of time outdoors).
From the time of British colonialism to the present in India, school children (like me) have always wondered during English poetry lessons why English poets expound on warm summer days. For us in the Global South, there hasn’t been much to be happy about our scorching summers (except mangoes). Summer was a matter of survival, day by day, hour by hour, every day.
Unfortunately, this now seems to be true for the entire world.