I spent last week in the Caribbean, walking under a quasi-equatorial sun, cavorting in clear blue waters, and breathing air so saturated with fragrant aromas that I could taste it. It’s a place I love: Grenada—the spice isle. Both of my parents were born there, I spent my childhood summers there, and now, as an adult, I return every year to visit my aging grandmothers.
It is a hot place. The sun is close and potent—shining brighter and stronger than any other sun I’ve known. As a black woman, it is the only place I’ve ever gotten sunburned. Even the locals try to avoid being outside between the hours of ten in the morning and three in the afternoon. Going there is travelling towards the sun. Stepping into the ocean for what locals call “a sea bath” is like entering a temperate tub. At the right time of day, cold-water faucets run warm. And unless you spend the night on the beach, it is almost impossible to be cold.
Grenada is where I learned how to live with heat. As a young child visiting my grandparents for thirty-day spans at a time, I quickly figured out how to cope with the Caribbean clime. I learned that wearing jeans for the flight there is a mistake—even if I planned to change in the airport bathroom. (Have you ever tried to change out of your jeans in a recently mopped public bathroom while you sweat profusely?) Stepping off the plane means confronting heat immediately—a heat that hits you like a dampened punch—an almost palpable wall of hot and heavy air. Sweat begins to form instantaneously. I learned that breezes are to be coveted and powder is to be generously applied to all of the body’s dark corners. Bathing twice a day is not excessive. And a cool drink in the shade can be the highlight of your day. It is best to consider perspiration inevitable rather than something to be avoided. Resistance will only lead to sweat-riddled frustration.
Growing up with Caribbean parents and living through West Indian summers, I’ve learned how to accept the heat. My childhood home had fans and open windows instead of air conditioning. When I visited my grandparents in Grenada, my morning beverage (much as I protested) was a cup of hot coco tea. As a result, I can tolerate heat. Sweating doesn’t bother me—unless I’m dressed up or trying to sleep. I don’t fight the heat. I simply let it slow me down and then surrender to sweating. I accept the warmth and let it penetrate to the core of me. But don’t get me wrong…our bedroom has air conditioning.