Sweat, Romance and Climate Change in Amazonia

I remember the sweat on me, a 3-year-old girl coming home from school. It was the 1970’s – there were no seat belt in cars; we tanned without sunscreen as the noon sun beat down on us just below the Equator; cigarettes represented Hollywood sex appeal, success in life and bold sports like windsurfing. The sweat stuck my leg to my aunt’s as a I sat on her lap. She owned a business to transport kids to and from school. I got to ride with her in the front of the old classic Volkswagen minivan, its round shapes yet to be overcome by the advances of modern design. Family benefits. It was hot, Amazon hot; it was humid; there was no air conditioning. The long way back to my house would exhaust my little body to almost dehydration levels. I sweat a lot. Genetics, the only certainty besides death. My father sweats a lot. My grandma used to too. Family benefits.

Had I been born in the Netherlands, or Denmark, it could have been perfect, but being born in the tropics, all that sweat was a ghost permanently frightening me. But back then, no car or house had air conditioning, I don’t recall people complaining about the heat. Just me, my dad and my grandma, of course. For everybody else, the city of Belém had a pleasant weather, warm and welcoming, with mango tree corridors and refreshing breezy nights. Ten more years passed from my aunt’s lap to the first air-conditioning in my room – now a climate-controlled environment! Did I just got lucky, or had sweat genes spread around like a plague contaminating everybody else? Everybody else was also climate-controlling their rooms. Suddenly the entire city had air conditioning. And all the chit-chat in the streets was about how unbearable the temperature was. “Tá calor, né!” (It is hot, isn’t it?) became the proper and only way to start any conversation.

It has been so ever since. Climatic changes in the city do not need to be measured. They are felt. They are facts. Facts that now affect everyone, continue to affect even more as the years goes by. There was excessive heat and rain, or lack of rain, but never any lack of heat. Global warming can be attested to by any decade-old citizen. I feel that climatic variation takes away from the beauty of my city, and I miss the times when I (and my dad, and my grandma) was the only one complaining about the heat. I kind of miss my sweaty legs that gave me the best memories of my aunt.

Changes in climate in my hometown are even killing old traditions. There used to be a famous tropical rain every day at 2 pm. This rain is sung about in songs, remembered and cherished with pride. This same was rain used to set encounters; so we would meet before or after the rain. Teenagers used to meet after the rain, but before curfew. These days, there’s no rain at 2 pm. Instead, it rains at 3, at 4 and at 5 pm; we cannot predict the rains any longer. By the time it stops, it is usually too late for teens to go out on dates – curfew time. No dates? That’s what climate change gifts eagerly enamored kids – a low blow to love. That’s what climate change is doing to Belém: less romance. Who knew romance would be impacted by climate change?!