Afraid of the Cold

Apr 4 , 2020
By Kidist Yidnekachew

An old friend of mine recently came from Denmark for a vacation with her family. Within days of her arrival, she came to my house to pay me a visit with her half-Danish, half-Ethiopian three-year-old daughter.

As two new parents, we talked about motherhood and children. We both had experiences the other could relate to. But then she asked if I have been keeping my son inside the house at all times wrapped with blankets.

“Do not be scared of the wind. Let him get used to it; the fresh air is good for him,” she insisted. “Besides, if he doesn’t get used to it now; he would probably grow up being very sensitive to the wind and wearing layers of clothing just to go outside.”

When she was in Denmark and the weather dropped to two degrees Celsius, she would take her toddler outside without clothes as a way of acclimating her to the cold weather.

She believes that our parents raised us to become fearful of new environments, and we are not daring enough as a result. We do not take risks, but live in a box and are closed to new experiences, she claims.

She has a point, at least when it came to how terrified we remain of cold weather or a draft. Oftentimes, I have been warned against taking my son outside without wrapping him almost entirely with blankets. It is also believed that all the doors and windows should remain closed in the house as well as in vehicles. Such a rule is basically in every Ethiopian’s baby-rearing collective memory.

I follow these rules in my house too but not to the extent of leaving my child gasping for air. I do it out of fear of what may happen if I defy the rule. Superstition is a powerful weapon cultural norms use against us.

Usually, if I have a window open at the back of the house, I will close the opposite front window. My husband will then open all the windows and I will tell him to close them because I do not want air to come from two directions.

“It is the same temperature air on either side of the house; the building is in the same dimension,” he says.

Whenever family and friends come to visit me, they warn against taking my son outside the house; adding that if there ever comes the need to take him outside, to do so cautiously and almost entirely wrapped in blankets.

My husband, of course, is immune to this belief because he was not treated this way as a child. He often takes our son outside with nothing but his diaper and shirt on.

“The cold,” I shout. “Bring him back!”

"There is no such thing!” he shouts over his shoulder.

His argument with me on this topic has always been that Ethiopians are the only ones that have this unhealthy relationship with the wind. It is not unlike him to point to someone walking on the side of the road with a black leather jacket at noontime when the sun is blistering hot and observe how abnormal it is.

He was once sharing a minibus with a friend and 23 other passengers from Hawassa to the capital when the air became pungent. The person sitting behind my husband and his friend was wearing boots, a suit, a towel and a gabi, a handmade cotton cloth worn over the shoulders and the upper body.

The friend, understandably, cracked a window. The gentleman, wearing all the clothes he could find in his wardrobe, leaned forward to close the window and scolded, “cold.”

The gentleman, according to my husband, had beads of sweat dripping from every pore on his face. In a few minutes, they cracked the window open a bit, and the gentleman closed it once more.

“Do you see that water on your face? That comes out of you when you are hot,” said the friend.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 04,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1040]

Kidist Yidnekachew is interested in art, human nature and behaviour. She has studied psychology, journalism and communications and can be reached at (

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