The cold snap has definitely begun here in Palestine with lows dipping into the 40s. Regular readers might recall my excitement in September about being able to always get a breeze blowing through the apartment, eliminating the need for air conditioning. Our think stone walls and tile floors kept the apartment nice and cool. That was a fantastic feature of this 4th floor apartment on top of a hill back when the temperatures were in the 80s and 90s. Today, however, as I sit in my chilly living room, I’m not quite as enthused about those breezy windows.
Many things are less expensive here in Palestine. You can get a nice haircut for 20 shekels ($5), a delicious sandwich, side & drink for 16 shekels ($4), and a taxi ride into town for 3 shekels (75 cents). However one area that isn’t less expensive is the cost of energy and fuel. Diesel here is 6.60 NIS per liter or $1.71. Since there are 3.78 liters per gallon, that places the cost of fuel at $6.46 per US gallon (for comparison, diesel today in Mississippi is $1.99 at Kroger). Hold on to that number for just a moment.
We have quickly learned that it’s an exercise in futility to try to heat our home to American standards. We heard about our neighbors’ friends who tried to keep their home at 68-70 degrees and spent $1,500 the first month on fuel. Yes, 1,500 dollars, not shekels, for one month! Our apartment is equipped with beautiful radiators lining all the walls. However, the fuel source to heat the water that’s pumped through the system is diesel. Heating this large apartment would quickly get expensive! Since we only have one more month here, we’re thinking about putting $200 worth of diesel into the tank, just to be able to knock the chill out of the air in the morning. That should give us about 30 minutes of heat a day.
Our other option is to use a sooba (صوبة). These are small portable heaters and it’s a really fun word to say. Will and Maggie’s favorite Arabic word is surra (سُرّة) or belly button, so around here we need a sooba for our surra. Most folks use propane powered soobas, similar to the Mr. Heater that Lynn’s folks would take to soccer games in the States. The downside is that you have to refill the tanks and the slight propane smell can give you a headache (or maybe that’s from the carbon monoxide).
We’ve opted to use an electric sooba. They cost about 5x as much to run as the propane versions, but since this is what came with the apartment, we’re making do. This little unit does a great job if we all gather in the living room and close the glass privacy door separating the family space from the rest of the house (here’s a fascinating literature review about the architecture behind privacy, modesty, and hospitality in Muslim homes). By reducing the heated space from 1800 sq feet to 450 sq feet, we’re able to make the one heater work by putting on some extra clothes.
Aside from the high cost, the only other downside to the electric sooba is that it can cause power problems. On Friday, I accidentally left the electric water heater on at the same time as the sooba. We didn’t have any problems until I microwaved some Thanksgiving leftovers and blew the circuit breaker on the electric company’s side of the meter. We had to call the electric company and wait for most of the day without power until they could come by and reset it for us (since Friday is a holy day here, we were lucky to get anyone out at all!).
At night, we have moved the kids onto a pallet on the floor of our room for the past couple of nights. After getting the room warm with the sooba on full power, we bump it down to low and pile on the blankets. The kids like this arrangement, so we might stick with it, at least on the really cold nights.