On Moto Kwa Moto (hot for hot)


When in the course of life I encounter one of the precious tenets of folk
wisdom, it is my custom to nod and look wide-eyed into the face of the
kindly sage who is sharing it with me. Inside however, my mental statement
is something akin to, “Oh, so you believe in imaginary science.” One of the
unwelcome familiarities I met in Kenya was the iron clad conviction among a
surprisingly large section of the world’s populace that drinking something
hot will help you cool off.

Kenyans take their chai hot. And by that I mean directly off the fire,
boiling less than two minutes ago. I mean as hot as a liquid can be made at
any given altitude. In a place like Kabete, Kijabe, or Nairobi, this seems
sensible. When it is 120 degrees in the shade however, you will still see a
Kenyan man, just come from hard labor in the sun, sit down and lovingly
grasp his scalding tea in both hands. After his first sip he may even be
heard to solemnly intone, “Moto kwa moto.”

This very same physical impropability is widely ascribed to in my home state
of Kansas. Numerous times in my life, an elder has instructed me that if I
really want to cool off, I should be drinking hot coffee. Implying, at least
in my mind, that cold water was a ridiculous choice on my part.

I realize that the human body is fearfully and wonderfully made. However,
one of my lasting lessons from thermodynamics in school was that the human
body is a pitifully poor heat transfer device. A human body wearing clothing
is more or less hopeless. I was willing to give it a try though. Perhaps the
body does react to influx of hot fluid with a powerful cooling response. In
Kenya one has little choice but to drink hot chai in the hot sun anyway.

Perhaps you have seen pictures of St. Bernard dogs carrying tiny barrels of
brandy on their collars? This image comes from the use of these dogs in
making avalanche rescues. The idea being that the alcohol would both resist
freezing and help warm a person up. While the alcohol would make a person
perhaps feel warm; particularly a person who was possibly dehydrated and
probably contemplating death; the body’s reaction was to dilate the veins
and aggravate the onset of hypothermia. Your body lies to your brain, all
the time.

The sky is not blue because it reflects the ocean. There is no such thing as
free energy. Chicken soup has no actual effect on colds. What your weather
station calls “wind chill” is actually “convective heat transfer” and to
feel the cold they describe, you would have to be sopping wet and naked in a
strong wind. Some things go up and never come down. Cats do not always land
on their feet. Pouring a quantity of hot fluid into a hot solid does not
make the solid cooler. Believe it if you like, but please leave me out of
your pet insanity.

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