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#SnowOuttaMyElement: Global South Emigres Recall Their First Flakes

Manyang Reath had never seen snow until he moved from Sudan to Richmond, Va., in 2005. Here he is in 2008, embracing it.
Courtesy of Manyang Reath
Manyang Reath had never seen snow until he moved from Sudan to Richmond, Va., in 2005. Here he is in 2008, embracing it.

Last Friday, as the East Coast braced itself for the huge snow storm, we began to wonder how folks from places where it never snows were thinking about the crazy weather.

We asked readers from non-snowy parts of the developing world — and indeed from anyplace warm: What was your first experience with snow?

This week, after we finished shoveling ourselves out of our homes, we began digging through the responses.

And we got some truly hilarious ones.

Reader Kathy Hand wrote in the comments:

"My first husband was from Kuwait. When we married, we moved to Ann Arbor so that he could continue his education.

"He had never seen snow before.

"One night, it was the first snow of the season. The snow was so light, that when the flakes landed on clothing, they melted instantly.

"My husband went outside to walk to the store, when he returned, he said to me: 'Kathy, don't go outside anytime soon, the pollution is so bad, that I can see the individual particles floating in the air.' "

And Phil Jones wrote:

"When my grandmother was in college in Boston early in the twentieth century, her roommate was from Brasil [sic]. As the story goes, when the first snowfall came, the roommate ran outside and proceeded to fill an envelope with the stuff. It was her intention to mail it back to Brasil ."

But the wildest story came from Manyang Reath, 27, who saw his first snow a decade ago. He had made his way over to Richmond, Va., after spending most of his childhood in refugee camps in Sudan and Ethiopia.

"The day after I arrived, it snowed. And let me tell you, it was a really, really scary thing," he recalled when we called him up. "I had no idea what this was."

And he didn't really speak English — so he didn't have anyone to ask. "I remember I was staying in a group home. And this woman came out and she told me 'This is snow, it's very, very cold.' But she wasn't really able to explain it to me. She just kept repeating 'It's extremely cold, all right?' "

But he wondered: Where does it come from? What is it?

"I didn't even know that it falls from the sky. I thought it was something man made," he says, laughing. "I even tried smelling it, to see if I could understand."

Reath still lives in Richmond, where he runs the nonprofit .

He's learned a lot about snow over the years. For instance, he now knows that shoveling snow with bare hands is not an effective strategy: "I'm still so embarrassed I tried that."

"But it shocks me still," he says. "Like after the storm this weekend, my car is still covered in snow. And everything is white. And all of that just fell from the sky — it's just so weird."

On Twitter, some readers echoed that sentiment — including former NPR intern Mahafreen Mistry. She grew up in India and recalled being entirely enchanted when she saw her first snow in New York in 2014.

But for most readers, it was the cold rather than the snow that was most incredible.

Yeah, sounds about right.

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