December 3, 2012

Immigrants face cold reality of Maine winter

Portland helps newcomers from Africa learn about Maine winters, from cold-weather clothes, to furnaces, steam radiators and oil bills

By Tom Bell
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Fredence, a recent immigrant from Burundi, bundles up in blankets and uses heat from her oven to try to keep warm in her Portland apartment.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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With the help of interpreter Damas Rugaba, right, immigrants from Rwanda, from left, Aristide Subikino, Isaac Ishimwe and Jean Bosco talk cold-weather issues, including communicating with the manager of their High Street apartments in Portland about heat.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

On a recent day, she was wearing two shirts, a sweater and shawl, although the apartment did not seem particularly chilly.

Richard Flare, the apartment manager, said he likes to rent to African immigrants because they make excellent tenants, although he sometimes has conflicts with them over heat. The language barrier is a problem, he said.

Some tenants use portable heaters, which trigger thermostats that control temperatures for other parts of the building to shut off.

He said some tenants open windows in winter, which frustrates him because the heat is part of the rent.

"You can drive by now, and I bet there would be some windows open," he said.

Dan Hoffman, who owns about 150 apartment units in Portland and South Portland, said city officials do an excellent job educating immigrants about heating systems.

Over the last two years, he said, conflicts over heat have become much less frequent. Now, he doesn't see much difference between American-born tenants and immigrants over heat, he said.

Over time, immigrants become accustomed to Maine winters and adapt to the cold, Wel said.

But new immigrants often feel weak and cold, even when it is nearly 70 degrees, in part because they arrive malnourished from their poor diet in Africa, he said.

"Thanks to the American people, they get some good nutrition and accumulate some fat," he said. "When you come here for the first time, it takes time to adjust."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:


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