Friday, March 9, 2012

March 9, 2012 - Who's Got the Power?

Yesterday was all about power.  Our electricity went out at 9 am and we assumed it was a usual power cut.  But then Rose remembered something and discovered that we were actually out of “credit” with the electric company.  Let me explain.

You have to pre-pay for your electricity here.  You go to the power company – they have little shops set up all over the place – and you give them some money and they give you a receipt with a special number on it.  Then you go home and find your electricity meter, which is flashing a big 000 since you have no credit, and you type in your special number.  Then the meter shows the amount of money you paid and as you now use your electricity the number dwindles away until your credit is gone.

Ok!  So this was my first day home alone with K back at work and I was excited about the possibility of going out to buy more credit for both electricity and my new cell phone (pretty much the same system as the electricity – you buy credit and spend it down – which is also how we did it in Nairobi).  Rose sort of told me where to go to buy the electricity (she did it last week) and I got into my little Rav4 to explore on my own. 

The place was so close to our house – like 90 seconds drive (or I suppose a few minutes if one wasn’t afraid of fainting in the heat) – that I drove by it, and while trying to find a place to turn around I saw a sign for another similar place.  So I drove a little further until I found it, but of course the “machine” that lets you buy this electrical credit was not working there.  There was a little convenience store so I went in there where I found out I could buy both electrical and phone credit.  The manager was very nice and laughed at me when I told him, “I’m really new here!”

I safely drove myself home and proudly showed Rose our electrical credit.  Go me!  I’m officially independent and didn’t hit anything while driving on the “wrong”…I mean left…side of the road.  It was a very good feeling (even though I was driving granny style – really slow!).

Next problem: in the time that I had been out buying credit, the power did officially go out so that even if we had credit, we would have no power.  This turned into a 12 ½ hour outage during 97 or 98 degree heat (that’s like 36 or 37 degrees I think). We kept waiting and waiting, and getting hotter and hotter.  Noah won’t sleep when he is really hot so he didn’t nap all day.  Grace begged to watch a show but nothing was charged or working so that was impossible.  Both kids spent most of the day naked and playing in a big laundry bucket full of water (somehow it was better than the bathtub that they refused).   We took one field trip – yes, I drove again! This time with passengers! – to the air conditioned grocery store, but I had spent most of the money I had (and still don’t have my own ATM card) on phone and electrical credit that we couldn’t buy much and couldn’t loiter at the store too long.  To be honest, I told Kristoffer that I was too hot and exhausted to cook hot food anyway and he ended up going for pizza at 7:30.  Perhaps that made me a bad housewife on Day 1 and yes he was the one at the office all day, but at he had A/C and did not have two crazy-hot kids. The Dar version of me is a work in a progress.

At 9:30 or so last night the power came back on.  It turns out that a big transformer for the whole area that we live in blew out, and they are waiting for parts from Japan to arrive to fix it. I have no idea what is powering our electricity in the meantime.  Kristoffer went out with one of the boys* around the compound and typed in our electrical credit so that we could all get some nice A/C sleep last night.  Phew.

 *There are two “shamba” boys living here, working for the landlord **doing various jobs around the compound for them and now us (sweeping our driveway or bringing us a paraffin lantern at night if there is no power).  There is also a “fundi”, or carpenter, on the premises.  His name is Bahati and even though I can barely communicate with him, Rose and Kristoffer are doing a good job and really like him.*

**From now on, I will refer to the landlord as Mr. or Mrs. S.**

So yesterday I felt powerful because I could drive by myself, but powerless because we literally had no power.  Our generator is supposed to be installed and running any day now…but the electrician is not very predictable even though he keeps telling Mr. S that he is coming.

Today we have only had one short power cut but otherwise it is cooler today and the power is on.  Grace happily had 30 minutes of charged iPad time and Noah even took a little nap.


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