Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Day the Lights Went Out in Tses

It all comes down to drama and my village has been full of it over the past weeks, more drama than in a typical day in the life of a volunteer.

For over a year we've been hearing how NamPower was ready to shut off the electricity to Tses because we owed them a truckload of money. Empty threats are a part of life here and nobody believed it, that is until last Tuesday.

Sitting at the computer during a free period to research potential jobs post-PC, when at 11am my monitor goes blank and the lights go out. Not a problem, it's happened before. I just need to talk to the principal of Nowak and he'll send a learner to the circuit box to flip the switch. (aside: After almost two years living here I still have no idea where the breaker is. The principal and I have searched for it unsuccessfully, which leads me to believe it is located somewhere through a wardrobe in the land of Narnia.)

As I walk to the office I see members of the village council swarming the mission. Humm, red flags are abounding. Turns out that NamPower arrived and cut power to the entire village. Of course we've been under the specter of this threat since the previous Tuesday and, as usual, it went unknown to me. Here's the chain of payment in Namibia: People in the village pay their water and electric bills by paying them to the village council and the council then pays NamPower and NamWater. Makes sense, nay? The mission has not missed a single payment and many in the village prepay their electric and yet all are lumped together.

Am I upset? Having candlelight dinners, using my Solio (solar battery) to recharge my iPod, perfect stargazing conditions (now that the streetlights aren't working), cozying up to the candle every evening to read and carrying water to my flat. No problem, it's just like camping. I ran out of matches so I had to use my camping stove (it has an ignition switch) to light the candles. It's exactly like using a blowtorch to light a candle. It was fun to go out stargazing in the evening, but I wish the power would've went out during the Perseid shower in August instead of now.

My principal called the regional office for help. Their advise: cook all the hostel food (no refrigeration now) and you won't be getting any more. Oh, and you'll still have school. Ok ... where's the logic in that? The other problem is now that we've had electricity at my site since around 2000, the village water is no longer pumped by hand or windmill. It's by electric pump. Some learners were leaving the hostel to go home.

Fast-forward to Thursday, ignoring some craziness in the hostel. Again a phone call to the regional office, saying we don't have any food for the learners today or enough gas for the stove either. Unbelievably the people in the office were shocked, showing how much attention they were giving our situation. They did immediately sent a truck with food and gas. Arriving just two hours later was a weeks worth of food, including meat. Much of the food required refrigeration ... WHAT? Can't believe this! The regional office's solution: we're going to store the meat and such in Berseba (44k one way on a winding, bumpy dirt road) and the principal will drive there daily to get it. Makes sense to me!

The straw that broke the donkey's back came when the bore hole water ran out. So at 2pm on Thursday we released the hostel learners and closed the school until the power comes back. A friend of a friend in Keetmanshoop was in the area, so I got a hike out of here to the comforts in Keets of electricity and running water.

I'm completely fine. Actually, I've been laughing at the absurdity of the entire situation. Can't get angry, what good will that do? Be interesting to see what Peace Corps does with me about this. We'll see how long this outage lasts. Grade 10 national exams start in three weeks.

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