Thursday, November 17, 2011

Electricity (or lack thereof)

The ESCOM (power supplier) office for Malawi
Blackouts have become a part of daily life. I always have a small flashlight with me so that I do not, literally and figuratively; find myself completely in the dark.

Most of the cuts I have experienced are in the evening when I am at the lodge. The sun sets incredibly early here although it is summer. By 6 o’clock it is pitch black. The unfortunate thing about this is that it is dangerous to walk outside after dark - especially alone.

Coming from a place where I have a lot of autonomy over where I go and when I choose to go there, this has been a bit of a struggle. I don’t have a vehicle and with the fuel crises, working taxis are hard to come by and quite expensive. This has led to many evenings by myself in the lodge. The lodge has 2 back-up generators but both have been broken for most of the week. As such, I have chuckled to myself many-a-time as I sit in the dark on my bed, eating peanut butter off my finger (as I don’t yet have a place where I can cook for myself or a spoon). I am trying to get protein, which is tough when you are a vegetarian in Malawi. After hungrily opening the jar and eating a few big mounds of PB off my finger, my throat and chest respond angrily by painfully contracting as if to tell me ‘you ate too much of a thick substance too fast’. I slow down and realize the humour in what is happening. I laugh and then feel even sillier for laughing alone in the dark, sticky in the heat, mosquito net overhead with peanut butter residue on my finger. Try not to judge me too harshly reader!

In seriousness, the black outs are much more problematic than my sitting hot in the dark eating PB with my hands. These unplanned outages have been increasing because ESCOM, the country’s electricity supplier cannot keep up with demand. When you couple the power shortage with the fuel crises (more on the fuel crises later), the results are impacting the lives of Malawians more seriously – even fatally. I read in the newspaper this morning that two women recently lost their lives in a hospital due to the blackouts. One was in labour and was rushed to the hospital due to complications. During the operation, the power went out and there wasn’t any fuel for the back-up generator. They couldn’t continue the operation, and both her and her child died. A few hours later in the same hospital, a woman came in who had had a heart attack. The power went out on the operating table and she too died.  The fuel crises also means that the same hospital only has one ambulance running.

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