Monday, January 23, 2012

H20 Electric

I wake up in the middle of the night and stumble half asleep to the bathroom. As per usual, I look in the toilet for snakes (for more info, click here). Although I am pleased to report that I didn’t have any slithering, legless visitors in the bowl, there were a number of dead mosquitos in there. I turn on the tap and wonder if I slept oddly because I feel pins and needles in my hands as I wash them. Shrugging it off as another potential side effect of my anti-malarial medication, I make my way - crusty eyed and incoherent, back to bed.

In the morning, I wake up and go for a run. I am embarrassed to say the extent of the messy state that I was in upon returning – lets just it was a very vigorous workout on a particularly muggy Malawian morning. I need a shower.

I go into the washroom, turn on the sink and put my hands under the running water. The same thing happens as the night before and I am awake enough to acknowledge that it really hurts! I go to the kitchen to see if the same thing is happening. Dven touching the metal knob sends a sharp shock up my arm and through my body. I’m being electrocuted!

I seek out one of the buckets of water that we keep close for outages. Grabbing a mug, I decide to circumvent the issue with a bucket bath. I get in the shower, metal mug in hand and pour the first water onto the floor. I GET ELECTROCUTED AGAIN!!!! The shock moved up through the metal drain, through the water, through the metal mug and into my hand.

Now, I have become used to the fact that electricity and water are both a scarcity here and adjusted to frequent outages of both. However, this joint power-water combo is something completely new. In some cruel conspiracy, have the power and water both decided to work at the same time but joined forces to physically hurt me?!

After reporting the incident to the staff and learning that this is happening to other people (one poor backpacker actually got right into the shower before realizing it was electric water – I hope she choose to enter the stream with a leg or arm and not a more tender body part).

I switch the metal mug for a plastic scoop and opt to use the bathtub instead. Standing as far away from the drain, I drip water on myself so as not to create a steady stream. This works reasonably well and I manage to avoid being shocked.

Now for the part I have been dreading: I have to go pee.

I wonder if the toilet water or ceramic could conduct electricity upstream in the same way the drain did via the metal mug. Stakes are high here, but I really have to go. I ask my roommate Tyler if he thinks it is possible… he laughs and tells me that he thinks an electrocution of the worst form is improbable. I use my high-squat technique, honed by the snake incident.

I emerged triumphant based on my morning learning that a staccotoed stream does not conduct like a steady one – and the assumption that a ceramic bowl is a less likely conductor than the water contained within.

Later that day an electrician fixed the situation– electricity had somehow been ‘leaking’ into the water supply. After experiencing the endemic power and water outages, I thought I was prepared for anything Malawi could throw at me with regards to H20 and electricity. Well, that morning proved me wrong!

·      Never get too confident that you have mastered the art of living in a new place.
·      Expect the unexpected and keep a plastic scoop close by.

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