Thursday, August 04, 2005

Energy Lotto

Every Kampala resident gets to participate in a free nightly game of chance called “whose power gets cut this evening?”

Kampala is subject to rolling blackouts, for whatever reason. I think it’s because the city has clearly outgrown its infrastructure. Anyway, by plan or by accident, the end result is that sometimes the power goes out.

The power went out in Bbunga on three evenings this week, which is more than usual. Tonight I quickly turned off my Airport card and unplugged all my power-draining peripherals. Dimmed the monitor to where I could barely see anything. This helps a little, but I still need to run Photoshop and the Wacom tablet, which means I only get about 40 minutes of battery power. Kind of a bummer for deadlines. My stove is also electric so it’s pb&j on power-free nights.

My complex does have lights that run on a diesel generator. Every reputable business has its own generator.

I used up my 40 minutes of iBook battery. As usual, there was a choice of things to do at this point. I could: 1) stare at the dimly lit wall or 2) pick up my flashlight and head to the Bbunga Internet café where I could stare at the wall while waiting for Yahoo to load.

I chose the latter and stumbled up the road. I sat patiently and watched. Read a few emails and then got a new one.

“My name is Douglas. I was sitting next to you in the Internet café and I copied down your email address. I would like to have a drink with you. Please?”

Drink, visa, what’s the diff? I added silently while blocking his email address.

Another new email came in from my neighbor at home. “Building Inspection” was the subject. Oh no… they only do this once every five years and I have been planning on making a few, uh, modifications before the inspectors came. But I can’t do that from Africa! Minor panic set in as I clicked on the email and waited for the bad news to load.

Then the room went quiet except for the clicking of keyboards. The humming of the generator had stopped. The lights went out. Then the computers went off, leaving me and Douglas and a dozen Ugandans sitting in darkness.

“Sorry, madam,” said the attendant. “It is over. The generator has stopped.”

My imagination would have to go wild over the contents of the building inspection e-mail until morning. I walked out of the darkness into the slightly less dark night beyond, passing women selling grilled corn by candlelight, en route to my room for some quality staring-at-the-wall time.


Linda said...

Oh, wow! And I thought having a dialup connection was primitive! At least in rural Virginia we have electricity most of the time (although last week it went out when a truck pulling a mobile home took down a utility pole).

Marie Javins said...

Ironically, the electricity at Murchison Falls is far more reliable. This is because they have a set number of people/buildings to supply and run a generator from 8 am to midnight. H.M. wrote his university dissertation on getting them onto solar but it will probably not happen unless some nice NGO decides to fund it one day.