Electricity, Expat Life

The Dark Continent

In the 19th century, maps of Africa charted the coastal areas, but the interior, as yet a mystery to European explorers, was left blank…or dark.  The romantic name ‘The Dark Continent’ was coined and is still used to this day although in our case we use it in a different context…..

Earlier in the year, after a few days of heavy rain, Eskom (SA’s national electricity provider) released a statement at 8.46am one overcast Thursday morning saying there would be load shedding and countrywide rolling power cuts over the next month.  14 minutes later before the very vast majority of the population had heard this news and made any necessary preparations, the lights went out.

Being one of the vast majority who hadn’t heard the news, my first thought was that the lack of electricity might be connected to efforts of Johannesburg-Water, who had turned up unannounced the previous Saturday and again on the Sunday to dig a whopping great hole on the front lawn trying to locate our water metre. They didn’t bother to knock on the door to tell us they a) were entering our property or b) were turning off our water supply despite there being a number of cars parked outside our house indicating we had guests!

The noise from the back garden should have further indicated that a number of these guests were small children meaning water was fairly integral to de-stickyfication of small hands and other essential bathroom ablutions. Our electricity and sprinkler system cables were in the same hole as the water meter and the heavy handed spading did subsequently result in a torrent of water running through our garden until our gardener, (also spider evictor and now water-pipe-fixer), fixed it.  Some months later the hole is still there!!

We did try chasing this up but were told that the men who dig the holes are not the same as the men who fill the holes.  Presumably an entirely different skill set is required. Back to the power cut….

Power cuts are more frequent here than at home and there are a number of problems this poses. Recently, Mr Incredible disappeared off to work during a local power outage, he called en route to say the traffic was terrible because the traffic lights weren’t working, so I didn’t rush out anywhere.  When I eventually needed to go out out problem number one arose.  My car was in the garage and the garage door is….electric.

Knowing that Pickle’s school pick up time was looming I ventured into dark garage (the garage where I once found a snake and more recently some suspicious spider eggs) with stepladder and torch to try to find the manual override. Thankfully power was restored just as I was about to clamber on top of my car to pull the cord I had spotted dangling above it.

Problem number two…. (aside from the smaller problems – food defrosting in the freezer, no cooker, kettle or TV and general absence of other electrical things we rely on), I checked my wallet and realised I only had 30 rand (less than £2) to my name.  By this time, understanding that further imminent outages were likely, I went straight to a cashpoint to join the long queue of anxious customers wanting to withdraw cash before the next power cut. If the power is out, the ATMs and card readers in shops don’t work meaning cash is the only way to buy petrol, food and (very important in such times of ‘crisis’) wine.

Problems 3 and 4….maybe…..We hadn’t been here very long when I woke up in pitch darkness to my very first SA power outage.  My initial thought was a fairly nonplussed “Okay, it’s a power cut”, my second thought was “Do the electric fences still work and is there an orderly queue of would-be-intruders camped outside the wall waiting for just such an opportunity for mischief?”

Then Pickle called out for me in the dark.  I scrabbled for a torch and went to check on him and then thought; “Will Security drive past, see my torch light, think I’m am one of the would-be-intruders and shoot me??????”  Confused and over-dramatic thoughts.  I switched off my torch just in case though and proceeded to stumble round in the dark…

October 2014

In the Dark
In the Dark

1 thought on “The Dark Continent”

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