April 24, 2016
Today was a typical low key Sunday. The morning was fresh, sunny and clear with a cool breeze. The first hints of winter can be felt in the mornings here. Although I should clarify that by “hint”, I mean literally just that, and no more – the same way off-brand chocolate chip icecream comes with a “hint” of chocolate. The delight is short-lived and perhaps disappointing when you know the real thing.
By 9 am, the heat was picking up and on cue, the power cut off. We’ve had powerless Sundays before. The utility does its major repairs on Sundays presumably to reduce economic impacts and save us all the exertion of making three course Sunday dinners. So, after my computer battery ran out and I could make no more progress on the Methods section of my manuscript, we headed out for the weekly grocery shop.
Going out would also tell us how widespread the power outage was. If it’s just my house, which has happened, I have to call power company, but it it’s the whole grid, then we can relax, knowing it will eventually come back on.
There is one traffic light in the 3 km between my house and my favorite grocery joint, the new mall Spar. The traffic lights were not working. At the mall, the stores were open but mostly dark inside. In search of some children’s books, we ventured into one of the side shops where I almost stepped on a lady sleeping on a mattress in the darkened interior. We left empty handed and I’m still racking my brain to think of a place to buy children’s story books. I don’t know why you can’t find them here. Same with CDs and DVDs – I haven’t seen those for sale either, although maybe I’m just not looking in the right places.
The Spar had power, but presumably from generators, so we did our shop in normalcy. This particular Spar is a great store – it has most of what we need including a good cheese selection and they don’t check your receipts at the door to make sure you’ve paid for everything. Other stores do that and it’s a real pain to stand in line for a receipt check that involves inspection of all 43 items in your over-packed and slightly torn bags while your children complain that they need to use the bathroom. The one thing Spar lacks is decent icecream – the kind made with milk and cream and sugar, and not made with corn syrup and xanthum gum and red food coloring.
To get the good icecream, we go next door to the rather pricey but sometimes worth-it food section at Woolworths. It’s the Whole Foods of Maun though on a much smaller scale. With the exception of their canned soups, which are disappointingly devoid of the ingredients highlighted on the label, the quality and freshness of the food at Woolworths is very good. But today, the food part of the store was in darkness, so armed with my cell phone, we went forth to grope for icecream.
Now if this was America, there would be a do not enter sign across the darkened grocery area. In fact the store might even be closed. Certainly a manager would emerge from nowhere to hustle you away from the distant freezer, thoughts of fallen customers and law suits dancing in his (or her) head. But this is why Africa is so great. They don’t fuss about stuff like that. Instead they have a friendly fellow with a flashlight (torch) available to help you and they view your self-serving approach with a lighted cell phone as expected and reasonable.
We found our way to the freezer – it’s not a very big store – and secured our made-with-milk-and-cream icecream. I had to steady my 6-year old’s jubilance as he danced down the aisle proclaiming that power outages meant we didn’t have to pay and got free icecream instead. Since Mama was paying, he wasn’t especially sad to be redirected to the tills to pay, and out we went into the sunlight, blinking from its brightness.
At the shops we picked up useful confirmation that the power outage was city wide and that power would come back on at 4 pm. This information caused my children to hover around the clock for two long hours in anticipation of the power-dependent internet coming back on. The internet of course brings with it Clash of Clans, a social gaming medium in which players with names like Studulus Rex can build and destroy mythical villages, in the process acquiring stashes of pink elixir and gold coins that are then traded in for armies of giants, goblins, barbarians, and wall-breakers to fight the next battle.
Obviously I fail to see the attraction, but the rest of my family are totally hooked. At 4:00, absolutely nothing happened to the filaments of our waiting lightbulbs, which my 6-year-old had, in a gratifying act of planning, put “on” as immediate indicators of our reprieve from the powerless afternoon. Instead, the birds chirped, the curtains rustled, and the insects hummed. I suggested we go to the pool, an offer that was met with shock and consternation. Clearly my offspring wished to be present for the moment when electrons once again flowed through the arterial wires of our house.
At 4:17, the lights came on at just the moment when my son claimed victory in a close game of Blokus!