vrijdag 29 december 2023

Feast of the light

Translation from Dutch

This morning an alert on my phone with good news. Due to the Christmas holidays and New Year, no load shedding in South Africa this week, that's the rationing of electricity. Usually the electricity is switched off several times a day, because the power stations (mainly due to mismanagement, corruption, lack of investment, sometimes due to drought and lack of cooling water) cannot supply enough electricity. An app shows the schedule for each district when there is power and when there is not. I installed this app and entered the Pinelands area of Cape Town as my home base so that I can see when my South African 'daughter' has power or not, so I know when she is in the dark and also the internet connection may be interrupted. On special occasions, such as the Christmas holidays or last autumn during the Rugby World Cup in France where the South African Springboks proved to be the strongest, the electricity company Eskom is generous and supplies uninterrupted power.

At first I only knew load shedding from West Africa. When I was in the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown in 2014, we had electricity there every other day. No app or schedule and it was unclear to me when the power came or went. Most people had small generators that rattled until they ran out of fuel and then sputtered out the ghost. Then it became quiet in the house again, no light, no fan against the heat, no refrigerator. At a family I was visiting, as soon as the power came back, everyone ran to the corner of the room where there was an extension cord with multiple plugs to put the phones on the charger.

One day I visited the provincial town of Makeni and, unlike in the capital, there appeared to be uninterrupted electricity. How is that possible? It turned out to be the home city of then president Ernest Bah Koroma and a good politician naturally takes good care of his home front. That is not different today (with a different president from a different tribe).

Long before I visited Sierra Leone, I shared the Feast of the Light on my blog (23/7/2007) and I remember the intensity of that emotion.
<<The 24-year-old Mariama from Freetown expressed the hopes of Sierra Leone on the internet last winter:

"Hey! we're trying to do fine. i've got new news for you, the street lights are back (but only along the main high way), n guess what? kids come out late at night to enjoy it. they let's play soccer at midnight!">>
During my stay in Freetown I had even less insight into the supply of tap water. In my bathroom there was a large blue barrel with water for the bucket shower (yes, just a bucket with which you pour cold water over yourself and I really liked that way of showering!) or to flush the toilet. There was a hose in the barrel that was directly connected to the tap, which was always on. From time to time, water came from the tap for a few hours and the barrel was filled again. No one cared when the barrel overflowed and the water washed aimlessly down the drain. Even on the dusty rubble-paved street, a tap was always open. When water came out at times, the youth flocked with pans and jerry cans to bring water into their homes. Despite the scarcity, most of the water flowed away like a stream between the red sand and the rubble of the street.

As far as I'm concerned, leave all the fireworks out. How grateful I am for the power from the socket, light in the darkness and running water from the tap.

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