Monday, October 03, 2005

Daily routines

I sat down and wrote this piece early last week after a weekend without mains electricity or water. I’ve only just been able to post it, due to internet access problems. Our power problems at the office are now solved thanks to a fabulously impressive new generator with a reassuringly deep purr. I love it! At the house, water and power are in greater supply than this time last year. Work on the town’s water supply has continued all year, and the authorities are making efforts to improve the amount of electricity available. I am fortunate to have a generator at the house which I use in the evenings – it runs the fridge and lights, but not the hot water heater. However, only around 5% of homes in the country actually have access to electricity.

Some of my daily and weekend routines revolve around water and harnessing solar power. Drinking water is first boiled, and then filtered. This involves lots of filling up of large pots and then pouring the cooled water into the filter, and later filling up water bottles to carry upstairs. There’s running water in the house most of the time, although every so often it dries up. Sometimes it’s off for a few hours, sometimes for days. To deal with this there’s a large plastic tub of water in each bathroom, several yellow jerry cans of water kept filled just outside the kitchen door, and a large (2500 litre) “fast tank” or water bladder that sits on the back deck. So there’s always plenty of water, even though it might not be “running”.

This all involves plenty of lifting and carrying. For my bathroom upstairs, if I’ve heated water for washing – either due to lack of power or no running water – then I carry an extra large saucepan of water upstairs. The storage tub is usually filled by the housekeeper, although I’ll occasionally need to carry up a jerry can if the water runs low over the weekend. A jerry can full of water is terribly heavy!! I see both women and men carrying them on their heads and just can’t imagine how they do it.

The water filter is kept in the kitchen. It’s a wonderful stainless steel, two-piece tank, with ‘candle’ filters in the top half, and a tap on the lower half. I fill up water bottles from the filter which I then carry upstairs. I always keep a supply of several litres upstairs for drinking and brushing teeth. All that boiling of water, filling the filter, filling and carrying the bottles seems to take up quite a lot of time!

Another early morning task is setting my solar-powered lamp and solar-powered radio out in the sun. These are essential objects. Most nights we don’t have power, and even though I often run the generator in the evenings, I need the lamp for the 30 minutes between when I tell the guards to turn off the generator and while I read in bed before going to sleep. The radio is for listening to the BBC world service which puts me to sleep every night and keeps me feeling connected to the world when I wake up at 3 am and can’t get back to sleep. Every time I hear of budget cuts at the beeb I worry about the world service disappearing. It is very much superior to the Voice of America (VOA), whose presenters seem to think that their audience has the intellectual level of my cat. Actually, I think the cat prefers the BBC too. My solar powered radio is also a wind-up radio, and when there isn’t enough sun, and I’m too lazy to wind it up (it takes more energy than you might imagine), then I use my battery powered radio. Horrified at the amount of batteries I was using for everything, I quickly bought (over the internet, of course: a battery charger attached to a solar panel. It only works when there’s a cloudless sky, and I have to keep a close eye on the batteries, as the first charger I tried soon melted when I wasn’t paying attention. So that’s a weekend task – putting the solar panel and battery charger out in the sun. At the weekends I also put out my duvet (down comforter to the Americans in the audience) and down pillows in the sun. They’re not solar powered, but the sun makes them fresh and fluffy again. And yes, it’s cool enough at night here that I need my duvet! It’s a lightweight one, and some nights it gets so cold that I have to put on my winter pyjamas and wriggle around a lot trying to keep warm! (Which is also why I find the water too cold for washing with in the mornings).

Whoops! I got so carried away with writing that I almost forgot to fix tea for the gardener; and I need to make lunch for a friend who’s arriving in an hour – bye!

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