Lights Out

The cheers are loud and wholehearted. Filling my newly brightened apartment. They come from the people of the neighborhood. The men, women and children who live in the area that deal with this all the time. Their entire lives. This is their reality. An inconvenience and source of new frustration for me. But for them this is nothing new. They have experienced this kind of thing since before they were old enough to remember.

The power shuts off and we are all plunged into darkness. And stifling heat. The lights and air conditioning abruptly shutting off. And then just as quickly as they disappeared they return. A loud cheerful cry erupting from the mouths of all the people around. We are back to modern times. Back to electricity. Back to life.

Even when the power is on the streets are not super illuminated at night. The headlights from cars provide most of the brightness. 

It’s been bad recently. These black outs. On and off. Off and on. Sometimes for hours. Today it was on when I woke up. Turned off a couple hours later. And stayed off for more than 8 hours. A full working day. Some places have generators. Hotels. Big businesses. The homes of the well off. My office building has a generator. Meaning I can work throughout the day uninterrupted. The lights will flicker and go off for a minute. But then the generator kicks in and we’re back in business. At my home I do not have a generator. When the power goes out it stays out until it’s back on. At night I sit and sweat in my dark apartment, a headlamp strapped across my forehead.

Never been one to constantly charge my things that need charging. Because electricity has always been available to me. It’s been a non-issue. But that’s changed now. I now furiously charge my phone, laptop and portable charger. Because it’s very possible I might not get to charge them again for hours. I use my phone for light sometimes. For entertainment. For something to do in the dark.

Even when the power is on there can be issues. The electricity here requires most appliance to be hooked to a converter. Television. Refrigerator. Air conditioner. And as I’ve been running my air conditioner non-stop when I’m home, because in addition to the power problems we’re also experiencing an epic heat wave, occasionally it decides it needs a little break. The converter says, “Naw. I’m good. Ima just take a little break. Gimme a minute.” And it turns itself off. And I have to wait. And I have to sweat.

It’s been an adjustment. I know right now is particularly bad. There are issues with weather. The government. The power lines. It’s the thing to talk about these days. Where I come from the weather can be unpredictable. It changes frequently. We have an unofficial motto: If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes. People talk about the weather. It’s the thing to talk about. Here in Burma, in the city I live in, the power is the thing to talk about at the moment. I chat about it with my co-workers. I tell them about the cheers I hear. The collective sigh and ‘nooo!’ that can be heard all the way up in my 5th floor apartment when the power goes out. The elation and ‘yay!’ I hear from the streets when the lights come back on.

Salad in the dark
Salad in the dark. Made dinner. Ate it by headlamp light. Very rustic. 

One of my co-workers told me they say that because of the power outages people in Burma always have something to look forward to. There is always a reason to celebrate. Something was taken away and when it returns they rejoice. Which is a wonderful way to look at the situation.

It’s been tough. I won’t lie. The adjustment to not having constant electricity. This has made me look at how dependent we are on electricity. It is our life force. In this modern world we need it. Or we think we do.

Right now, as I write this, I am sitting in the dark. Sweating. My body glistening with sweat. I was out of the house most of the day because I had no power. Since coming home about 90 minutes ago the power has gone off 3 times. The second time it came back on the converter for my air conditioner decided to take a break. And then all the electricity decided to take a break. And I heard the cry from the streets. People lamenting the loss of light. But I know eventually I’ll hear the cheer. The cheer when the power comes back. It might be in a few minutes. It might be in a few hours. But eventually I will hear it. And then once again there will be happiness and there will be light.

6 thoughts on “Lights Out

  1. This is a great description of how we conceive of Michigan weather and the comparison with availability of electricity in Burma. This could be a research topic: how do people in different cultures cope with inconveniences and how these coping behaviors become cultural patterns.

    1. That would be an interesting study. But I think I know the conclusion: They complain about the problem over cups of hot (or cold) beverages and then rejoice when it’s been fixed and then wait for the next problem to appear.

  2. I’ve always thought if the power went out and never came back on that it would start the zombie apocalypse.

    1. I’ll let you know if that happens here. And we’re about 12 hours ahead of you, so if I’m somehow able to alert you you’ll have a good head start on everyone else.

  3. …as young adults/groups waiting for time to pass we use to play the “Luxury Game.”
    Verbally debating, choosing what you could do with/out till it was just ONE choice- it always came down to having heat or running water- and the reasons that went with each choice
    had to be stated… Cooling, heating, out houses, indoor plumbing, water sources- we all debated it hotly as luxuries, it got interesting.

    1. That’s a great game, I could see that conversation going in some interesting directions. And it makes sense it would come down to heat & water. ‘Luxuries’ that are necessities for all, but only ‘luxuries’ for some.

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