Power Dynamics


I understand you folks back home have been having some hot weather, and that it recently broke and you’ve had some relief. No, I’m not ridiculing you, I know that it really can get unbearably hot in Eastern Canada too, and I sympathize – especially with the humidity there. People have been saying to me, “I don’t know how you handle it where you are.” Well. Honestly, considering I have AC at home, in the office, and usually in the car, it’s not that bad. Sure, it’s wicked hot with the sun beating down and the pavement heat beating up, but you know you’re going to get into an AC-ed box at some point so you know it’s going to be a little better soon (and your expectations for comfort change a bit too. I have my AC set at 28˚C and I’m fine with that). As long as you know you have AC or access to it, it’s ok. However, AC is contingent upon electricity. And electricity, my friends, is not always in stock.

My apartment is on a generator, which powers the fridge, some of the lights, and the overhead fans. It’s not perfect, but certainly better than nothing. [The fans push the hot air down, so when you turn them on at first it actually makes things worse before the circulation makes things “feel” like they’re getting better. It’s not really that much better, though, it’s like being in a blow-dryer rather than an oven. Orchestras playing in drafty old churches with high vaulted ceilings use this fan-omenon to their advantage in the winter!]

But then, what about when the generator dies too?

First of all, since we’ve had a several outages back to back recently, I’ve been regularly sequestering myself in one room in the evening: my bedroom. I close the door and only use the AC in there and one lightbulb. When the power goes off, I turn on the fan to keep the cool air circulating. Tonight, when the generator (and therefore the fan and lights) went off and I was plunged into darkness, I did what any survivalist worth her salt does: continued, unmoving, to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on my iPad, because hey, it’s lit up! And it’s a good book! Using the light of my iPad, I can make it to my cupboard where I keep my headlamp. First rule of camping (ok, not the first, but still an important one): memorize headlamp location and be consistent about putting things away. It is really dark here during a blackout.

The houses are not sealed very well here, so the room heats up fairly quickly as the cool air leaks out. Eventually, being on the bed got uncomfortable because I was sweating a lot and soaking through the linens. So I moved to the floor. The tile isn’t exactly cool, but it’s a bit better than sitting on the bed (that whole “hot air rises” thing). I still got really sticky there after a while, so I got up and went outside on the terrace to assure myself that it was, in fact, still hotter outdoors in the middle of the night than inside with zero circulation. I went back inside and had a quick shower. Yes, the water coming out of the cold tap is warm as bathwater, but I can get wet at least and then when I get out, I can stand there for a couple minutes, wet, and it feels a bit better. Oh, and it’s entirely possible to shower with a headlamp on; those things are even good in the rain. Then, rather than dry off, I took my towel back to the bedroom (still the coolest room) and lay on the floor again.

At this point, there is really nothing you can do but lie there and sweat. It’s not pleasant. You know the iPad is going to die eventually, but meanwhile you can keep reading. And you know that eventually, the power will come back on. Or the sun will rise, one or the other. It’s more the boredom of waiting that can be a little frustrating. You wonder how long it’s going to take, you don’t want to open the fridge but it’s way past dinnertime; technically, with a gas stove you can cook but when you’re sweating so much you just don’t want to, and the water filtration system doesn’t work unless it’s plugged in. There’s no point in going anywhere outside, it’s not safe to be walking around outside after dark alone here. So you just lie there in the blackness and wait and keep reminding yourself that it’s really not that bad, other people actually live like this all the time.

Then, when the power DOES come back on… oh! The sweet chirp and beep of the AC and flicker of the one bare lightbulb as they gasp back to life! There is no sound so beautiful and welcome. Immediately, you go fill up your water bottles and put them in the fridge, and plug in the iPad for a recharge. Keep the headlamp handy (around your neck is a good place during rolling blackouts) and do all the things that need to be done with power or light quickly, then hole up again in the bedroom, waiting, and prepared, to ride out the next one.

It’s really strange how that one little thing, power, makes you feel so much better. All throughout the outage, you know that it’s going to end, they generally don’t last beyond a couple hours, but it’s the waiting that is difficult, and then when the power is back on, the unpredictability of the next outage’s arrival. The outages at work are somehow easier to handle, I think because you’re doing something at work so you don’t feel like you’re waiting. Seriously, we’ll be in meetings where the power dies and no one even blinks, it’s just not an event. Of course, the office has a generator too which can keep the fans going and the water filtration system operational. In the middle of the night, I’ll wake up drenched and that’s how I know the power is out again. It’s impossible to get back to sleep like that, so I just lie there, sweating and waiting for the dawn. I do find that really frustrating, though, because I’m so tired and I feel like I’m being cheated out of sleep due to my discomfort.

Seriously though, while it’s annoying, I don’t want to complain too much. I know the grid has a lot to handle right now, and the fact that the power is only off a matter of hours or so then come back makes it not too bad, but it always feels longer than it is. I don’t think the outages are scheduled, but it sort of feels that way, so you just think “ok, it’s my turn now for a little sweating” and you know that everyone else has to suffer a bit too. There are people here in New Delhi who don’t even have enough potable water, and LOTS of people who don’t have AC – which seems insane to me – so a few hours of sweating isn’t really asking a lot. And this book I’m reading is set in Britain just after WWII, and compared to what they went through, really, sweaty blackouts are nothing. It’s a minor annoyance that feels like torture, then magically you feel better again. It really is significant though, the effect that physical comfort has on one’s mental comfort!

PS: My apologies for the technical difficulties in getting this post up. I took the picture with my iPad then used the WordPress app to put the picture up but it doesn’t allow saving in draft so it posted just the pic, then I tried to edit the post on my laptop to add the text but that wasn’t saving properly…. Anyway, it appears I need to take pictures with the iPad, send them to myself, open the email on my laptop and save the pictures there so I can upload them as media from this computer. iPad still rocks, the WordPress app sucks, and this laptop is a nightmare. Don’t say I never do nothin’ for ya!


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