I am writing this blog post from my orange plastic chair, sitting on my veranda staring at the gray covered sky and wondering if the sun is going to pop out anytime soon. Looks like a hard no. Shucks for my solar charger, looks like my phone is staying on airplane mode. Energia in Malema has played more hard-to-get than a middle school crush.
“7 poles down in Mutuali” is the text I got from my sitemate. As I chapa-ed into Malema early this morning, (after a failed trip/broken down car yesterday) I was worried by the sense of silence coming over the town. No speakers, no shitty bass and bad quality Mr. Bow songs were being played. Energia seemed to be out, and at this rate, it probably won’t come back for another 4 days.
This was quickly confirmed by the staff at the bakery “não temos pão” they stated, as their industrial size mixers don’t work when electricity is off.
During my first seventeen days at site, eight were spent without electricity. This week, I’m averaging more than 60% of my time without it. Recently, as the afternoon sky turns dark and the strength of the winds make the raindrops turn to quasi-cyclone, I know to unplug all my electronics (especially my most prized possession, a brand new chest freezer) to make sure that the power surges and shutoffs don’t fry my them.
Without power though, cooking becomes difficult. I have sustained multiple days on a diet of crackers and piri piri sauce as dinner, coconut cookies for dessert. Cold powdered milk with coffee counts as a source of protein right? Cucumbers don’t need to be cooked? Recently I almost teared up over an avocado, I found at the market, a welcome addition after three days of eating plain crackers.
Falta de energia also means that the ladrãos can come out in full force. Five of my outdoor lightbulbs have been stolen, since they are easy to resell and grab when they are forcefully turned off. Hopping four foot tall fence has created a steady source of income for one neighborhood asshole, who’s stolen those lightbulbs, three pairs of shoes, my shampoo, conditioner, scissors and now my laundry detergent in the past few weeks. I now know better than leaving stuff out, but I have no choice for the lightbulbs.
Nights without energia are stressful. Last time the power went out, a gang of four from the other side of town broke my neighbors wall and stole his generator at 3am, not without first tying up all the neighbors front doors from the outside, so they couldn’t come to his help when he realized what was going on.
Without light and not much to do, fatigue hits me too early, and I find myself back up and awake at midnight with no battery to play phone games, no comforting sounds of the barraca music playing and the beer bottles clinking. Every sound becomes a threat and I patiently wait for the 4:30am call-to-prayer, which reminds me I’m not the only one awake at this time.
Though I have grown to like the rain, a relief from the afternoon heat and a bearer of more exciting fruits and vegetables than just tomatoes and onions, I am already looking forward to the dry season- where I’ll be sweaty but at least my electronics will be charged and my dinner won’t be half cooked waiting for my electric stovetop to work again.