Through our eyes: Blackout Edition

As we have traveled to developing countries, one thing is similar, the inconsistent power and rolling blackouts.  In Guatemala, power and water would be out for days at a time.  In Romania, power and internet outages outside of Bucharest were very common.  In northern Mexico, people were lucky if they had regular access to water at all.  In Tanzania, it is the same.

We have found out from locals, books, and other world travelers that a major characteristic throughout Africa is the inconsistent and unpredictable power.  In Moshi, we have been without power for periods of just a few minutes up to 18 hours.  We are never sure how long a blackout will be and we are never sure when a blackout will hit our area.  In rural and urban areas, the situation is the same.  Blackouts are simply part of life. 

Tanzanian families learn to work around the minor hassle of losing power.  For the average family, power is only needed for light and to charge electronics.  Cooking is done by propane, charcoal, or open fire.  Electricity is too expensive for air conditioning.  Refrigerators and warm water are luxuries most people can’t afford. 

Businesses either have generators that are designed to run on gasoline for short periods of time or they simply close down when the blackouts roll around.  The price of gasoline is high, but larger grocery stores and hotels are able to afford the cost.  Small businesses lose money while closed, but there is simply no other option if electricity is needed to run the operation.

So far, we are able to deal with the inconveniences that blackouts create.  The situation grows frustrating if we are working on a paper or programmatic logistics with Kaaya and an outage hits.  However, we have learned to save our documents frequently in preparation of an untimely blackout.  If our power is out and we need to use internet or electricity, we are able to walk to another part of town to charge our computer or pay for internet at a café.  None of our food has spoiled, thus far, because most blackouts are only a few hours long and we do our best to keep the refrigerator closed.  

Sometimes a blackout in the evening is quite nice.  It forces us to slow down.  We will read and talk until it is time for bed.  We discuss BCC programmatic goals, personal and life ambitions, and global issues.  Because of this, we have learned a lot about each other’s thoughts and aspirations for the future.  Also, we have read a combined seven books in less than two months!

Things are changing this week.  Most of the power in Tanzania is hydroelectric and since the past few rainy seasons have been uncharacteristically dry, Tanzania is in a drought.  There were rumors circulating that power would be shut off in all areas of Moshi for 16-24 hours a day for 16 days.  There was a public announcement a few weeks ago that starting on May 16, power would be out for 16 days.

Beginning May 19, we started to see extended blackouts.  We have been averaging about 8-12 hours of electricity per day.  A friend of ours told us that he was out of power for 48 straight hours.  The local grocery store where we shop has had the generator on regularly.  However, luckily the rains have started to come more regularly.   For the past two weeks, every evening the rain begins, and it does not stop until the morning.  Hopefully Tanzania can get enough rain so that the 16-day blackout can be less severe. 

We are not concerned about ourselves.  It can be problematic since our computers, phones, and other electronics do not work for long without electricity.  We have tried to empty our fridge and we have discovered alternative ways to keep our food from spoiling.  We either sit in a hot house because the fans won’t work or we find something to do in the community.  We also spend many evenings without our laptops to keep us occupied.  These things can be frustrating, but our situation is not difficult.

The general concern is in the community is for the shops, factories, small businesses, and their employees.  Most people in the community worry about their jobs, their friends, or their employees.  Without power, the grocery stores are forced to find alternative ways to keep perishable food cold.   It is not feasible for them to run a generator for 16 hours a day when the price of gasoline is over $5.00 per gallon.  How will the textile factory keep its doors open?  The employees will be sent home for those 16 days without work and without a paycheck.  What about the workers?  Just because the power is out and they cannot work does not mean that their child’s school fees decrease or that their rent becomes cheaper. 

We are not yet at that point.  The blackout has not been as severe as predicted for us; however, we are not sure about the rest of the community.  Hopefully the rains continue to come and the 16-day blackout will end soon.  However, if the blackout persists for an extended period of time, the result could be severe for the businesses and for the people of Tanzania.


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