Sunday, October 2, 2011

They Come in All Shapes and Sizes...

What I'm talking about is the myriad of diesel generators one comes in contact with while walking down and around the streets and sidewalks of the city.  You know a section of the city is experiencing a power outage when you are in it  because many things are happening - diesel generators kick in and they are loud and noisy, not to mention the diesel fumes now lingering in the air and those stores without generators are now with their lights, fans or even air conditioning shut off. How does one do business here? They either don't for hours on end. Or as we've seen - in some cases accounting is done with a calculator and written paper receipts. When we were staying at the hotel the first 10 days we were completely oblivious to the situation since the hotel had a backup generator. Lights would flicker for a moment and then the switch took place. Truthfully we did not think much of it since we had other things on our mind and really did not understand the impact of peoples lives on a daily basis at that point. One day I was in Casino (the one and only supermarket in the city center) waiting at the deli when the flickering began. The entire grocery store was in the dark - some more flickering - then the lights went on. This happened a few times and finally it just stayed dark.  Perhaps even their backup wasn't up to the task. The only things still working were the registers - and since they were in the front of the store with all the windows the cashiers could see what was happening. Who knows what was powering the registers at that point. But all customers were using their cell phones as flashlights to continue shopping.  I think the deli service could not continue because they could not weigh the item and generate the paper ticket for the cost of the item. I'm pretty sure I just decided to leave at that point. Thinking - "okay, I just experienced my first power outage". Again not really being in tune with what this would mean post hotel.

As part of our apartment search we were told to be sure to find an apartment that had a backup generator because power outages were frequent and a way of life here. In that search we came across our low budget apartment that does not have a generator - and while we knew that - we also were told that this block was on the same electrical sector as the Presidents son - Karim Wade (who just happens to be the Minister of Energy - hmmmm). With no guarantees on the outages we  were told it happens less frequently. So if one wants to roll the dice and gamble (with the location of all the apartments being the best) - we did on this. Well  since we've lived here now for a month (YOWZAH!) - we've had 2 outages - we think the gamble has been good so far. The first was last Saturday night, Sept 25th and the second this morning. The first one lasted about 4 hours and started at about 4pm and ended at 8pm. This morning it started at 10am and lasted perhaps an hour. So we've really had the benefit of not being affected in a terribly negative way. And it all becomes relative now.

So, on the Saturday night of the outage we had to crack our crab in the dark (sort of) ;+} 
Notice the headlamps - advice provided by Bruce Baike - who has been here before. And a provider of technology for rural schools - he's the one who Manning has been in touch with for the One Laptop Per Child project we will be doing here.

We have a gas stove top and oven so there's our saving grace - we could still cook the food. Okay - yeah - Crab Risotto - it's not Senegalese food but after awhile - you need a change of pace! And just when dinner was ready to be served - voila - the lights came back on.

Generator at Saint Jeanne d'Arc  (kids school)
On the evening of the outage - early on when we realized it had occurred -  I went down to the little store directly on our street and noticed a few people coming by to buy candles. Then I walked down to this little superette on the next block (a independent convenient mini food market we are starting to frequent) and I noticed they had their lights on - you almost have to as a supermarket with any/all things refrigerated - who knows about Casino ;+}. I had a great conversation with the owner about this situation. First off, they were polite about making sure I did not buy anything requiring refrigeration - as they could not say for sure how long this outage would take place - so they did not want it to go bad in my own refrigerator. I don't know if they are on the same grid since they are one block over and on the next street. While we were sharing this outage together - it's still unclear how and who gets service turned back on when ready.  In any case,  they told me the rolling outages are constantly happening without notice.  It moves from section to section in the city. Outages can take place during the day or at night - as long as 8-12 hours in some cases. And I think they even said they experienced one that was 30 hours - if I got that right.  There are no notices when they happen and when they will end. One man involved in this conversation (who based on his response likely does not have a generator at home) - told me he "prefers" them to occur during the day - at least he can still see and get things done. If at night - it's the worst for sleeping - with the heat and humidity and no fans or air conditioning. 

In my observations of the generators I noticed either they were in locked cages or had some good sturdy chain links around them with a hefty padlock so they could be secured to a gate or pole at night. These bad boys are not going anywhere! It's pretty clear if a business or organization pays a hefty fee to buy one to ensure the continuation of their business and they have to place the generator in eyesight outside - that owner will do everything to ensure it will not walk!

With the continuation of these rolling power outages and no resolve in sight - it explains why with the up coming elections for a new president in February of 2012 -  riots took place in back in June after a long outage - read more here --> Power Cut Riots.  

Nook Book power outage time - "The Name of this Book is Secret"
Next time you have an electrical outage at home - just shrug your shoulders - say it's no big deal - think about Dakar - don't open the fridge too much in order to keep the cold air in, if during the day - read a good book, if at  night get out your headlamps, flashlights or candles out, bbq on the grill and tell some good ghost stories.

Oh yeah, and after February - we'll update you as to whether we will find ourselves more in the dark  (depending on who wins the election!)

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