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Monday, November 19, 2012


Last week Friday I was hangover. I have a simple hangover protocol I follow especially if I have nowhere to go. I get up when am too hungry to sleep anymore. I make breakfast; I eat it in front of a short comedy. Twenty minutes maybe less. As soon as am done with this sleep drags my eyelids down. Then I get back in bed and try to sleep. Usually to music. It takes a while to fall asleep, and even if I do it’s that weird, ne’er really there sleep. You know the one where you’ve been trying and trying and suddenly its hours later but you’re not sure if you slept or not.

Then I wake up and watch TV. It’s not time to read, not time to surf, just to sit back and be passively entertained. Last week KPLC got in the way of that. By midmorning there was no electricity in the house. After 30 minutes you know, you just know that it’s not coming back anytime soon. Living in Kenya teaches you the rhythms of the country till they are part of your blood. 15 minutes or less or 3 hours and more. This is all electricity knows, no middle grounds except the flashes of lighting. That moment, that quick moment when the light blinks and then goes off. That moment that fries more computer adapters than most households do eggs.

This was frustrating since I couldn’t sleep and it was so hard to read. Electricity came back at about 8.30 p.m. Come Saturday,(and why does this happen on that Saturday when you aren’t leaving the house for anything) and the electricity leaves in the middle of the afternoon. I had no illusions of 15 minutes or less. A pattern had begun to develop. It came back a few hours later just to leave at night for another few hours. The rest of the week has been characterised by patches of darkness and periods of illumination. Facebook lets me know this frustration is not my own.

When you are used to electricity you can hardly move without it. It becomes the life’s blood of almost everything you use. Your phone, your computer, your light. All powered by electricity and when it leaves it, like a really tried for metaphor, leaves you powerless. People call KPLC now and it gets something done or at the very least gives the illusion of getting something done.

But have you noticed how quickly we get used to the state of affairs in Kenya?

People complained the first few times but as long as they confine their power outages to the day and keep them to about 3 a week everyone will get used to it. This comes on the back of ever increasing electricity bills and the hardest rains I have seen for a while. I don’t believe that as soon as it rains there should be a corresponding decrease in the price of electricity, nothing is ever immediate and am not sure how many businesses survive that react immediately to a decrease in the price of raw material when they have no control or assurance that conditions will stay the same. But at the very least supply should be more constant.

And why in the world do we have power outages anyway? Here’s the thing we complain about the duration of power outages but if we only had the 5 minute variety no one would mention it. Why does electricity disappear with such alarming regularity? Most places it happens because of natural disasters and if it’s not happening because of rationing why is it happening at all. Is there someone somewhere just switching supply on and off on a whim? Is there faulty equipment spluttering and swaying in the wind and water? How in Nairobi do we still have this, the equipment has been up for a while it should surely be something people know about. But this is not even a question I see being asked, everyone seems ok with the state of affairs.

How do we get so used to a state of affairs so fast. Things that used to seem unbearable all of a sudden aren’t. I mean think about the worst pain you ever felt, think about the worst physical pain you ever felt. For me it was when I broke my hand, the bone came jutting over the wrist and all they could give me in school was an aspirin and a quickly put together sling. Being driven to the hospital we went over potholes and this shook my hand. The bones scraped against each other and it was so jarring I started to cry. I can remember this but not really. I can remember it was bad but I can’t really conjure up how it felt. I remember the crying but not what got me there. The body heals. What about the other things that we felt we could never, ever get used to? Remember the feeling after a particularly meaningful break-up when the whole world and the way you have been living stops making sense? Or how it feels immediately someone dies, everything numbs down and you can’t imagine anything tasting the same or feeling as good or sounding even close to what it used to? Or even the good things that start off with such a bang. The first moments of a new hobby or when you turn your life around and all you see is hope and rainbows and clouds and then all of a sudden it shifts. On mad men after a turn for the better when Roger Sterling has reached epiphany and it’s all promises of happiness he’s soon back to his smoking, drinking, womanising ways(actually he never left any of this behind he was just more hopeful with it.) “What happened to your enlightenment?” “It wore off.” In the idiot Dostoevsky talks about a man who was sentenced to death, he begins to measure out the rest of his life, he thinks about the short time he has left and divides an hour into minutes and minutes into seconds. And in each of those second almost a lifetime passes and he asks himself, “what should I do if I were to return to life again? What an eternity of days  and all mine! How should I grudge and count up every single minute of it so as not to waste a single instant.” Well he gets a reprieve and a while later asked if he stuck to his vow, “no I waste my days just as before.”

And that happens to everything. Righteous indignation, hopeful optimism, hateful rage, eternal love, unbearable pain, powerlessness. All the peaks and valleys of human life don’t last too long. Soon we are back to normal. Everyone’s normal is different of course for some people normal is a flood of light washing away almost every disappointment, for others it’s a KPLC blackout, a darkness that lifts but we know not why it’s come on us or whither and when it will leave. We seem to be calibrated not to shake too much and when we do we shake out of it as soon as we can.

So what’s the new normal now? Am not pissed off when electricity disappears, it’s just something that happens now. I work around it, I watch something on my comp until the battery dies then I read a book. I go for a walk, I have a long think. I work around my indignation and if Facebook is a reliable indicator of people’s moods so does everyone else. Gone are the updates about anger at KPLC. An anger that was pretty impotent to begin with because almost all of us remember power rationing, 3 times a week for hours and hours. And that was normal too so why can’t this be?

By the time I posted this there hadn’t been a blackout in days. And I couldn’t access the store of anger at there ever having been one or remember how bored I was back then. 


  1. I had a day like that yesterday, a blackout, 9.00 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. I had planned to spend the day zoned out on TV. With the power gone, I felt like everything had stopped and I couldn't think of a thing to do, or find the energy to do it. Tried the non-sleep sleeping for a few hours, read a book, thought a lot, probably too much. Then power came back and I watched TV and did my daily zumba and forgot all about it. It's sad how quickly we all forget and how soon things feel 'normal'. It's human, but it's sad.

  2. yeah it is sad that we can't remember the good things or how the bad things felt but it helps us survive them i guess