Hmm, this seems pretty obvious right. When the power goes out (or you lose any other service you normally have access to), you get pissed! How dare the electric company not do its job? This is ridiculous! But it’s Ghana, get used to it.
If you don’t want to have issues with power, you have a few options (with Option A being the most convenient and Option D being the least convenient):
- Option a) Don’t move to a country with “developing country” infrastructure (like Ghana)
- Option b) Make sure you have a generator at home and work
- Option c) Make sure you have a generator at either home OR work. That way if it’s out in one location you can go to the other. If you don’t have a generator, make sure you work on a different section of the grid that your office, so it’s never out in both locations at once.
- Option d) Have a friend, local bar, gym, or local shop close-by to charge your electronics in a pinch! If you can find a good Internet connection, maybe you can even work from one of these locations. (I charge my stuff at the gym – which always has electricity since it’s on an army base!)
So why should I be grateful for power outages? Well, to be honest I can’t always say I am. I much preferred the old system where there was a schedule of “load shedding”, which is what they call the scheduled power outages (due to a lack of enough energy to power the whole country). The new system is just random. For example, last week my power at work went out at noon on Monday. When I got home the power was still off. In the morning it was still off and didn’t come back on until 3 pm. Then it was back on – yay! Until about 7pm Tuesday night, when it went off again and never came back on (I left the city for work so I’m unsure of when it came back on).
It’s painful, I have to admit it, it’s not my favourite thing. The thing is, it’s good for me! I’m used to my frantic North American lifestyle where everything is planned and organized and I can rely on all of the services around me unless something dramatic happens. But here that’s not part of the reality and it has taught me a lot of skills.
- Patience: I am not a patient person. But when you’re trying to do something and the power is out you are forced to sit and wait. Wait for the next day or for the next hour or who knows? It teaches you a vital skill, you’ll often learn that it’s not an emergency that needs to get done right away.
- Gratitude: Since I can no longer rely on the electricity I am now intensely grateful for it. When I come home and the light switch actually produces a result I get so excited. It makes my night lovely. I would love to continue my gratitude about simple things when I return home to Canada.
- Going with the Flow: As a “Type A” personality I am not good at going with the flow. Sometimes I’m able to make spontaneous plans, but for the most part I’m super organized. That is impossible here. If you try to make plans that are down to the minute or the hour you will almost always be surprised and disappointed. Having no power teaches you to say “Okay, well I don’t have much choice, guess I’ll just do something else!”
- Allow yourself to be bored: Normally I never let myself bored (here’s how Louis C.K. feels about boredom). Even now I’m sitting on my cell phone instead of listening to a lecture. I do the same thing when I’m travelling to and from work or if I’m bored during a movie. Once you have no electronics to entertain you, it’s easy to get bored. Go with it!
- Time to Think: I read this great article recently and it talked about how every big thing in your life started with a thought. You need to give yourself time to think to evaluate your life and make changes (if necessary). Some people don’t have enough will power to make this time on their own, but the boredom of a power outage forces you to take that time.
Learn to do everything in the dark, including take showers! One time the power even went out at the grocery store (scary) but at least the generators kicked in quickly.
If you’re not feeling grateful and instead feel like it’s a nightmare, here are a couple tips that I would advise newcomers to adopt in an area with unreliable electricity:
- Buy a small flashlight. Carry it with you always. Most cell phones also have this feature in an emergency, but it will kill your valuable battery life, so don’t use it for too long!
- Buy a good lantern. After a couple weeks the candles won’t be sufficient and they cost a lot more in the long run. Plus you have to worry about safety (though they are more romantic :P).
- Charge your electronics. Technology experts might tell you it’s good for your battery if you drain it all the way before charging. Follow that advice at your own peril. If you’re sitting around with the power on watching a movie and all of a sudden the power goes off but you’re at 5% you’re going to be upset. You’ll be unable to work, unable to complete the tasks you had in mind, and likely have difficulty getting in touch with others (if you have plans, need to call in to work, etc.). Keep all devices as close to 100% as possible at all times.
- Bring electronics with a long battery life. If your computer or cell phone lasts only half an hour on a charge, don’t bother bringing it. In addition, electronics that charge quickly are nice!
- Bring/buy an old phone. Even if you have a fancy smartphone there are many things that could happen to it (it could drop, break, get lost, run out of battery, etc.). Having a back-up phone with no data and no large screen can be great in these situations, the battery will last for weeks! Make sure you have your contacts saved elsewhere from your phone (either on the SIM, online, on paper, or ideally all 3).
- All-in-one electronics are not your friend. Oh your tablet is your computer, book, music player, and communication device? That’s great, until it dies… By having different devices (a kindle, iPod, tablet, phone, etc.) that are separate, you are more likely to have a working device when you need it, and won’t waste your precious cell-phone battery playing music on the way home from work on a day with a power outage.
- Keep lights handy. Flashlights/lanterns/candles (and matches) should be in an easily accessible place you can find in the dark.
- Have a gas stove. If you can’t eat when the power is out you will have a really hard time living in this type of environment.
- Flick the switch on. Even if the power is off when you get home you should flick on the light switch on in your room. If you’re sitting at home in the dark all night and then you realize the lights were on the whole time, you just never knew, then you’ll feel like an idiot! If the light is on, the power coming on will wake you up and you can remember to charge your electronics so they’re ready for morning. However, if you go out, make sure everything is off (this also applies if you’re having issues with water, don’t leave the taps on when you’re not home, in case the water comes back while you’re away!).
- Find out if your water is reliant on electricity. In some places the water will not work when there is no electricity. In some places the water comes from a large tank, and only needs to be pumped every few weeks from the well (using electricity). In some places the water comes from the city and does not rely on the power. If your water starts to get low on pressure and the power is out, make sure to fill some buckets to use for the duration of the power outage. This will allow you to still shower, wash dishes, and other activities during the outage. This will be essential if your power is out for 36 hours, you need to go to work, and haven’t showered….
- Don’t buy lots of meat. Or any other food that needs to be refrigerated or frozen to stay good. Buy what you can eat for a few days but be prepared to throw it out if needed. You can risk it and eat it anyway, but you might get food poisoning (like I did).
- Fill your fridge with water. If your fridge is only half full, try to fill the rest with water bottles or sachets. Not only will this give you cold water, it will also help during an outage. Instead of all the cold air leaving when you open the door, the cold from the water will be slowly released as the air warms to keep everything else cool. A cold sachet is also great for helping you sleep on hot nights with no fan or A/C.
- Find a hobby. Make sure you have at least one hobby that requires no electricity and low light. For example, reading is a great one. Yoga, drawing, writing, and other relaxing activities are also good options. Also make sure you have a lot of books, especially if you live on your own (if you have a hard time finding books, try trading with other expats!). One time I decided to make a whole schedule, and even broke out the highlighters…
I wish you all constant power, but if you do have an outage, remember to make the most of it! If it’s during the day, take the opportunity to do laundry, clean out your closets,write letters home, and other household tasks that require time (and light).