Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Futilities, Part 2

In the interest of full disclosure, since my first Futilities post, the water pressure has definitely improved to a point where it's possible to take a good shower in a reasonable amount of time. I think this is because I opened our cistern valve all the way ... While the water situation has improved, we are still struggling with some of our other utilities.


My personal introduction to the inconsistency of the utilities in the BVI came the first morning I was here. After a fitful night of sleep in our new place, I got up Thursday morning to send HB off to work, and start my day. HB and I got dressed, had breakfast, and went to sit in the living room briefly, to chat. I tried to turn on the oscillating fan, and although it had worked fine the night before, it wouldn't come on. In a house in a tropical climate without A/C, the failure of the oscillating fan was a disaster of the first order.

HB and I fiddled with the fan for about fifteen minutes, trying different positions for the switch on the fan, changing the outlet, flipping switches on and off in case the outlet was switched ... Finally, I had a brainwave. When I'd been flipping light switches, no lights had come on. I double-checked the bathroom light, and the ceiling fan in the bedroom, and they weren't working either. The electricity was out.

It had gone out sometime between 8:45 and 9:00 that morning, and would stay off until almost noon. HB left for work, and I pondered life without electricity, before giving up and spending the entire morning reading.

Since I've been here, the electricity has been off for an average of two to three hours out of every three days. Power outages are inconsistent. They occur at various times of day, and at very indistinct intervals. A power outage today has little to do with your probability of a power outage tomorrow.

I think the longest we've gone between power outages is about five days. The longest outage we've had was during Hurricane Earl, as the government cuts all power to prevent live wires from flying around in the storm. That outage lasted from 4:30 a.m. on the 30th, to about 11:30 a.m. on the 31st -- just about 30 hours. I understand we were rather lucky, as most parts of the island went at least 48 hours without power, while some had no electricity for five or six days.

The power being out can be slightly inconvenient. We can't watch TV, or use the lights or fans, obviously. We try to conserve the computer battery in case we need it for an emergency, so we usually don't surf the internet during an outage. The refrigerator doesn't run. We don't want food to spoil, and we don't know how long the outage will last, so we don't open the fridge or freezer. That keeps eating and drinking to a minimum.

Still, the biggest issue I have with the electricity being off is actually related to my last Futilities post. See, when the electricity is off, the pump for the cisterns can't run. Since there's no government water right now, an idle cistern pump means no water. As a result, whenever we lose electricity, we also lose running water for the duration of the power outage.

The question, "why does the power go out so frequently?" remains unanswered. I have asked a few people, and most of them just shrug. No reason. That's just how life is in the BVI.

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