Friday, April 18, 2008

When The Lights Go Out

Two nights ago, Lianga had to go through most of the evening and the night without electrical power. The timing could not have been more unfortunate.

The town was sweltering amidst the heat and high humidity of early summer and no electricity meant not even the help of an electric fan to help ease the constant sweat and itchy discomfort resulting from what have become typically hot, tropical nights. Even a shower before bedtime was not much help. Whatever cool relief it gave me was temporary and soon I was sweating like a pig again.

What I would have given to be given the chance to turn the air conditioner or even just an electric fan on. Then to be able to switch on the lights and read a book or two. Or boot the computer up and surf the internet or slouch on the chair and watch the world go crazy on CNN.

Yet I remember that as a small boy growing up in Lianga, I did manage to live without all those things and did not really feel inconvenienced at all by their absence. Perhaps I did not require much then. Perhaps things were more simpler and basic in those days.

When electricity first came to Lianga it came in the form of a huge generator operated by the municipal government. It ran from six in the evening until nine at night and for three hours everyday, Lianga bathed in the bright, artificial lights of modern technology. What a glorious sight it was for my young eyes then.

Except for those three hours, life went on without the benefits of electricity and the devices that use it. It was, from hindsight, an inconvenience but we never thought much about it in those days. We did without it and suffered little from the lack of it.

When the lights started blinking at nine o'clock, everyone would rush home to get ready for bed. I used to think as a child then that the generator operator was the most powerful man in town then. More powerful than the mayor, for only he could turn night into day and vice versa. At the flick of a switch he could plunge the town into darkness or cover it with lights. It was magic of a sort.

No television, no computers, no DVD players or game consoles, no air conditioners and not even an electric fan. They would have been essentially useless for most of the day even if we could have afforded to buy them had they been available. Instead one had to make do with what one had. A paper fan to drive away the sultry air was often good enough, or one merely chose to sweat profusely and decide not be bothered by it at all.

Perhaps ignorance is indeed bliss. Because nowadays one has become so used to the comforts provided us by the technological wonders of our times that not being able to use them at all for any reason is enough already to incapacitate and handicap us or make our lives onerous. Too much of their benefits contribute a lot to what we consider an acceptable quality of life. To be happy we have to have them and be able to use them. To have them and not to be able to use them is, by modern standards, torture of the most sadistic extreme.

So two nights ago I cursed the darkness, global warming, climate change and perspired miserably for half the night until the early dawn saw the lights came back on. Pleasantly surprised, I got up energized and enervated by the sight, sounds and sensations of the modern world humming and running.

The computer blinked on, the air conditioner purred like a well fed cat and the bedroom air was already cool and dry. The water from the refrigerator was chilly and cold the way I liked it, and the morning news bulletins from CNN was blaring from the downstairs TV set.

Life was back to being good.


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