Friday, August 12, 2016
“I can talk for a long time only when it's about something boring.” ― Lydia Davis
A word about electricity in third world countries and specifically, here in Tanzania. First, you should know that there are only two or three countries in the world that use 110V current, America being the biggest. Most of the world uses 220/240V current, and, if you’ve ever traveled, you know that the plugs and receptacles vary greatly from country to country. Here in Tanzania, we have 220/240V current with plugs and receptacles that are just like the ones used in Great Britain and Ireland. The receptacles all have switches on them, so you can turn off the current at the wall. The problems come with the generation and delivery of electricity where here we use primarily hydro-electric generators that are subject to the vagaries of how much rain we’ve gotten in the year. Then there is the issue of the state of equipment and its maintenance—here it is all old and poorly maintained. In addition, work is not allowed on the power lines if the power is on, so many outages are so that the power company, Tanesco, can put up poles or replace transformers. The end result is that we do not get constant power or even constant current. There are power surges, spikes, and times when the power company is delivering 260V current which will burn up most appliances. So, there are times when we have to run the generator even though Tanesco is providing power—just too much of it. We have power outages several times each and every day. Some last for a few seconds, some a few minutes, and some last for several hours. In addition, we get notified in advance when the power will be off for the entire day for work on the lines, usually on Sundays about once a month. When we first came here in 2005, we went through a six-month period where the power was shut off at six in the morning every day and not turned back on until six in the evening. This was for the whole country. For us, here in Bunda, the six months was over after two months, but everybody else suffered for the whole six months. Turns out that we were on the same line as the widow of Julius Nyerere, the “Father of Tanzania” so the government wanted to make sure she had power. We had to be careful not to gloat around the other missionaries who were still going without. Every missionary we know either has a generator or uses some solar power. Our friends from Canada near us and friends from Germany farther away were completely solar, and we were jealous. It would cost us almost $15,000 to be completely solar here, and we have never had that much money to spend on the equipment. We did put in a solar system for security lighting at night such that every building has lights both outside and inside that are solar only. When the power goes off at night, the security lights stay on until we can get the generator started (thanks again Mike Flanagan). It costs us about $25 a day to run the generator which has to be figured into our power costs. We pay Tanesco about $200 a month for our electricity and another $100 for gasoline (petrol) for the generator. With the surges and spikes, we have to protect our appliances and electronic gear, so we have voltage regulators plugged in all over the house and in other buildings as well. In addition, we have been using battery-backups for the electronics (computers, television, DVD player, etc.). Sadly, the battery backups are very expensive (around $750 each) and don’t last more than a couple of years. Enter our semi-genius son, John. He bought a used solar panel, a solar battery, an inverter, and whatever else he needed all here locally for less than $250 and now has all our electronics running on solar only. This means that we get to see the end of the Olympic races even if the power goes out, and we don’t miss the climax of Rizzoli and Isles because the last five minutes were waiting for the satellite receiver to reboot. That boy is a wonder. His work also means we don’t have to keep buying battery backups every two years—the solar stuff will run for decades. John also rigged my CPAP machine for my sleep apnea to full solar, so it doesn’t go off when the power does. Don’t know what we would have done if he hadn’t come for a one-week visit and stayed for the next ten years. He is even planning to become a Tanzanian citizen and to finish out his life helping the people here. Karen and I cannot become Tanzanian citizens because there is no dual citizenship here, and we would lose our U.S. Social Security which we need to operate the mission, buy food, and feed orphans. I read about folks back home being upset over the loss of cable for a few hours, and, well, those are first world problems. We get by though, thanks to gifts from friends in the U.S. and other parts of the world. We are not the only ones who lose power several times a day, and some missionaries work for years without any power at all except what they provide for themselves with generators and solar. This may have been pointless and useless information, but my wife has pointed out often that boring and trivial information is my strong suit. Sorry if I bored you. Keep us in your prayers.