Thursday, October 19, 2006

Power Cuts

It takes a while to get used to daily life here – from the vacant looks of some of the locals it would seem that they have failed to do so either. But whilst I have managed to find and successfully use the local markets and supermarkets, the power cut issue is a constant irritation.

We get at least three a day; perhaps even more as there is a suspicion that the power is turned off at night. Every evening, around 7 pm, the lights shut off and the fans stop turning, and as the heat from outside rushes in, we begin the daily search for where we left the torches and hurricane lamps. Usually all that can be done is to open up a book and set up a mosquito killing lamp and wait. It is timed quite well, being on or about and hour at a time. The largest problem is that the bright white fluorescent of the hurricane lamp is like Mecca to things that enjoy nothing more than eating people, and so there is a toss up between light to work and closed windows, or an open window and a modicum of a breeze, but one enjoyed in the utter darkness. It is refreshing to see, however, that religious bodies the world all over know how to get what they need whilst their congregations endure the darkness: our local mosque never seems to have too little power for its red neon sign.

The period between about 8 and 9 when the power returns is usually best to cook up some dinner, as this should ensure that there is enough time to eat it in the light before the next power cut kicks in. Typically, this is at about 10 or 10.30, and whilst it can be for a few seconds (when the power board switches off the wrong district), it can be an hour or more, and puts a halt to anything like writing on a computer, watching a film or washing up. Then, during the night the power is off (though none of us has stayed up long enough to find out for how long or often), and there is usually a morning cut at about 10 or 11 am. This nicely coincides with the heating up of the day and the small, ventilation free classroom in which we are still struggling through out Bangla.
Power cuts are the source of riots and fights, and generating some major political interest; political life is very volatile at the moment. Next Friday sees the handover of power from the current government to a caretaker administration that will organise the elections. The government seems reluctant to have its power cut too, and for weeks there have been debates and fights between the two main parties on how to do this. However, it is set to go, and just to be sure that the veneer of order can be kept, 5,000 extra police are being drafted into the city to try to put down the expected unrest, rioting and fighting. It seems the worst timing imaginable: Ramadan will have finished and the Eid holiday to celebrate this will have just ended, and the 5 million people now trying to leave the city to go to their villages to celebrate will be rushing back in, bringing with them a sense of injustice, a post-Eid misery and copious energy ready to be released. There will be fireworks.

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