Friday, July 19, 2013

Ramadan in the Dark

It’s been three weeks and counting with no electricity or running water in the capital city. The utility company employees have not been paid in 39 months, so they stole all the gasoline that they use to run the cities power generator as compensation for their salaries.   I assume they realized gas isn’t necessarily the best replacement for money because now they are on strike!
            So no gas means there is no electricity, no electricity means no energy to run the pump that moves the water through the city, thus leaving us with no water. It’s a cruel, cruel cycle. The situation is expected to last until through the end of the month. Fortunately the UN came to the rescue and provided funding for gas for several days, but that ended quickly and the lights are out again
            At first the lights were just going out for days at a time. It was rough but manageable. But weeks on end with no electricity is really difficult!  You can’t flush the toilet, you have to go get water to cook and shower, you have no refrigerator which means food spoils quickly, there no lights at night so you can see what you are doing, you have to find a place to charge your cell phone and electronics, etc.., etc…, etc… Now this might not sound like that big of a deal, but when you add up all these little things it becomes a lot more work in the day then you would usually have to do.  
            It has been especially intense as well because we are getting into the most intense part of the rainy season. The rainy season started in May, but July through September is the most intense, especially August.
            There are two types of rain, hard rain and what people call ‘white rain’. Hard rain is exactly that; heavy drops coming down like rocks. When it rains a hard rain it last anywhere from 5- 40 minutes, but it rains hard. After that, it might rain with in the next 30 minutes or in a couple of hours. It comes and goes, interchanging with sunshine.  “White rain” is a lighter rain; the drops are smaller and it comes down in sheets. When it rains like this, it means it won’t be stopping for a while.
            The rain here is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Maybe if you live on the east coast or the south this weather would seem normal, but I grew up in sunny California! Nothing there could prepare me for this. The rain comes down as if the ocean was above us and suddenly remembered gravity exists. Roads are always flooding so people walk around in water up to their shins. Using an umbrella is almost pointless.  Because the roads are covered in potholes, they get filled with water and you will often find a car stopped in the middle of the street nose and front tired down in a huge puddle. But on a positive note I will say this, the lightning shows are beautiful to watch.
            As if this situation needed more complexity, all of this is happening during Ramadan!  It has been both the easiest and hardest Ramadan of my life!
            It has been easy because Guinea-Bissau is a 50% Muslim country so most people are fasting. That means there is a lot of community support and non-Muslims are very respectful of the fact the Muslims are fasting. You don’t really see any food out during the hours of fasting.  
            On the other hand, I honestly don’t know how people in Bissau can fast while it’s raining intensely and they have no electricity. Even if people are unemployed, and spend the day just hanging out there’s nothing to do to kill the time. You can’t leave because of the rain and if you stay there’s no electricity (Personally this would be a perfect “lets read a book.” situation, but there is not necessarily a reading culture here. Guinea Bissau has about a 40% literacy rate.). At least workdays are cut short so people can get home in time to break fast.  
            This month has by far been the hardest month for me here. Many international folks take their vacation during this month to avoid the rain  (go figure), so many of the friends I’ve made are out of the country as well. But I do have my sisters visit to look forward too!
            My elder step-sister, Cecelia Ramos, is my step-dad’s second child from his 1st marriage. She is 34 and has 2 kids, Matthew, who is 5 and Emma, who is 2. She is coming with her children and partner, Remy, who is a jazz pianist.  They will be here for the entire month of August ( It’ll be great company for me but a rainy vacation for them)!

No comments:

Post a Comment