Sunday, 30 March 2008

How much do you like electricity?

I have spent a small period of my life without electricity - essentially the collective 3 months or so that I spent on exercises when I was in the Army Reserve. The only power that we had out in the field was that used for our cumbersome and heavy radios, and the odd small torch that one might carry for reading a map at night.

That was it. We had access to less power than an African farmer with a solar panel.

The result was that life was hard. And uncomfortable. And fairly bloody boring. No TV, no radio, no computer, no ability to read a book after dark. No fridge to deliver cold cans of Coke when the days got too hot. No drier to dry the uniform when one got wet. No hot water to shave with. No electric stove to heat up drinks or food.

Life without power isn't really living.

I have included the above photo because pictures of this type often seem to encapsulate how people think about the third world - chaotic, messy and probably dirty. But what it says to me is how desperate people are for power - clean, non-smoking, easily delivered power that has many, many benefits. People are so keen to have electricity that they will take insane risks to have their homes and businesses connected, and they are prepared to pay gangsters to get it. For them, electricity means so much - I could rave on all day about all the good things that it brings, but I won't.

The way I look at it is this - I won't even stick an AA battery on my tongue. Imagine what it takes to climb a power pole and tap into the mains supply. People will risk so much, because it gives so much.

If you think I am talking out of my bottom, try this.

Bathe using only a bucket of cold water for a week (it takes power to pump electricity to your shower, so having a cold shower is cheating).

Use only a gas BBQ for all cooking, including boiling water for a cup of coffee etc (and no eating take away either).

Turn off the fridge for a week. It's amazing how quickly butter, cheese and milk go off without being chilled.

Best of all, try washing all your clothes by hand. In a bucket. And no getting the water from a tap on your property (that is delivered via an electrically driven pump after all). Walk to your neighbours place, fill a bucket there and walk it home. Don't try balancing it on your head - you'll only get wet.

I am not even going to start on things like TV's, computers, phones, hair driers, MP3 players, light and so on (although you could try unscrewing every light globe in the house for a week). Just try going without the simple but major things that involve cooking, washing and cleaning.

If you last more than 48 hours, you are a legend.

And a bloody idiot.

My thoughts in the meantime will be with Lord Kelvin, a God amongst men.

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