Monday, July 27, 2015

Finding Peace in Power Outages

If I had any marbles left after living on this crazy rock for 2 years, I may have just seen the last one go rolling out the door, down the street and drop into the depths ocean.
Let me just say, power outages 4+ times a day is enough to send one to the loony bin but if you are the type of person who can brush something like that off, then you are already well-suited to island life. I, as it seems, am not. At least not when I am at the mercy of the government run electricity company.
I lived on a 32’ sailboat for 2 years. It was rustic. We didn’t have a shower or a freezer, all of our meals were prepared on a 2 burner cook top, and our refrigerator was a very poorly insulated box accessed by opening a little hatch in the counter. We had to be very conscientious about power since it was all derived from the diesel powered engine and backed up by a few marine batteries, but we had control over it. There was no such thing as a power outage or a black-out on my sailboat. If we wanted power, we ran the engine to charge the batteries. Simple.
My husband holds on to this entirely stoic attitude that most of the world does not have the luxury of full-time, if any, power and that we should feel fortunate that we aren’t reading our Twilight novels by candlelight (although that would certainly set the mood, don’t you think?). My argument, however flimsy, is that I came from a place that unless a there was a big storm that knocked down the power lines from here to Hoquiam, then we had power. He is an island boy and grew up with this madness so I guess it’s all about what you know.

I recently returned from a wonderful sabbatical to my childhood home of the beautiful Pacific Northwest. The weather was mild, fresh produce was plentiful and the mosquitoes aren’t the type that pick you up, carry you off into the woods to feast on you like you're a cheap buffet. Oh, and the power never once went off.
I will honestly admit that I cried when I returned to my rental house on my island home. For one, although we haven’t had a gardener in the entire 7 months that I have lived at this house (all gardening and lawn mowing duties have been self-performed by yours truly), some mysterious unknown gardener snuck in while we were away and chopped down all the bush, taking away what limited privacy we had for passerby’s not to stare directly into our windows. We now have piles of decaying bougainvillea around the yard which have yet to be removed, making us look like we neither have the means, nor care to tidy up our living space, and I currently feel like I live in a Hobbit hole with all of the shutters and shades drawn. The other reason for my meltdown on arrival day was that immediately after we walked in the door to the stagnant, oven-box that is our house, in which I was very much looking forward to turning on the AC and cool it off while I worked through my anger with the ghost gardener, the power shut off. And I lost it.
Sadly, this wasn't the first time I've had hysterics over the power going out. I tend to end up having tantrums, meltdowns and crying spells on a regular basis. The kind of tantrums that ensue when you give a toddler a triangle shaped PB&J sandwich when he wanted a square one. My husband's way of dealing with me has been to quickly whisk me away from the scene of the black-out. I do know from first-hand experience that the local bars do an exceptionally good business when the power is out.
My own diagnosis with my power issues I believe stems from an incidence in my youth. Most residents of the Pacific Northwest remember the famous “Inauguration Day Storm” in which there was an actual state of emergency declared in my county and much of Western Washington. Winds were clocked up to 70mph inland, nearly Category 1 hurricane strength. From what I remember of that storm was that my dad was on a business trip on the Oregon Coast and was stranded due to downed trees and flooding. When the storm hit, my mom was on her own with her two daughters at our house in the country, myself 12 years old and my sister 8. The power was out for 3 days. We had no water and no means of cooking. I don’t remember much about the details but knowing my mother’s affinity to stress if anything was even remotely out of the ordinary, unplanned or spontaneous, I imagine she most likely didn’t handle it well. Thus my young, impressionable self learned from my mother that power outages were stressful situations, which has led me into adulthood with an uncontrollable sense of panic if the lights even so much as flicker.
My power issues may have stayed dormant had I stayed in the "real world", but alas, I have chosen to live in a country where power outages are the norm. Coming from an area of the world that embraces alternative energy and myself being a tree-hugging greenie, imagine my shock when I found out that the entire country of the Bahamas runs on giant generators. That’s right, gas guzzling generators that are prone to breakage and overload, not to mention plumes of black smog adding to the already hazy ozone layer.
While I was enjoying my magical trip to my earth-muffin roots, the main generator that services Harbour Island caught fire and burnt to a point of no return. On top of the fact that the power regularly goes out if it’s a busy tourist weekend due to overload, we are now down to an insufficient back-up generator which means at the present moment, visitors and residents are subjected to multiple power outages per day. Without getting into a full-fledged political discussion, I will lightly add that our biggest problem is that our wonderfully crooked government has a difficult time allocating our tax dollars to maintenance and improvement to what some would consider important facilities such as power and water.

Many people in the Bahamas have invested in their own back-up generators due to the more-than-frequent black outs. Until a few years ago solar panels were actually illegal, yes, illegal. The government finally lifted that law but there are still no incentives or selling back to the grid, so most people chose to stick to the not-so-green generators.
Fortunately the previous homeowner installed a generator to the property where we live, unfortunately it’s been on the fritz and repairmen have been chipping away at it for months now. So we could be in the middle of watching a movie, or cooking dinner on the electric stove, or trying to sleep at night with the a/c purring and the power cuts out. Sometimes it’s quite the dramatic experience; half the lights go out, USB’s start beeping, dogs are barking. If I wasn't so used to it, I'd feel like I was starring in an episode of the Twilight Zone. It’s not only the fact that it is inconvenient that the power has gone off, but due to this strange phenomenon that I had never heard of until moving here called a “brown out,” it actually fries appliances, chargers and pretty much anything plugged in to an outlet, making it a very costly ordeal.

One night last year we were sitting comfortably in our upstairs living room when I looked out and saw what looked like fireworks on the next street over. “Oh, look darling! Fireworks!” I exclaimed to my husband. It looked so beautiful and blue in the dark sky, I wondered what the celebration was. But upon closer examination, it wasn’t fireworks, it was the transformer on the electricity pole spewing sparks in a 10ft radius, resembling a giant sparkler. Then the wooden pole caught fire which went on to provide an impressive display of golden fire and blue sparks. Instead of running around unplugging everything in anticipation of the worst, we sat gaping at the spectacle. It was then that the lights started buzzing and brightened to what seemed like double their possible wattage and we heard the “poof” sounds of the surge protectors blowing. Then, darkness. We lost the microwave, dishwasher and stove and the refrigerator blew something that makes it work. It took a week to nail down a repairman to fix the fridge and two weeks for our landlords to send new appliances from the US. During that time I kept my refrigerator items in a cooler, replacing the ice daily, and did all of my cooking on the grill. And I will tell you, I am not Bobby Flay. I’m an oven/stove-top gal and have barely touched a grill in my life. It was like camping, but without the hiking and beautiful lakes and s’mores.
If you can imagine my meltdowns with power outages, you probably wouldn't have wanted to be around me during that time...
Cooking in pouring rain & lightening storm. Happy camper? Not so much...
Ironically, as I type this on my battery backed up laptop, the power is off. I’m managing, if you were concerned about my mental wellbeing. And if you are reading this, it means the power has come back on for long enough for me to upload this story, since the internet company depends on the power being on in order to provide service.
One day, when I have my own home, you can bet that I will be living off the grid, pleasantly solar powered with a cistern full of rain water. Until that day, I will be practicing meditation techniques and working through my deep rooted power outage issues. 
I came across a quote the other day by Robin Sharma - “Your current reality is nothing more than a complete reflection of the lessons you most need to learn” I'm hoping if I can figure out this life lesson and come to peace with power outages….. maybe the power will stay on.

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