Monday, December 28, 2015

A Christmas Story

Christmas Eve was a quiet and lazy day at our house. By afternoon, I had finished up all of my housework, beauty treatments and chores. Because I had no plans and it was a hot day (90F/32C), I spent the afternoon laying around doing nothing. Mr. Deep went to work for part of the day returning at about 1:30 p.m. at which time I was on the couch watching When Harry Met Sally. Sometime after the movie ended I was washing dishes and Mr. Deep yelled down from upstairs that the electricity had gone off. We checked the circuit breaker in the garage to see if it was tripped. It wasn't.

You may have noticed from reading this blog that the utilities often don't work perfectly here in South Africa. Even without load shedding, which we haven't had in a while, the power does sometimes just go off briefly in the neighborhood without explanation. Similarly, sometimes the water just doesn't work for a few hours. So the power going off is no need for panic. We usually just wait a little while and then it comes back on.

After a few hours when it didn't come back on, Mr. Deep went down to the guard gate to check to see if it was whole neighborhood that was out or just our house. He learned that it just our house that had no electricity. That is when we started to get a little nervous.

Mr. Deep called our new landlord, who is very responsive and reliable (the complete opposite of our previous landlord) to report the problem. She promptly called Eskom, the power company.

Our landlord called us back shortly to say that it appeared our old account (under the prior owner) had been shut down and that maybe that was the cause of the outage. The new landlord had set up a new account but hadn't yet received a bill. In South Africa utility accounts are set up by the home owner, not the tenant, and then the tenant pays the landlord who pays the utility company. 

By this time it was 5:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve, which is really the worst time to need any kind of important service from anyone, no matter where you live. But our landlord must have raised holy hell on the phone with Eskom because she told us that an Eskom technician would be out to our house within four to six hours. 

At this point, Mr. Deep and I were pretty jolly about the whole situation. So we wouldn't have electricity for a while, we were o.k. with it. We thought of all the reasons that it wasn't a big deal. First, we didn't have a houseful of relatives visiting like many people do during the holidays. Second, we don't full on celebrate Christmas and we have no kids so we did not have to face wrapping gifts or assembling little Junior's bike in the dark. Third, we have a camping fridge that we could plug into Mr. Deep's Jeep and run off the battery, so our food wouldn't spoil. Fourth, neither one of us relies on an iron lung to live (a positive in more ways that one) so having no electricity would not put us in harm's way.

We have many guards who work in our neighborhood, but our favorite is named Lunga (loon-ga.) He is just the nicest man and refers to me as "his very good friend" such as, "How are you today my very good friend?" Lunga came over to check on us as he knew something was wrong since Mr. Deep had visited the guard gate. He was worried about us and asked "but how will you wash?" But we assured him that we had water, just no electricity. 

In what seemed like a modernChristmas miracle, Eskom did send a technician. He arrived at about 7:00 p.m. He flipped the breaker in the electricity box (not sure of the technical name for this box but it is a large box located outside near the driveway that contains a meter and a breaker.) As soon as he flipped the breaker the power came back on. We were so happy! The technician drove away and within five minutes, the power went off again. It was such a short lived period that Mr. Deep called the guard gate to see if the technician had managed to leave the neighborhood but we must have just missed him. He was already gone. Mr. Deep called the landlord again and she said she would call Eskom again for us. She also, very nicely, offered that if we needed to go to stay in a hotel that she would pay for it. 

You might be wondering why as head of household operations Mr. Deep was handling all of this and I was busy doing nothing. That's because I am not in charge of bill paying or finances. And since originally we thought this problem had something to do with the Eskom account and the new owner, this issue was assigned under Mr. Deep's domain and once it was assigned he was doing such a good job of handling that it seemed silly to change project ownership.

Our landlord again reported the fault to Eskom and told us that if a technician was to return that evening, it would be before 10:00 p.m. as Eskom techs were knocking off work at 10:00 p.m.for the holiday. As an aside, people here love to use the phrase knocking off to describe the end of work. 

After our very short lived return of electricity, Mr. Deep and I were a lot less jolly. We began to lose hope that our power would come back on any time soon. And while it remained true that we did not need the electricity to run an iron lung, or to keep our food cold, we were beginning to really wish we had it so that we could run the air con being as our house was getting warmer and warmer by the minute.

You might think that because Mr. Deep and I moved to Africa or because we slept outside while lions roamed and roared nearby that we are very brave and very rugged. And we are, sort of. But when it comes to sleeping both Mr. Deep and I are obsessed with getting a good night sleep and sleeping comfortably. Yes, we like camping but not so much for the sleep quality and when sleeping in our own home we prefer sleep enabled by air con and lots of white noise. I am so obsessed with sleep quality and quantity that immediately when I wake up every morning I asses the length and quality of my sleep and then, based on that data, decide if I am able to have a good day (I am well rested) or a bad day (groggy and sleep deprived.) 

While we could have gone to a hotel as our landlord offered, we decided to stay in the house. First, we thought Eskom might come as late as 10:00 p.m. (not likely) and second, we had plans to be at our neighbor's house the next day at noon for Christmas lunch. That invite, which we were so excited about just a few days before, was now causing us to be prisoners in our own home. If we hadn't had the invite, we could have left the house for cooler pastures as no obligations would have kept us here. As a side note, I was beginning to get nervous about my potential inability to flat iron my hair before Christmas lunch. I really didn't want to show up to Christmas lunch as giant frizzy head.

10:00 p.m. came and went and Eskom didn't arrive (shocking I know) and so we tried to go to sleep. We opened up all the windows and doors even though it was still very warm outside. Remember, we have no screens in our windows or doors. I've never seen any screens in any window or door here in South Africa so I guess they don't exist. As soon as we lay on the bed Mr. Deep immediately said mosquitoes were buzzing in his ear. He tried using his iPod to drown them out which didn't work. He then tried using his iPod paired with his noise cancelling headphones. We sprayed ourselves with huge amounts of bug repellent. Mr. Deep tried sleeping in another room, I tried sleeping with the blanket wrapped around my ear like those pictures you used to see of someone who had mumps. I tried sleeping on the couch because I thought it might be cooler and less bug infested downstairs.  Needless to say we didn't sleep much and we both had and still have lots of mosquito bites which we wear as battle scars, evidence of our tough night at home. In addition to the bugs and being hot, I was missing the white noise that I usually get from my fan. Even though we live in a quiet neighborhood I learned that the fan drowns out a lot of noise such as very loud cats that seem to meow all night long, the rooster that lives across the street and starts crowing at 3:00 a.m. and the birds that make so much noise starting at about 4:00 a.m. every morning. I have not written about the birds in South Africa before, but trust me they are the largest and loudest birds known to humans and every morning begins with a symphony of screeching unlike anything I have ever heard before.

As I lay in bed, I tried to remind myself that millions of people in this country live in shacks and don't have air con or fans. I also know of some people who live in very nice and fancy homes here who don't have air con. I reminded myself that when I was a kid we didn't have air con in our house and somehow I survived. But clearly I have become soft over the years and I can't sleep well when I'm not completely comfortable. I am the princess of the Princess and the Pea. I am the princess of air con.

When we "woke up" we were cranky, we were hot, we were stiff and we were tired. At 7:30 our landlord called again to say that an electrician, Mike, was going to come over "just now." Just now is a phrase South Africans like to use meaning soon or within the next few hours. Mike had conducted the electrical inspection when the house was sold so he is familiar with us and our home. I am sure Mike was not thrilled to leave his Christmas morning festivities to have to deal with us. He arrived and tried to look at everything but Eskom had locked the electrical box outside. Yes, we could have cut the lock off but we would be fined for doing so. Lunga came by to check on us but he didn't have a key for the box either. So Mike told us to have the Eskom technician call him if needed to talk through the situation if and when a tech arrived.

At around 10:30 an Eskom tech arrived. He turned the power back on and told us that the problem could be one of two things. First, maybe the house was using more electricity than the breaker in the electric box was made to handle. Or second, the cable that runs from the electric box to the house could have been damaged by rain and might need to be replaced. He explained that this cable was the responsibility of the homeowner and not Eskom (of course) but that he could fix it on the side for us. We called Mike and he said he doubted the problem was the first issue, because we have never had any issues before, but he thought maybe it was the second, the cable. Luckily, this time the electricity seemed to be staying on. The Eskom guy kindly offered to leave the box unlocked for us (even though according to him it is illegal to do so which I'm pretty sure translates into give me some cash and I will leave the box unlocked for you.) With the box unlocked if the power did go off, we could at least have access to the breaker to turn it back on. Leaving the box unlocked would also allow Mike to return at some point to take a better look to try to figure out what was causing the problem. 

We were so happy to have the electricity (air con) back on that Mr. Deep tipped the guy $50 USD. For some reason neither of us had any rand on us and so American money was the best we could do. The guy had never seen a $50 bill from America before and he kept turning it over and over in his hands looking at it, not sure what to make of it. Mr. Deep assured him that the bank could covert it to a lot of rand for him.

Now it's Sunday and the the power has remained on for over 24 hours. We had a lovely Christmas lunch with our neighbors even though we were tired and covered in bug bites. Most importantly, my hair was very flat and smooth. The irony is we have a camping trip planned for next weekend so we will be celebrating New Years outside in the heat in a tent with mosquitoes. Should be interesting. 

Essentials that we needed access to we kept on ice in the sink. Apparently to us essentials are mayonnaise and beer.
Inside the camping fridge which we plugged into the Jeep.
The camping fridge

So you know I am not exaggerating 
Have no fear, Eskom is here!
Our beloved air con unit in our bedroom situated up high to rain coolness down upon us.
Preparing for lights out
Electricity box unlocked!
Full view of the electricity box


  1. Oh Gosh, I had to read the whole story in one go, it was riveting! Though I take issue with "Just now is a phrase South Africans like to use meaning soon or within the next few hours." How about "meaning NOT soon or perhaps never at all."?

    I actually can't believe Eskom came as quickly as they did. Perhaps tipping $50 will make that technician leap to the rescue again next time, but I doubt it. I can totally feel your frustration, we had exactly the same kind of issues. Now you just need to wait for the next bill where you'll find a reconnection fee charged to your account. Totally unfair but probably best to pay and get over it, otherwise you lose even more sleep.

    By the way, if I were you I'd get mosquito nets. We always slept under one, for that same reason of it driving me nuts when the mozzies buzzed in my ears and woke me up. I didn't care about the bites, just the buzzing!

    1. The electrician was just here and he seems to have found a potential issue which seems like it will be an easy fix and something we won't need Eskom to handle. So that's good. And you're right about just now, and now now and now...people say "I'll be with you now" and then walk away. Who knows what it all means? I don't think anyone does, even those who are from here. And yes, we have talked about mosquito nets. Not only will that help, but how cool and exotic to have one. Except we have a really high vaulted ceiling so not sure how to affix it? But I'm sure our Household Operations department of one can figure it out. Oh, and are you saying you don't normally read my posts in just one go? You usually have to take a break? :) Happy New Year and thanks for reading!

    2. Haha no, I always read them in one go. But this one was long! As for mozzie nets, I struck luck at Outdoor Warehouse. They have smaller ones for single beds with just a round holder at the top, and larger ones for up to king size beds with a big rectangular holder, which is what you'll want. They all collapse down to a small disc you can carry with you when traveling. I still have all mine in the basement because yes, the idea is so exotic. Our kids loved theirs. When we first arrived, my son got stung on the ear his first night and had this gigantic swollen ear his first day of school in a new school, and strangely enough, he was the one who made friends right away and never felt self-concious. I still feel sorry for him in hindsight that I sent him to school that day. So that's when we started looking for mosquito nets:-) Hmm, vaulted ceiling. OUrs wasn't vaulted, just recessed. I think I had a big hook in the ceiling and a string attached to it, but can't be sure. Good news is SA houses have no flimsy drywall but strong walls and ceilings, so making it sturdy won't be a problem. Just drilling the darn hole.

  2. What a crazy Christmas ordeal! I live in the US and I've learned from your blog that our countries have a lot of similarities and differences. It's good that you put some perspective on the situation, saying millions of people in your country don't have air con or fans. We're so lucky and sometimes we forget it. My husband and I live in Minnesota (northern US) so I couldn't imagine those temperatures!

    1. Thank you so much for reading my blog. Yes, MN I am familiar with it as I am from the US and I have a cousin who lives in MN. It's true though that it seems silly to complain about luxuries like lack of air con when so many people here don't have basic services like water and electricity in their homes. This Thanksgiving, I had another crazy mishap so if you haven't read these two posts yet, I invite you to check them out. :) and this one


About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.