Reality Check: Lights Are Out Nobody’s Home

My buddy Mike (www.prinephotography.com) took this photo during the blackout while everyone else was partying...

Some will remember it as the power outage of 2011. I found it funny that in the middle of a supposed crisis people were flooding twitter and facebook posting pictures and hashtags of #sdblackout and #sdpoweroutage. Lines at convenience stores were out the door, freeways were packed and people stayed up late to drink all their cold beer and eat all their ice cream before it went bad. School was even canceled. Some turned to their makeshift emergency kits, others partied like they were with Leonard Bernstein, Leonid Breshnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs.

Let’s be honest. It was a little ridiculous.

I find it a bit ironic, with all our technology, that losing electricity for less than a day had such a great effect. Societies with way less infrastructure deal with outages all the time. They grab candles and move on. San Diego freaks out.

This is one of the first things that Malawi taught Hailey and me. We lost power almost weekly and some of our friends lived in places without any power at all. The week before Easter one of the engineers working on a water turbine died while trying to repair it. Much of Malawi didn’t have power for chunks of the day for two weeks. You learn to live with it, adapt and get on with what you were doing.

Want light after the sun goes out? Fire up the generator. Wanna charge your mobile phone? Take it to a charging station (a shack with wires attached to a car battery). When living with less is the norm, small things don’t seem to bother you. When you have a ton, twenty hours without power causes communal chaos.

Dinner uncooked in an electronic oven? Cook it on a fire. Can’t watch TV? Read a book. Can’t go online? Have a face-to-face conversation (what a concept!). Let’s be realistic about when it is actually appropriate to freak out.

For those of you who thought having no power for a couple hours was a catastrophe, I’m scared to see how you will respond when a real one comes. And those of you that partied all night are probably the same people who wore tin foil on your noggins for a y2k bash years ago. The world didn’t end then. And it didn’t this time either. Perspective can be everything and sometimes we all need a little more.

The Cost of Rain

We were told it would come at some point. Every day, for the last month or so, we could see clouds in the distance. Aggressive clouds—the type that you look at and think, “those things are angry and will dump bucket loads on this dry and crusty land.” We had a small foretaste of what African clouds could do last week, but today the main event commenced.

The rainy season is here.

Before moving to Malawi, I had never lived in a place that relies so heavily on rain. Shoot, for most of my life, rain only meant I couldn’t surf for a week (due to pollution) and that my bike rides were going to be difficult and uncomfortable. But rain also meant mud football, reading in coffee shops and nights at the movies. And it came so infrequently that it didn’t infringe too much on normal life. I cherished the rain, as rare as it was, because it was a change of scenery and pace. I’m sure, had I grown up in a place like Seattle my sentiment would be very different.

I once heard a sermon by Rob Bell where he said that people who live in ‘seasonless’ places are robbed of fully experiencing the ebb and flow of God’s creation. Along with this, he argued, such people aren’t given a predetermined time of year for rest, working extra hard or celebration. As a native San Diegan I want to argue with him, but I can’t. He is right. Ecclesiastes is clear that there is a season for everything. The creation story reeks of a timely order. And one cannot read many of Jesus’ parables without having at least a small grasp on agrarian culture. It could be argued that human innovation and modernization has hindered our ability to live balanced and healthy lives.

Electricity, transportation and the Internet are wonderful inventions. Each has had a positive impact on the way in which our world functions—but at what price? Some may consider it a silly question and argue that progress is simply just that—moving forward in a logical manner. Fine. But does progression have a cost? I would say it does.

Take the Internet. I love it, use it daily and am in no way against further development of social media and web entrepreneurship. But the truth is, it can hurt just as much as it can help (in the past 5 years 81% of divorce cases used facebook/twitter as evidence—risky tools or neutral toys?). It spreads just as much misinformation as real information (ask your doc what s/he really thinks of WebMD). And much of the counter-productive functions of it take up more of our 168 weekly hours than we’d like to admit.

Years ago the rainy season in Malawi began in September and continued through March.

drippy leave

During the last few years the rainy season has started later and later (the last week of Nov. the last two years), while still ending in March. Two fewer months of rain is a big deal when your only export completely relies on it. Climate change is far from a political buzzword here—it is a harsh reality.

I don’t have any answers, just plenty of questions. Does further development have a cost? And if so what, how much can we really afford to spend? Should we make any attempt to slow things down? Why? Why not? What do you think?