It’s crazy how much we use it – especially because we usually don’t register that we are. When we can’t see, we mindlessly touch a toggle on the wall that tricks a room into being daytime. When we want to make a frozen meal edible, we pop it into a magic box that flashes the food into a reborn “freshness.” When we want to remove leaves from our driveways as efficiently as possible, we turn on the tiniest windstorm nature has ever seen and swiftly allow the pavement to breathe.
Electricity… It truly is amazing and I’m constantly in awe of it – perhaps more so now due to the past year. Whenever I encounter lights or heaters or refrigerators over here I just kind of stare at them with new shock and appreciation, like an infant playing peek-a-boo.
I’m able to type on this laptop, just as you’re able to read it, due to electrical energy. So cool! Big ol’ pats on the back to Edison, Tesla, Franklin, and more. Growing up I considered myself to be fairly energy-conscious, especially during my Environmental Studies days at college. I was the girl who used to exit a room last to ensure the light was off, but was too non-confrontational to ask people to do it themselves. Then I was the girl who turned off 67 superfluous lights whilst babysitting and politely told the family that I didn’t need all of them to watch their kid play with Leggos. Now I’m the lady who has lived without electricity for almost a year due to necessity and, perhaps very soon, by choice.
Yes indeed, my wee dusty village is well on its way to becoming electrified! A while ago I was told that “electricity is coming” and didn’t believe it for a minute. As most things go with “Africa time,” or at least in rural Zululand, I figured that the next PCV in my village would actually be the one to enjoy the luxury of a water kettle. But if the past few weeks are any indicator, that PCV will be me – that is, if I choose to indulge. Recently the village has seen their homes marked with numbers of a queue to receive connectivity, watched the slow growth of a power station being built by the main road, and witnessed telephone poles be erected and wired. I can foresee, both metaphorically and literally, the village switch being turned on sometime in August or September. Y’all, this is huge. As areas develop they are, hopefully, only electrified once so this is a colossal milestone in my village’s history. I’m humbled and almost flattered to be the Volunteer that gets to see this transition in the making.
While electricity is a monumental step in development, I do have some conflicting thoughts about it. Selfishly, I would prefer not to have electricity in my hut. I’ve become accustomed to frying eggs over a gas stove, waking up and lighting a candle, charging things from my solar panel, and putting on a headlamp to find toilet paper. I enjoy not having electricity (perhaps slightly in part because I know there’s an end to the madness next year) – it’s like permanent camping and it makes me feel a bit more badass. I think, should my family connect my dwelling to their power, I’d like to try and maintain a plug-less lifestyle until my service has come to an end here.
My own self-interests aside, it will be amazing for the families in my community. Tasks will become shorter (hot plates and kettles versus starting and sustaining a fire), more homework and studying could get done (stationary light bulbs versus flickering candles), and there will be more exposure to media – a beneficial but potentially dicey acquisition…
I’m interested to see how television affects the village. Just like the realizations I encountered when I visited my first host family in Mpumalanga over the Easter holiday, I can foresee TV bringing both pros and cons to my quiet, peaceful parish. It will absolutely
increase the amount of English people hear which will start taking root in the kids’ brains earlier, creating a more solid foundation for their schooling (all subjects’ text books are in English after grade 3). It will reveal a ton more about the world – other cultures, visual inspirations for achievement, and actually seeing possibilities beyond the realm of the village and the ragged edges of our topography. It will more homogenously and efficiently spread awareness and updates on illnesses, medicine, nutrition, safety, and national and international happenings. I am concerned, though, that TV will also encourage (even more) sedentary lifestyles, that certain shows will make violence and substance abuse and disrespect (even more) cool or appealing, and that people will begin losing sight of their tradition and ancestry in exchange for (even more) desire of new, shiny, shrink-wrapped materialism.
Of course, I write this having known electricity, TV, and media my whole life so my point of view, a longing to keep this place uniquely rustic and calm, vastly differs from those around me. I can only imagine how psyched the people in my village are to receive this truly life-altering change – one that they’ve never known (mull that over for a bit). My brother Zweli is pumped to be able to watch soccer games, my Baba is excited to read with a stable light, and my Mama is looking forward to not being on her feet so much. Their smiles alone make me enthused for electricity to come, despite my odd fantasy to live without it. I get to watch my tiny modest corner of the world take a massive step in development via electricityvillage – that’s pretty damn cool. I’ll update as we keep making progress on our sparking journey across the pond! Until then, challenge yourself to go one, two, three hours without electricity of any kind. Weave a twine bracelet, make art out of candle wax drippings, get primitively creative and enjoy the age-old, but often forgotten, perspective of simplicity.
What did the baby light bulb say to the mama light bulb? “I love you watts and watts!”