Electricity and Water

This is the unedited transcript of radio ‘postcard’ which appeared on BBC Worldservice programme Outlook. 26.01.08

Every night before going to sleep we turn on the water tap in the kitchen, put a metal pot upside down under it and keep the kitchen door open. This, my dear friends, is the best way to wake up when you finally get running water in the middle of the night.

The moment you hear that clang of water over the pot you get up immediately and start filling everything you have in the house that will hold water. If you’re lucky you’ll fill all your tubs, tanks and jugs before the tap runs dry again.

One of the first things we had to do after walking into the flat we’ve left for two years is buy two cylindrical water tanks with little spouts at the bottom. They stand as tall as an adult in the corner of the bathroom and the kitchen. There is another smaller tank by the shower and many jerry cans as well.

So… you sorted out the water. Next task, electricity. I can’t remember the last time we had electricity from the national grid for a full 24 hours. Even before the war we had an electricity rationing schedule but after the war the system just fell apart. Days and days would go by without any electricity.

What do you do when the government can’t provide electricity? You find private power-generator owners and buy your power from them.

Running multiple power generators and selling electricity is good business here in Iraq. In the building we live in there is even a waiting list for new subscribers.

The electricity-generator man is king. “The generator will rest twice a day”, “the generator will need repairs”, “the generator heats up and must be shut down”. The endless demands of this man are never disputed. And his services don’t come cheap either. We pay 10,000 Iraqi dinars – that’s 12 US dollars – per ampere. At the moment we buy 5 amperes.. that’s 60 dollars a month on top of the bill we get for using the little electricity from the national grid.

With 5 amperes we can keep the refrigerator running, turn on the tv and for light we had to install energy saving bulbs every where.. regular filament burning lights are electricity drains. We all look a bit paler at night but at least there is light. And if we need hot water the refrigerator and the tv have to be turned off. The boiler doesn’t like sharing the 5 amperes we get.

When the electricity makes one of its rare visits once or twice a day everyone in the house runs around doing things that can’t be done on a generator. Washing machines, vacuum cleaners are turned on and every portable light that needs charging is plugged in.

Then cross your fingers and hope the electricity stays long enough for your washing machine to run a full cycle.

The one government provided service that has seen significant improvement is the supply of fuel and oil products. The days of long queues in front of gas stations to buy cooker gas and heating fuel are gone. Refineries are producing enough fuel products to cover most demand and an increase in price made stealing and smuggling oil across the border to Iran less lucrative.

I don’t want you to think I’m complaining, well, I am but just a little bit.

After an illness you don’t recover just like that.. your health comes back in stages and Iraq has been very ill for a long time. We are seeing the first signs of recovery with the improved security situation and I believe all Iraqis can be a little bit patient as long as the positive signs continue.

We’ll keep paying the power generator guy his monthly fees for a bit longer.. I just hope the government doesn’t take too long to get things back up and running.. summer with it’s 50 degrees heat is just a couple of months away.

One Response to “Electricity and Water”

  1. Jose Says:

    It reminds me a lot to Lima (Peru) back in the 80s in times of the civil war and terrorism. When there was no electricity, no water, no food in markets. And bombs here and there was common. Although we used candles at night.

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