No electricity, no water, no fuss – la la land

WARNING!!!! There are a lot of ‘Noes’ in this post – ‘la’ actually means ‘no’ in Arabic hence the name of this blog la la land. And you thought it was something to do with the craziness of living here! Well that too; lalaland because I felt from the time I got here, I was always being told ‘No. No you can’t do that/ we don’t have that/ it’s not working’ and I always thought the answer was crazy.

No electricity. The electricity was off again this morning. It was off yesterday morning as well. What on earth is that dam across the Nile for? It goes off at the same time and it is never off when the mosque is about to blast out the muezzin. If it is off at those times, you know it is unplanned. There is never any warning that this is going to happen; like a note in the post that the power will be stopped from this to that time. This could be, amongst other reasons  because there is no post. Well not exactly no post, but no mailboxes on houses, no house numbers and in fact in most cases no street names.

No electricity means the house is very quiet, the fans cease to pretend they are actually making anything colder, the A/C stops whirring, the fridge doesn’t groan and complain from heat exhaustion, the water pump doesn’t grind away getting less efficient each pump and the halogen lamp in the light doesn’t hum.  So the only sound is the window shutters jumping in gusty breeze. And the cats still whining to be fed!

No electricity means no electric shocks off my metal cased laptop, or playing games that someone else get s the shock if they touch me while I am touching my laptop. It means no occasional burning smell when the wiring in the fuse box overheats and disintergrates the connection wiring  to the fuses. Guess those fuses didn’t work. In this apartment the fuse for the A/C has started tripping all the time…

Over the years I discovered the cost can vary for no obvious reason from 30Le to 200Le per month. The first place had no meter of its own – the power came via the next door neighbour who was a very nice expat swiss woman who had lived in Egypt for years. On my final account for that place I owed 300Le for 2 months. I was shocked as my initial payments had been 30-40… apparently someone had tapped into her supply and was stealing electriicy but she couldn’t prove it. I had to pay. Well actually the landlord owed me bond money so I said to take it off that and pay the neighbour. It took me 3 months to get the bond money back and when I met the neighbour on the street, she was stiill waiting for the electricity money 6 months later.

The account is not in the leasees name. That takes megga effort like resident visas, bank accounts, etc etc. Don’t ask, the answer is ‘No’ So accounts are in the landlord’s name which can be good and bad. He might be liable but he can kick me out if I don’t pay.

Each month the meter reader who speaks only Arabic knocks at the gate to come and read the meter. A week later someone comes knocking at the gate with an account (in Arabic too which is fair enough) to pay immediately. Hopefully you have enough in your wallet or he will have to come back. If you are away, as I frequently was when working in diving, the accounts just stack up. I think I paid 3 at one time which was fair enough. One place I refused to pay because I had only been there a week and it wasn’t my account. The power was cut off the next day without warning. The landlord fixed that up

So today no electricity. I can still havea cup of tea because the stove is gas fueled. Russian Earl Grey would you believe; I didn’t know Earl Grey was Russian! Well of course he wasn’t. It’s just that the Russian nouveau riche have pretentions of English aristocracy so the marketing people coined a new name for the tea and because lots of Russians come to Egypt the supermarket sells Russian Earl Grey tea. Makes sense, sort of. Not as good as Twinnings in my opinion but expats can’t be choosers.

The most pressing problem of having no eletricity is that there is no running water which means no showers and no refilling the toilet cistern. Well actually there is no water in the cistern as the other day the hose started leaking so I was turning it off after flushing the toilet. The hoses here are always springing leaks because the water is desalinated sea water but the salt content is still high. Despite this the plumbers still use metal wire covered hoses. Smart way of self perpeturating work because they break down all the time.

When you rent a house they will tell you “It has Government water”. Government water? What they mean is there are pipes direct from the town supply into the holding tank outside somewhere. Thes tanks are usually between 2-4 cubic meters and Government water will be directed into these tanks once maybe twice a week. No water 24/7 in our desert surroundings: that luxury is only for the Nile and delta dwellers.

What they don’t tell you is “If you are lucky. Very lucky”. The first house did get weekly supply and I only ran out if someone came to stay. Another said they had paid for government water but neglected to tell me other dwellers in the street had illegally connected their pipes so the government had disconnected the whole street. Another I got  water in the first week but never again, as others further upstream from delivery had fixed pumps to their supply to augment the usual trickle and took all the water before it reached my rental house.

The only time I had continual supply was from a permanent well but as that house as quite close to the sea so the water was quite salty. Dahab is an oasis. The palms have flourished naturally here for thousands of years drawing water from the underground reservoirs. The bedouin who lived here before even back to Nabatean times would have found relatively fresh water to drink. A geologist told me more and more wells would lead to more seepage inland from the sea making them progressively more salty.

I look in wonder at all the new buildings being erected when I know there is currently not the infrastructure to supply the houses already here.

So with no water supply by pipe the alternative is to buy water by the cubic meter delivered by leaking tankers that prowl the streets.My current contact is very good, delivers usually within an hour of my phone call and charges the going rate of 15 Le/m. It has taken me 4 years to find this driver.  Previously I have had to wait hours if not days for delivery. Which reminds me I have lost his number on the SIM card when I lost my phone….

So what does one do for water if there is no electricity or the tank has got so low that the pump will no longer work? Time honored bucket in the well (or tank in this case). You grab the nearest goat, kill it, skin it, tan it…. No 🙂 More about goats another time. You tie a rope of some description to a bucket without a hole and you drop it in the tank and haul out the water a bucket at a time. A bucket to flush the toilet, a bucket to have a shower, a bucket to wash your hair, even a bucket to hand wash your clothes. If you are clever/lazy you stand in a bowl to have a cooling showe (more about getting wet to cool than wash), rinse some underwear then use the water to flush the toilet. A bucket of water can go a long way.

Yet you know the weirdest thing? Egyptians don’t use plugs in the basins and sinks. They wash under running taps! Dishes the lot! They live in a desert and waste water like nothing else! Nile inhabitants, which is the majority of the population don’t place any value on water conservation. I now use a plastic bowl in the sink – it means I can run water down the side if I have to or even pretend I have 2 sinks…

Well the electricity is back on. Time to have shower, do the dishes, wash the floor, hand wash some undies, scrub the walls… no rest for the wicked.


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