Written by: BOBBI UPDEGRAFF
The overhead fan clangs to silent, and I reach for my iPhone – 3:10am.
Thank God for propane and an old-fashioned perk coffee pot. All things will be possible with caffeine. I roll over and go back to sleep. I toss and turn. Hubby throws off the sheet. The sun is up, the fan is still silent.
“It’s a holiday weekend.” DH (Dear Husband) reminds me, as he ambles into the kitchen.
I light the stove burner with a match. Holiday weekends include Mondays, and today is Saturday. “It’s just a brownout,” I answer optimistically, inhaling the sweet aroma of Colombian blend in deeply.
“We’ll survive.” He grins. I smile and nod, remembering our first week in this house. It was late August. We had no electricity for days.
“Cup of joe on the deck?” He pours himself a cup, iPad in hand.
Thank God for batteries… maybe. As he checks his email, I groan at the good-natured posts on my Facebook page where I had been bragging about life in paradise only yesterday. There are comments from those wishing to trade places with me, desperate for an escape out of the below zero temperatures back in Pennsylvania. I now wonder if those folks would be still be envious, considering my last few hours without electricity, an occurrence that can hardly be deemed rare down here.
Life on the rock – electricity comes and goes like the tide. On Eleuthera, brownouts can last 15-20 minutes, sometimes up to an hour or more during high usage periods. Thankfully, that has improved since we bought our home 10 years ago, when mornings stretched into evenings and sometimes we had no power for 24 hours or longer.
“The problem is probably at the pole,” DH reminds me, belting his last gulp of coffee.
“Does it matter?” I throw back at him. “It’s a holiday weekend.” And today is forecasted to be unseasonably warm. I repeat to myself, At least it isn’t August.
We arrived back on the island a week earlier to erratic power surges, so we should have seen this coming. We had been navigating suppertime darkness and freaked out once in the middle of the night when the house lit up like a casino. I suspected poltergeists! Bahamas Electric Company (BEC) has been to our house twice since our arrival. Each time, while they fixed one leg, they ended up actually exacerbating the root problem… but I digress.
Though DH and I hope this is just another routine brownout, every minute that passes without the power blinking back on seems to undermine this wishful thinking. No, things are not looking good for us this holiday weekend.
Three cups of coffee later, I become acutely aware of the long term reality of life without electricity. One flush is left in the toilet. Thank God for the nearby bucket of water we have in reserve for just this situation. (For those of you on public water, cistern pumps require electricity.) DH appears at the bathroom door in time for the triumphant flush. Wielding his electrical meter, he assures me, mission is not impossible. But it’s only half past ten.
Curse words reverberate in the basement where the electrical boxes are located.
Fans are still silent. In a cami and shorts, I wish for some wind from the Carolinas (Wind from the Carolinas is the book I am trying to finish amidst my sweat).
DH stomps into the kitchen, draws a breath of refrigerated air, and grabs a beer. “Somewhere in the world, it is 5pm.” Beer is the only cool thing in our house. “Better try BEC,” he says.
“Holiday weekend, mon,” I remind him. His face tells me now is not the time for humor.
The on-duty BEC employee restates the obvious, “It’s a holiday weekend.” I remind the BEC telephone representative that our refrigerator and freezer are thawing as we speak. (Here’s where ice cubes come in handy: think of them as little melting clocks that keep the time the freezer has been off.)
“You need an electrician,” Mr. BEC says, and gives me the name and number of one of our neighbors. I suspect he’s only trying to placate me and doesn’t think Ivan will be reachable. But Ivan the electrician is a friend. A perk of living on an island: you make friends with folks in important positions.
Within twenty minutes, Ivan shows up with meter in hand. The guys diagnose that the problem is, indeed, at the pole. Ivan confirms this with Mr. BEC. Our neighbor shakes his head, trying to speak a word in our defense over the phone. Alas, it is a holiday weekend and we are not the only ones without electricity. Their skeleton crew is stretched until Monday.
Now we are responsible to pay Ivan for the diagnosis – the same diagnosis my husband confirmed hours ago before the first call of the day. A diagnosis that has played itself out in BEC’s earlier visits, one we are all too familiar with. Sorry, mon is not going to suffice this time.
I grab the receiver. “This IS your problem!” I list the damage that the erratic power surges have caused: The loss of several small appliances, a fan, and an air-conditioner. We’ve only just had the refrigerator motor rebuilt due to these power surges. (Note: this is where joules come in. They cannot be high enough when living on a rock. A joule is the standard measure for electricity. How high of a spike can a surge protector take? The higher the joule on that protector, the better the chance of longevity your electrical device has on a rock.)
Mr. BEC groans and puts me on hold. I hear him on the phone in the background. I relax a bit. After all, he is begging someone to relieve him of responsibility for my refrigerator and freezer. He finally assures me that someone will be at our place sometime before nightfall. They will send a technician from the power station an hour and half south of us, which actually has on-duty technicians.
Ivan accepts $20 payment over a beer, then tells us to get back to him if BEC does not show up. An equal opportunity offender, BEC treats Bahamians and expats the same. We both enjoy the same odds of getting prompt service. But BEC is one hundred percent more responsive than Bahamas Telephone (BaTel); with them weeks turn into months. And we receive both landline and internet via their lines. Ivan departs.
DH debates hauling out the gas-powered portable generator, and I secretly wish he would have gone for the extra expense initially and hooked it up to the electrical box in the first place. But as my Dear Husband oft says, “Island life is what it is.” I take the high road, not wanting to help him dig the monster out and hook up the beast. “They’ll be here soon.”
“What’s a few hours more,” he concedes.
We debate going for a swim when low and behold, the BEC truck pulls up. The technician, dressed in casual attire, shimmies up the pole. He even has an electrical meter!
Down he comes, around the house, back up the pole, down, into the basement, around the house again, back up the pole. “Problem at the pole,” he mumbles.
And then – the fan spins! Rejoice!
He accepts a now only slightly chilled cola.
I pick up the phone to call and thank Mr. BEC but… the line is dead.
Sigh. Can’t win ’em all.