Tuesday, July 22, 2014

coping with frequent power outages

I feel I've blogged at length about how we combat the unreliable water supply  and about how sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Especially in Kilifi, water is a huge challenge.

Our tiny freezer, stocked with ice pops, spare coffee,
a small container of bone broth, and a bag of chicken bones
But living with unpredictable electricity is a challenge, too. We have a small refrigerator, by American standards. With the exception of the micro-fridge in my college dorm room, it is the smallest refrigerator I've ever had. And it's rarely full.

It took us a few months to adjust our grocery habits to unreliable refrigeration. We lost fridge-fuls of food due to power being out for too long, and have saved some by moving everything to the freezer and driving all over town to find a bag of ice to keep it all cold. Now, we're usually ok if the power is out for a whole day, but it's because of our changed shopping habits. We have not yet acquired solar backup for the fridge. It will be a momentous day when that happens! I'd be able to keep the fridge stocked like I used to!

Obviously, we can't use the microwave when the power is out, but our stove is gas and lights with a match, so I can cook without power, as long as I can see! We keep flashlights in every room of the house, in case it is already dark when the power goes out. We don't have to stumble through the whole house searching in the dark. And we also had a solar powered lantern, which could light up a room.

But it broke.

When we went to replace it, we tried to find a solar lantern with a USB plug in it so that I could also charge my phone from it. Rodgers usually has the car during the day, so he can always charge his phone there, but my only option is to hope that the laptop battery is fully charged and drain it into my phone.

We looked at various options and settled on something way more awesome than we were shopping for. We haven't mounted the solar panel yet, it just sits on the edge of the veranda for now, with the cord going through a window (always open anyway).

The battery is slightly smaller than a riding lawn mower battery. It has a USB plug, and I was able to charge my phone with it the last time we had no power during the day. We haven't lost power at night since we bought it, so we haven't tested the lights yet. (We could just turn off the lights one evening and test them, but we haven't done that either.) There are 4 lights with long cords. We can keep the battery in the middle of the house and mount lights in 4 different rooms! It also came with all manner of plug converters. How does your cell phone plug in? I bet I have a converter for that. I can also plug in a car charger. I can plug almost anything into this battery, except for actual electric plugs.

I think we'd need a bigger battery for the fridge anyway. Next on the solar power list: bigger battery and bigger solar panel so that I can plug in the fridge. After that maybe a solar water heater...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

oblivious to culture

Here's an interesting (and possibly infuriating) aspect about culture. Some communication and customs are very obviously culture-specific, but some exist at such a subconscious level that we can't really identify what they are in our own cultures.

In Kenya, there are separate greetings for people who are above you on the social hierarchy, people who are your equals, and people who are below you. In some cases, it's obvious who is who: a child is below me, an elderly person is above me. But in some cases it's not that clear to an outsider.

Me, trying to learn some conscious culture - how to make pilau

We went to have lunch at our friend's house. We didn't know who would be there apart from us, the friend, and her daughter, but there are always other family members around. Also, this friend is of a socio-economic status that it is safe to assume she has house help. (Here, you don't have to be outrageously wealthy to have a housekeeper who works every day or even lives with you.)

When we arrived, there were several people around the house - a few young men (probably her younger brothers or nephews) and a woman working in the kitchen. The woman was neither young nor old. To me, she could have been anyone - sister, cousin, aunt, housekeeper? To Rodgers, it was obvious who she was.

Everyone greeted us, shaking hands and saying whatever greeting was appropriate. Kenyans are compulsive about their greetings. An aside: if you don't greet someone, it's extremely rude, yet when you greet someone, it's not because you intend to have a conversation with them or even care what they say (the response is the same regardless of their circumstances), it's because it's required by custom to say a certain greeting and receive a certain reply. I don't really "get" the obsession with greetings, especially the super long ones they exchange in their native language. But I digress...

The woman came out of the kitchen to greet us, and she wouldn't let go of my hand after I greeted her, as if she was expecting more. Eventually she said the respectful greeting to me, which I didn't find appropriate at all, so I asked if she was saying that to me.

She said (in English), "No, you say it to me!"

I was totally confused. Who was this woman demanding I greet her with the respectful greeting and why?! I thought it would be rude to ask, "Why? Who are you?" But I was so embarrassed that I was frozen like a deer in headlights - I couldn't say anything.

Rodgers knew, intuitively, that this was our friend's mother. He had never met her before. She was not introduced. (While Kenyans love introducing themselves to large groups as they are giving a speech, when meeting you they expect you to know who they are and don't introduce themselves or other people.) And yet, he knew who she was. He couldn't explain to me how he knew this.

I told him that he's going to have to start cluing me in because I don't have this subconscious knowledge of his culture, and though he has it, he is oblivious to it. I have noticed other subconscious knowledge, communication, and practices in this and other cultures, so I assume there must be something like this in my culture, but whatever it is, I must also be oblivious.