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Let There be Light!

March 25, 2010 by  


By Mahvish Akhtar, MMNS Pakistan Correspondent

2010-03-22T173449Z_169073373_GM1E63N040E01_RTRMADP_3_PAKISTAN

A boy bathes in a tube well reservoir in Hyderabad located in Sindh province March 22, 2010. The Earth is literally covered in water, but more than a billion people lack access to clean water for drinking or sanitation as most water is salty or dirty. March 22 is World Water Day.    

REUTERS/Akram Shahid

Just recently I hired a maid, who would come every morning, clean the house and leave. She was a young girl of 14 or 15 not more than that. Every day she would get done with the work and come to me and ask me if there is something else she could do for me. I would tell her that she could leave once she was done cleaning but every day she would come and ask me if there was anything else. When I told her that was it, she would ask me if I wanted her to massage my feet, or if I wanted that drawer on my dresser cleaned out. I didn’t understand why she wanted to do extra work without being asked to do so. Being confused for a long time I finally asked a friend about this strange behavior. She simply said she must be looking for some extra money. She must be thinking that by doing your other small chores you might give her some extra money. But I had not given her any extra money and she had not even asked for it. I still was not satisfied. One day when she was fixing my shoe closet after I had told her she could go I asked her. I said, “Why do you insist on staying here even after I have told you that you can go home? Don’t you like it in your own house?”  Without even looking at me she said in a very matter of fact way that it was because I had fans working all the time. I am one of the lucky ones who have a UPS so even if the electricity goes the fans are still working. She did not want to go home because she did not have a way of even slightly comforting her self when the electricity was taken away in this scorching heat of Lahore.

I was taking a stroll in my neighborhood where I noticed 2 small boys playing who were not wearing anything. I looked around to see if I could find their mother. I saw a woman standing nearby I went up to her and asked her if she knew the boys. She said she was their big sister. She told me that they live in the street next to mine and the boys were playing here so she came to watch over them. I asked her why they were not wearing any clothes. She replied that they had developed rashes and hives because of the heat and the doctor had suggested to not let any fabric touch them and keep them cool so that’s why every day the sun goes down they let them play out for a while. I told her that this is probably not such a good idea since its still not cool enough and their rashes could get aggravated maybe keeping them inside under a fan is a better idea. She said yes that’s what we were doing until yesterday when the lights went out in the morning and came back at 8 in the evening. Today she said is a repeat of yesterday, as far as they were concerned this is the coolest it’s going to be for them today. 

There are many sides to this problem that we are facing and everyone is affected by it in their own way. It does not matter what class or section of the society one belongs to everyone is facing the problems and has their own issues to deal with when it comes to electricity. With that said it would be very correct to assume that the businesses and the marketplace must be suffering greatly because of this problem. I wanted to know how they deal with this problem. The day I visited to talk to a Bookstore they were facing an especially bad day. I was told that electricity had been shutting down every half hour. They said that their generator has been on for the whole day. The manager told me that the business is good but with the cost of generator it is becoming hard to make ends meet considering the growing prices of electricity as well. He said that it is so costly to keep the generator on all day that some times they think of closing early just to avoid the cost “but then its hard to do that when you are running a business and you know customers are counting on you”, adds the manager.

Another clothing store has the same story. Of course their store is well known and they have more customers so it is not such a big issue for them. Surprisingly most shops and stores I spoke to in Liberty market didn’t complain much about electricity problems in that area. They said that they had timed load shedding which they had generators for so it was working out fine. Most of them however shifted quiet quickly to the situation at their homes and their neighborhoods. They were quick to tell me that this electricity problem was a menace in their homes. Most of them told me that had no electricity for about 2 hours at a time in their homes. One cashier said that it’s terrible when his children come home from school all tired and sweating and they don’t even have a fan to rest under when they get home.

While I was talking to the cashier at a shoe store a lady who was standing line right behind me overheard our conversation about load shedding and chimed in saying that sometimes she leaves her house when there is no light because there is an AC in her car and the stores are usually more comfortable than her house under the circumstances. I asked her what about her kids and other members of the family. She laughed and said I don’t do it every day. “Do you know how much patrol costs these days?” of course I know how high those prices are too. But it is sad when people are looking for ways to find comfort and relief in any way possible. I had heard of driving the baby around the block in the car to put him/her to sleep but this was something new for me. Is this going too far? Under this circumstance who knows what is going too far and what is not we are all doing the best we can to survive these days.

A tailor who owns a small shop in the basement of a busy market told me that his business has been cut in half because of load shedding. Now he says he doesn’t take on too much work because he knows he will not be able to complete it. “I can’t afford a generator and when I don’t take enough work I don’t even make enough to feed my family. “When women come in here with a lot of clothes to get sown and tell me that they need it in a week I tell them its not possible. So, they take their clothes to a bigger shop that has a generator and can sew their clothes in less amount of time”.  This tailor is forced to take less work and even with that work he struggles to finish it in the time he has given his customers with the electricity playing hide and seek constantly. Just recently this tailor fired his assistant because he couldn’t afford to pay him any more. He says things don’t seem to be getting any better. Now he is working hard and trying to save up as much as possible. I asked him what he was saving up for…he said he wants to save up enough to be able to buy a generator. He thinks once he has a generator all his problems will be solved.

I guess there is something to be said about the power of generators. A student expressed his opinion when asked how he deals with not having electricity especially during exams by saying; “Generator Zindabad!” then he added that his neighbors keep the generators on all the time since it is convenient and they find it cheaper then electricity. Of course this was in Karachi where things are a bit more difficult in terms of electricity problems. I asked this young man what they do in school when there is no electricity. He said you just get used to it. When asked about how the learning process is in the heat he said, “I don’t think I learn anything in the heat. I mean the teachers are teaching but I don’t retain anything.” I asked him why and he said, “Because it’s HOT”.

Another student who is my relative messaged me one day out of the blue. I asked her what’s up and why she is messaging me she said she was bored and just wanted to see what was up with me. That was not a normal thing for her to do so but I was glad that she had thought of messaging an old person like me just to chit chat. After a while of massaging back and forth she abruptly said that she had to go. I asked her what the hurry was and she said “the electricity is back I gotta go study for my exams who knows how long we have this luxury for”. Basically she was killing time talking to me while she was waiting for the electricity to come back so she could get back to her studying. While it made me feel not so great about myself it made me think of how much time we waste because we have no way of utilizing it while the electricity is gone.

In Pakistan everything stops as the lights go out? Whatever people are doing they just drop it and start to look around waiting for the lights to come back on. If you are reading a book you will stop and spend at least a few minutes thinking about what you should do now. Very few times you will get an answer because there is very little that can be done in the dark. Even while taking an exam the lights go off and everyone stops. There is pin drop silence. And as soon as the lights are back even if it’s five minutes to turn on the generators the students start to ask for more time for the loss of time because of the electricity. I guess the point I am trying to make is that we are wasting collective time of our nation. Nothing gets done while there is no light. Even if there are generators and UPS there are minimal things running and very little that can be done. Children can’t get on the computer and research for their homework. Businesses can’t use credit cards. Schools and colleges have teachers leaving classroom without teaching because it’s too hot for them to bear.

All of this makes us miss time to do things. We take much longer to accomplish things now compared with before because of the shortage of electricity. Our productivity as a nation is going down because out of the 8 hours we barely have 1 or 2 in which the work can actually get done. The problem is that it may seem like that the whole world is on stand still while the electricity is gone, that’s really not the case. Only we are on stand still. While we are waiting for the lights to turn back on time and life is passing us by. We wait and then we start the work while someone somewhere else started the work without any waitt. Of course at the end of the day that person will take the fruits of the hard work we were not able to put in. Time goes on but we stay on a stand still by force. Does that seem fair at all?

People have turned this thing into a joke as well you will hear a person saying that well this is our government’s way of telling us to slow down. It is an automatic brake even if one doesn’t want it. We have lost so many hours of our lives to this terrible menace of our society and we have no idea how many more we still have to lose.

We have discussed what kind of problems are taking place in our Pakistan because of lack of electricity. Actually everything that I have mentioned above is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more that is going on that if we tried to put all of this in one piece of writing it would go on forever. So, we will leave the description of the problem at this point and try to invest the leftover energy in figuring out how we can get to a solution. The question is this is a nationwide problem so to get this solved who do we go to? Do we try to track down the government officials and ask them what should be done? But we have heard plenty of them on television saying that there is nothing that can be done because this shortage of resource is worldwide and everyone feels it. However, we don’t see the rest of the world complaining and suffering from the consequences as we are.

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