By Akin Olaoye
I wake up hurriedly about 5.15am to take a shower on a cold Monday morning. As I get off my bed walking out the bedroom through pitch darkness, my young foot kicks a stool I had used to finish my technical drawing homework the prior night before heading to bed. I remember this stool had a candle on it and I carefully use my finger to locate the match box I always kept in a particular spot by the window. I strike the match and light my candle, threading carefully along the corridor to make my way to the back door. I feel a light moist between my toes, but I can’t figure out what it is but I keep moving. It’s been three months since we last had electricity in my neighborhood, but it was considered life as usual and it had become a normal to have no electricity. My family lived in a district within the city metropolis amongst several civil servants and working class families with a lot of kids my in age group.
My dad owned a cybercafé in the neighborhood, a business he started after getting laid off from a bank. His business was struggling as he often had to run a generator to operate his business late into the night and the cost of fuel and maintenance cost took a toll on his business. Weeks had gone by without light and the erratic fuel scarcity caused his business to be closed a number of days during the week. My mum owned a hair dressing salon in a different part of town and she could only afford to run one hair dryer and a clipper due to the small size of the generator she owned. Irrespective of the challenges they faced, providing an education and the resources I needed to be successful was their main priority.
We would seldom transport one of the generators for the business to the house when business was slow, however we could only run it for about two hours to pump enough water for ourhousehold use due to fuel consumption. We couldn’t run the generator past midnight, due to a community agreement by residents who were concerned about safety and the inability of vigilantes to be effective with noisy generators humming through the night. Also my dad had high blood pressure and couldn’t get a good night’s rest whenever it ran all night.
I stepped outside that that fateful morning being guided by the moonlight, I picked up a bucket to fetch water from the well at the back of the house and I realize I am bleeding from kicking the stool in my bedroom. I get into the bathroom and hurriedly take my bath to avoid catching a cold, as the water temperature was colder than the air outside. I pull my towel off the water heater directly above the shower nozzle and I began craving the feeling of hot water pouring down my head. I jump out of the bathroom and hurriedly get dressed in order to make it to the bus stop in time to hitch a ride with my classmate. I gaze in the mirror after getting dressed to look at my uniform to make sure I look presentable.
As I stare at myself if the mirror I began loathing my appearance, also I am analyzing the crinkles on my shirt and lack of crisp lines on my uniform. “I can’t be this angry” I said to myself, after all I walked 20mins to a friend’s place last night just to get this lightly pressed. With a feeling of disgust I run into the bedroom, pack my books and supplies into my school bag. Walking out the front door, my mum asks “would you like to eat some beans cake and custard?” I replied “No! I am running late and I don’t feel hungry”. Truly I was hungry, but rejected the offer because I liked cold milk over my custard, again another frustration of having no light for 3months. Whenever we had light through the night, I would stay awake just to enjoy the ability to gaze into the light bulbs and relish the feeling of having electricity overnight, wondering what reasons or individuals were responsible for power failures.
I arrive at my street junction and realized I was about two minutes late and quickly grabbed my mobile phone from my book bag only to find a dead phone.
“I am finished”, I said to myself. I walk over to a small store and ask to use their line to place a call to my friend to see where they were, as I depended on him to get to school every morning. I paid the store owner and called my friend, only to learn he left earlier and tried reaching me to inform me on his schedule. I had charged my phone while ironing at a friend’s house the previous day, but the battery ran low as I tried surfing the net while doing my homework. My lunch allowance was the required one way transport fare to school and after much disgust; I hopped on a bus to school and arrived about 45minutes past required resumption.
After I got seated in my class, I realized there was a red spot on my socks sticking through my sandals and it dawned on me that I was still bleeding from stomping my toe that morning. I ignored the wound and began chatting with my classmates before the first period. The topic was an Arsenal vs. Tottenham football match played the previous day. I couldn’t reflect on the game’s outcome, because I hadn’t watched it due to having no electricity and all I could do was ask for the end scores. I would have normally gone online with my phone while en-route to school to review the game stats but I was denied that privilege, so I just sat there envying the other kids that were able to watch it. First period got underway and it was time to turn in my homework which was an assignment on a TV news program.
For 4 straight weeks, I had been copying my friend’s notes on the way to school in order to have this assignment completed, unfortunately this time I wasn’t opportune. I hated copying or cheating, but I was left with no other options and as the teacher approached my desk, I told her the infamous line that was the mother of all excuses. “I have had no light at home for the past few weeks”. She ignored me and moved on to the next person, which indicated I would be getting a zero for missing home work. Again what does electricity have to do with me being challenged with completing my homework when the TV program was on a station that has zero subscription costs?
I went through the day thinking about the homework grades, having no lunch money, no light at home, our family businesses and the horror of going to bed and waking up to relive my misery all over. I wondered to myself, when I get into university which I heard was more challenging, are things going to be any different. It’s the last period before school is over and it’s time for my technical drawing class which was my favorite and a subject that also got me inspired. I turned in my homework to the instructor and he grades our assignments on the spot. He begins outlining my A4 drawing sheet with his marker, spotting crooked lines on my drawing in red ink from one end to the other, asking me to re-do the entire drawing otherwise I will receive a Failing grade. I was bitter, confused and depressed knowing how much effort I put into this homework using a candlestick for over 3 hours toiling through the night.
I leave school in a depressed state seating in the back seat of my friend’s car, we began chatting about my response to the teacher about not having any electricity. In an effort to brighten the mood, I began sharing funny stories with my friend that I felt were worse experiences people encountered when there’s no power. I said to him “Have you ever sat in a barber’s chair getting a haircut to attend a wedding within two hours, with half of your hair gone there’s sudden power outage and you inform the customer. “Sorry there’s no fuel in the generator and to avoid a fight you have to pay the customer to quell his frustration”. My friend and others in the car erupted in an outburst of laughter, what may have seemed like a very funny joke to them was indeed an occurence I witnessed at my Mum’s business. Again this was the reality of watching my parents struggling to earn a honest living in a trade that could be profitable, but they depended on services that should be non determining factors on the viability of a business.
While we are sharing the laughter from that experience, I slumped back into the reality that awaited me once I reached home, no electricity as usual! I began eyeballing stores on the street to my house to see if any light bulbs were on, which will indicate if there was power supply in the area or not.
On reaching my house, I noticed a light bulb was on by the main entrance and I alighted from the vehicle and expressed gratitude to my friend for the ride. I ran into the compound to begin celebrating the presence of electricity, only to be informed by my sister that it was a new rechargeable bulb that was introduced to the market and my mum had purchased to ease the power absence, killing my joy immediately. I see my neighbors grinning ear to ear in amazement of this new bulb that works temporarily in the absence of power supply. They spent so much time appreciating its novelty and I am left wondering, are these people fools or what?
I began to ponder, how will my clothes get ironed? How are we going to pump water for household use daily? How do we keep the refrigerator cool? How do I get to take a hot shower that I crave on cold mornings? How do I charge my phone and surf the internet, plus many other things I had interest in as an aspiring Engineer? Most especially practicing software programming using a laptop my dad got for me, when he discovered my interest in technology. Can I achieve my dreams with an epileptic or non-existent power supply in my home country, when my peers in other countries use this same privilege to hangout on Facebook, post YouTube videos and chat online all day?
How can I be the future when I am not afforded basic amenities that can allow my talent and interest in acquiring positive skills from a young age to come to fruition?
Only if I had electricity 24hours a day, I believe I can conquer the world. Perhaps I am young and naïve but this is my struggle on a daily basis, not even counting the other non-existent amenities we are plagued with. I am not seeking sympathy, I just want to be different and in my own words “Normal”. I have been encouraged to accept this ill state of power supply as being normal, because my relatives and neighbors only talk about praying that things will get better in my country. If they are praying, then who is benefitting from all these prayers while we all keep suffering and enduring?
If you give me light, you have given me a life I feel is promising. Otherwise the demise of my life goals and ambition lurks on the other end!
Give me Life or Give me Death! Anecdotes of an African Schoolboy…..