Thursday, January 28, 2010

When the Power Goes Out

No one likes being woken up in the middle of the night. Whether it’s because of a loud noise, because nature’s calling, or because someone within earshot won’t stop snoring, a good night’s sleep is a coveted thing that people are willing to pay for (in the form of memory foam mattresses and pharmaceuticals). I have experienced all of these aforementioned phenomena many times, but in Ghana, the one I have come to dread most is not among them. Nope, it’s the power outage.

Why would a power outage interrupt your sleep, you might ask? Well let me tell you. The answer is simple: the fan stops working. Forget no TV, microwave, or electric water boiler. The worst thing about a power outage in Accra, by far, is that the fans stop working, and when this happens at night, forget it. In the middle of the night, the ambient temperature in Accra is around 80 degrees, and it is common knowledge in these parts that sleeping under a mosquito net adds a few degrees on top of that. Even sleeping on top of all my sheets, the ceiling fan is the only thing that keeps me from sweating. And I have come to realize that my body is fairly sensitive to temperature change, because I never cease to wake up just in time to look up and see the fan making its last glorious rounds. A motionless ceiling fan is the equivalent to the gavel dropping, as I am sentenced to another sleepless night.

my bed, covered by the mosquito net, and ceiling fan above

Now, most power outages so far have lasted anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. In these cases, I usually pass the time reading, playing games on my phone or, my personal favorite, showering: the only thing to do that does not involve sweating. However, over the Christmas break, we experienced a period of about 36 hours where 30 of them were blackout. In this case, drastic action had to be taken.

The power went out in the middle of the night, so by noon on the following day, it had been around 10 hours without power. Dennis, Patricia, Desmond and I came to two conclusions: we had to get out of the house, and soon, and the food in the refrigerator was in jeopardy of going bad. Coming to this conclusion, we did the only logical thing one could be expected to do in this situation: we had a binge eating session where we tried to consume all those foods most vulnerable to spoil, and then we went directly to the beach.

Going to the beach was a big deal. For one, Desmond is Ashanti: a very proud tribe from the center of Ghana. Not being near a large body of water, he never learned to swim, and is deathly afraid of the ocean. Dennis and Patricia do know how to swim, but do not seem too fond of it, and admit that they prefer swimming in pools. At this point, I had been in Accra over a month, and while we drive several miles on a road that hugs the shoreline on a weekly basis, I had not stepped foot on the beach.

We drove to a small cliff that overlooked a very nice beach, parked on the side of the road next to a few other cars, and made our way down the slope. The sand was unlike any I had ever walked on, with grains so fine that even after rinsing your hands off in the water, a few still resided in the lines of your palm. There were a few dozen people on the very spacious beach, so that it was not crowded at all. Boys playing soccer, two girls building sand castles, other children running and laughing in no particular direction while their parents chided them from blankets to slow down and remain farther from the water: everything was good. All thoughts of the power outage floated away, as I became thoroughly focused on enjoying the beach. We made camp a good 30 or 40 yards from the water, to make sure that Desmond was comfortable, and I put my towel down and made a bee-line for the water.

shot of the beach from atop the little cliff
people on the beach, some Accra hotels in the background

It was nice and warm, with some decent size whitecaps. Dennis and Patricia also chose to stay dry with Desmond, which seemed to be the general trend, as those on land vastly outnumbered those in the water. I immediately swam out past everyone else, and even though I was about 50 yards from the shore, the water was only up to my chest.


For the next hour or so, I contented myself to play in the oncoming waves, jumping over some and diving under others. I returned to the blankets with well-pruned hands to dry off. Desmond and Patricia were returning from a walk, while Dennis decided to actually go in the water for a few minutes.

two little girls enjoying a day at the beach

When we finally made our way back to the car, the sun was about an hour from setting, and the sand was proving impossible to completely remove. We got back to the house to discover that the power was back on, and we promptly did a little dance, accompanied by some appropriate hooting and hollering. We were all riding high from our exciting day at the beach, and the prospect of being able to watch a movie seemed too good to be true.

In fact, it was. Not more than two hours later, the power went back off and stayed off for even longer than before. Oh well. Maybe we can make a habit of binge eating and swimming. But always waiting 30 minutes before going in the water, of course.


  1. I totally understand this feeling of dread. Recently while on the island of Zanzibar, we stayed at a place that had no electricity whatsoever. We didn't have to hope the fan stayed on....because there was none. We were at the beach, but none of that blessed ocean breeze was reaching us, and definitely not under the mosquito net. We absolutely dreaded going to bed each night, as we knew we were in for a sweaty, sleepless, insufferable night!

  2. Yeah...not sure if it's better to have a fan that shuts off to break your heart, or to just know that there is will never be one!