Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | October 31, 2011

Taken for Granted

Last week we had a power outage after a thunder storm.  For some reason, our block was out of power for about six hours.  I reacted in typical fashion by having a little meltdown.  It was a private meltdown, I didn’t inflict my irritation on anyone else, aside from an irritable phone call to my husband and some cranky texts venting to my mother.  But privately, I ranted and raved about the lack of electricity.  How would I flat iron my hair in order to head out and do what I needed to do for the day?  More importantly, it occurred to me, how was I going to make my morning coffee??   A morning without coffee?  GASP.  I paced the house.  I couldn’t log on to check my email (ok so I got it on my phone but that’s not the point), couldn’t check the blog, couldn’t do any of my ULC work, couldn’t check the status of the library book I had ordered and hoped to pick up that day.  My whole morning was a mess.  I was beside myself.  For Pete’s sake.  So I sat down to read, begrudgingly, a little restless as I looked up every few minutes to see if there were workers on the street.  Finally, I heard the power company’s truck outside and peeked out the window.  Sure enough, they were working on the lines.  It took them a good hour once they got started, but six hours into it, the power came back on and all was good as new.  Back to normal.

As I was trying to think of some new ideas for the blog, it occurred to me how different my existence is to the people in Haiti and I had horrible pangs of guilt for having been so irritated at the power outage.  (I should probably admit now that I exaggerated my irritability in the paragraph above for the sake of a more dramatic post.)  I went for six hours with no electricity and painfully felt the clock tick by for every single micro second of it (ok maybe I’m still exaggerating).  Haitians, on the other hand, if they’re connected to the national grid, may have up to ten hours a day on a good day.  Unfortunately, only about 12% of people have that access.  Some access the grid through unofficial means, meaning they tap in, but have spotty success at best.  The people in Pilate and Ouanaminthe generally do not get anywhere near 10 hours of electricity per day, and average three or four hours a day.  Haitians with means use diesel generators, but diesel like any fuel is outrageously expensive and hard to come by.

Official and unofficial access to the grid

Thinking about how stark the difference is between life here in the U.S. and life in Haiti is sombering.  Sometimes I get frustrated by not being able to get progress reports via email from our library staff , or not being able to email them attachments with material for enrichment programs.  When we sent the 25,000 books last fall and a document was lost in the process, it was irritating to me that I couldn’t simply fax another copy.  But these irritations of mine are so minor when compared to what Haitians go through in their daily lives.  Imagine, those of you who are not Haitian or did not grow up in Haiti, the darkness imposed from not having lights in your house for lack of electricity.  How do you read before bed or play a game with your children in the dark?  Imagine not having a refrigerator because you don’t have the power to run it.  Where do you keep food safe from spoiling?  Imagine not having the ability to charge your cell phone, even though you are lucky enough to have a cell phone which are more common than land lines.  How do you charge your phone regularly in order to actually use it?

The point is, you don’t.  You don’t do much more than sit together in the dark telling stories after sunset.  You don’t keep food that needs to be refrigerated, making canned evaporated milk more common than fresh milk and making leftovers unheard of.  You don’t charge your phone nightly but rather you connect briefly when the electricity is on or when someone has a generator running, and you hope you can charge long enough to make those important phone calls to far away family.  When you live without, you simply do without. If it’s not available, it’s simply not available.  So you go on with life not realizing that somewhere out there is a spoiled woman in the U.S. complaining because she can’t access her email or check Facebook for six hours.



  1. good one!! (lucky you didn’t live in Frisco after Hurricane Isabelle – out of power for 6 days – I was irritated & realized how spoiled we all are)

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