Saturday, July 23, 2011

Life With Power Cuts

We are extremely fortunate: for whatever reason – and I've heard several ranging from our proximity to the airport to our being 'on the same loop' as the wind turbines, to our community's being too small – we have suffered no power cuts. The lights went out briefly on the day of the explosion and again for half an hour the following Thursday, but other than that we have had constant power, unlike most other residents of Cyprus. Best Beloved is fortunate, too. His home/office lies between the American and Russian and close to the Egyptian embassy, and he has not had any cuts, either.

But most of the rest of Cyprus is without power for at least one (and sometimes two or three) two-hour periods every day. And in the current temperatures and humidity levels, that can be terribly uncomfortable – or merely inconvenient... depending on how you live.

When I was first here, in 1990, many more of the houses were old – with massive walls and relatively little glass. Lots of the small businesses relied on balance scales, and May saw the start of 'summer hours' that lasted until October. Shops and offices opened seven 'til one every day, and again from four p.m. until seven. People worked around their environment, and yes, the summer heat and humidity could be taxing, and the pace of life was slow.

Modernisation brought architecture that paid no heed to local conditions: concrete and glass structures that became greenhouses the moment the sun hit at eight in the morning until well after dark, it brought a dependence on electronic stock control and cash machines, and it brought no standardisation of hours. Businesses opened when they wanted, worked through 'siesta time' and closed at five or six thanks to the miracle of air-conditioning. And home computers and limitless t.v. opportunities mean that, instead of socialising with neighbours, adults and children were more likely to spend longer indoors glued to a GoggleBox of one kind or another.

The explosion on July 11 turned all of that on its head. Even if we did lose power along with everyone else, it would not inconvenience us much. We built our house of mud-brick and shaded all the windows with roof overhangs. Although fans help keep it cool, without them inside temperatures are a long way from unbearable. The fridge and freezer would be our vulnerable points, and we would have to plan meals around hours when we could use the oven (the unpredicatbility of the cuts are one of the things which make them maddening for those enduring them – so many friends have said 'I'd just got the pizza ready and the power went off!' or 'The joint was halfway through cooking, and we had no electricity for the next three hours...'). Other than that the loss of the computers and DVD player would be the worst that we would face, and then I would just have to put my Mommy Creativity hat on... or head for the beach.

Others are not so lucky. For people with compromised health, for the elderly, for families in small apartments dependent on airconditioning, the lack of power is more than a mild inconvenience. For office and shop workers in fancy new buildings, the working day becomes untenable. For businesses as small as our local health food shop or as large as the Paphos Mall, stock control has become massively more complicated: everything must be written by hand and entered into the computers later. Banks close during the cuts – and the employees congregate outside in the shade. Petrol stations shut down. Mili and I took Lucky to be spayed, and fortunately the vet's operating theatre had big windows – when the power went out, he just went on snipping and stitching. Hospitals, of course, have back-up generators... but they are not sufficient to run the aircon in non-vital areas, and when I went for an appointment the other day, doctors, nurses, receptionists, and patients alike worked or sat, limp-clothed and sweaty, sighing and fanning themselves with whatever came to hand.

I think that no-one realised how absolutely dependent we are on an uninterrupted supply of electricity to make modern life in this climate bearable, and to sustain the pace that we have gradually assumed to 'keep up with' the rest of Europe, and to live 'in the style to which we have become accustomed'.

On a brighter note, a friend in another town reports a surge in community feeling. 'No longer do we sit inside, cut off from our neighbours,' she said. 'People come out at dusk. The barbeques are fired up, neighbours gather for a beer together, children play in the street...' If every cloud has a silver lining, this must be it – a sense that people, neighbours, family, friends, are in this together – and for the long haul (the Electricity Authority, although it has been buying power from the North, and has borrowed emergency generators from good neighbours Greece and Israel, but is predicting that this situation could last for at least six months until the generators at Vassiliko are fixed and running again). Maybe it will also raise the awareness of the need for more environmentally suitable architecture for both home and work environments... We'll just have to see.

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