Saturday, January 22, 2022


 47.Power-Hungry (22 January 2022)

The supplemental power breaker box, with our thrown
circuit-breaker, identified as "Père Nichan".
(15 Jan. 2022 - Khalil Badawi)

Recently a friend from Armenia visited us at our home. We explained to him our happiness at finally arranging for “ishtirak”, which is a membership one gets from the neighborhood electrical generator owners, in order to fill in the 20+ hour gap in government electricity each day. “So now we have three sources of electricity: EDL (“official” power), the building generator (four hours a day most days), and “ishtirak” (except for 6 hours a night and two one-hour breaks during the day). He looked at me a bit incredulously and said, “So you’re saying that you have three different sources of power, but it still doesn’t add up to 24-hours of electricity!”

            I guess I never thought of it that way…

The long, long line, and the long, long trip
down to the breaker box, just beyond
that car... (18 Jan. 2022 - Geitawi-Beirut)

            While refugees are freezing under tents in the coldest parts of the country or asphyxiating from burning coal (or even plastic) indoors, the average Lebanese citizens themselves are not much better off than slabs of beef hanging in a meat locker – and who can afford meat these days? Meanwhile, the “leaders”, having given themselves an open-ended break from governing, beginning last October, are still dreamily wondering whether to resume meeting in order to rescue their ruined country. They are in no rush to do so, since the body being vivisected still has saleable parts. And each one of them lives under the illusion or delusion of being comfortably on the moral high ground. So many textbook examples of the term “power-hungry” in these parts, ranging from those internationally famous and respected on the world stage, all the way down to the mafia-esque generator operators one or two streets over.

My current office - anywhere I can be near a heater.
(22 Jan. 2021 - Geitawi-Beirut)

            Yet you can find many unsung people who behave in an opposite manner, and act humanly, sharing things they could be selling to generate some income. A man who over the summer had stockpiled firewood for his village home, though currently seeking a job, decided he had enough wood to warm his house this winter, and so he started giving the excess firewood to needy families so they could stay warm. These are the people, the meek, who are the true inheritors of the land (cf. Matt. 5.5).

            The people of Lebanon have been left power hungry, in a different sense than what we usually mean. That which they need to live, to work, to learn, to take trips, to refresh, all of that which is dependent on adequate, consistent and affordable electric power is being denied them. They do not desire to control others, to bleed them dry. They just wish to live some semblance of a normal life. So what can they do? Shiver in silence, or pay a neighborhood supplier for a bit of supplementary power.

A beautiful winter sky, and a break
from the cold, stormy days.
(18 Jan. 2022 - Geitawi-Beirut)

            Now that we are in that group, we have a completely new set of electricity-usage protocols to adopt, something I call the “Ishtirak Follies”. When the supplementary electric line gets connected to your home, you can’t just go on with “business as usual”. You have to learn what you can use, and when. You have to prioritize what is required and what is optional. Heater? A primary need. Lights? Don’t overdo it, one or two is enough. Refrigerator? If it’s a newer model that draws less current, OK. TV? Possibly, but it also needs to be an energy-saving model. Water pump? Turns on automatically when the spigot is opened, and without it the water flows trickle by trickle, so yes. WiFi router? Can’t get any work done without it, so make sure there’s battery power connected to it for when the power type switches from one to the other. Computers? Keep the laptops charged when there’s “real” current, and keep an ear out for the desktop’s UPS doing excessive click-clicking like a Geiger counter – that’s your early-warning system telling you to switch off some appliances. Hot water tank? That’s a borderline need, so turn it on when there’s EDL or building generator power. Microwave? Forget about it. Electric kettle? If it has “electric” in the name, cross it off your list. HVAC units? Decide which room you want to heat and don’t turn it on; use the hot oil radiator instead (on low power), and don’t even think about how you’re going to manage in the summer heat. Clothes washer? Change into some clean clothes and wait for a couple hours of regular electricity. Vacuum cleaner? Ironing? HAHA very funny.

            “Trial & Error” is the name of the game you play in Ishtirak Follies before arriving at the esoteric knowledge of what is approved and what is taboo. If the circuit breaker (“disjoncteur” in the Lebanese dialect) is right outside your home, consider yourself lucky. Pop out the front door, walk over to the box, switch it back on, and you’re done. In our case, when an overload happens, it means you flip off whatever was on, go down 6 floors, walk to the end of the back street, walk back up 6 floors (since the building’s electricity – and thus the elevator – is off the majority of the time), and then you can enjoy your light and heater!

            Here’s a real-life example of how we’re playing Trial & Error in the Ishtirak Follies:

·      Forgetting for a moment to ask yourself “What kind of electricity are we on”, you flip the switch on the electric kettle and everything goes dark. Go down 6 floors, go to the end of the street, find the switch for your apartment and turn it back on, go back and up. You say: “Let’s keep the kettle unplugged so we don’t forget next time.”

·      Heating up some leftovers in the microwave oven, forgetting to ask that same question. “Click”, everything’s off. Down 6 floors, take a walk, click on, walk back, climb 6 floors.

·      “I wonder, can I check our electricity amperage with this meter?” Pop. Go down, go over, flip it on, come back, climb up.

At last, my favorite liver kebab place is back
in operation! (18 Jan. 2022 - Geitawi-Beirut)

·      Electricity switches off at an odd time during daylight, so I can’t see from the balcony if others’ “ishtirak” is working. Down 6 floors, out to the box. Hmm, it’s still on. I guess the motor must be on its lunch break.

·      Two space heaters are on low power, the hot water tank is switched on, the toilet flushes, the water pump engages, and... Click! Down you go.

·      “I’ll leave the space heater on to keep things warm while I run up the street and get a falafel sandwich.” Entering the apartment with my lunch, all is dark… Oops, I left the heater on high power, I forgot to switch off the hot water tank, and the leaky toilet probably started up the water pump, sending the “ishtirak” over the edge. I decide to eat my falafel in the dark, then take my exercise trip down to the “disjoncteur”.

·      And in those brief times when the electricity comes on, we play a different game: “Kahraba (electric company) Follies”, running around and turning on the equipment that requires full power, like the washing machine, the hot water tank, heating in more than one room, etc. See above list for details.

LebCat 47: Just enjoying the warmth. It's
free, so far. (11 Jan. 2022 - Mar Mikhael)

            The reason we are able to play these follies is because God has given us health and strength, and also because we are not directly at the mercy of the train wreck of the economy, unlike what most people are. Supposedly by next month there will be pipelines functioning, bringing gas from Egypt to Jordan to Syria to Lebanon, and that will reportedly enable EDL to produce more electricity, bringing the daily total of power supplied to about 10 hours, hopefully, instead of 2 to 4.

            And while all of this goes on and on, there are still individuals and groups, here as well as in other countries, who wish only well to the Lebanese. Their material support has empowered dedicated teachers, social workers, religious leaders, shopkeepers, tradespeople and regular people with beating hearts and warm consciences to reach out and bring an atmosphere of caring to the peoples’ daily life. Because of them, in these days there are still smiles, greetings to passersby, caring words and the Lord’s presence all around. It may not solve the condition of Lebanon’s electrical grid, but it will certainly renew the power, and a bit of the hope, of many. I’m thankful to God that we can be a part of that power supply!   [LNB]