I got an email the other day from a friend of mine living in Syria. He talked a little bit about his life and how things are going and whatnot. Then he said that the power now regularly goes out for about six hours a day, which makes everyone feel a lot less safe. Not because it’s dark, but because it’s a sign things are falling apart.
That reminded me of my first patrol in Iraq. We went out to the streets of Baquba (a small city) in the early evening when there was still plenty of summer sun. We talked to a couple different families as the sun set and it moved toward dusk. The last family we interviewed even invited us in and insisted we have tea with them. As it got dark, they turned on the lights in their courtyard so we could see each other and what we were writing in our notebooks. I had literally just been asking them about the state of the public services and works (roads, water, electricity), when without warning, all the lights went out across the entire neighborhood.
The family just laughed and said the electricity wasn’t great, though had been better under Saddam. And not unlike Syria, Baquba was not the safest place to be–it still makes the news occasionally because of bombings and attacks. To be fair, some of the problem may have been that everyone did a of “borrowing” of electricity with complicated DIY (and slightly illegal) cables attached onto the main power lines. They took it all in stride, but I found trying to balance a flashlight in your teeth to take notes is tougher than it looks.
Afghanistan could vary. In cities, especially in Kabul, the night sky is lit up like a city anywhere. Being an elictrution was not bad business, judging by the fancy location of his office. If he could just figure out what it meant…
In the rural areas, I think they rigged the one or two cars in a village to charge their cell phones because there wasn’t much at all in the way of electricity. There were surprisingly modern touches here and there, though, as some areas went “green” and used solar power.This one just happens to be one of those really high-tech, invisible solar panels. They’re so advanced, you can put your hand right through them and not feel a thing! Amazing! Hmm, well, someone was undoubtedly using solar power, if not for the public welfare. I have a sneaking suspicion this is another instance of my tax dollars at work.
Speaking of electricity, I’ll end with a joke that I heard when I lived in Syria (not from the same friend mentioned above):
An international committee was doing a survey of people’s opinions about their electricity being cut off. So first they went to an American and asked, “What is your opinion about your electricity being cut?” He replied, “What does ‘electricity being cut’ mean?”
Next they went to a Chinese man and asked, “What is your opinion about your electricity being cut?” He replied, “What does ‘electricity’ mean?”
Finally they went to a Syrian man and asked, “What is your opinion about your electricity being cut?” He replied, “What does ‘my opinion’ mean?”