sábado, 27 de abril de 2013

Electric Lebanon

I was blow-drying my hair the other day, rushing to get to work and asked my husband to plug the iron so I could retouch my shirt... I continued drying my hair and.... silence. The power went off. 
That is when I remembered that we were on "generator electricity" that morning, and I could not have 2 appliances on at once. With half wet hair, laughing and cursing, and a wrinkly shirt on, I had to go outside of my apartment, down half a floor and flip the generator switch back on (dangling from a cable that climbs from God knows where all the way up to where we live). I hear the sound of the blow-dryer at the distance. It worked.

Welcome to a normal morning in Beirut.

"Ma fi Kahraba"(there's no electricity) is one of the first sentences you learn in Arabic when you move to this city. You know that you need to know this in case you have to call your landlord to tell him/her that the generator is not working during the 3 hours of power cuts that you will experience every day. The generator not working is a very big deal, believe me. It means no Internet... and no AC, which in the summer is equal to a death sentence. 

Unfortunately, I found out only when I moved to the building that the generator only fed individual apartments and not the common areas. This means that when there are power cuts... the elevator doesn't work. Bummer when you live on the upper floors. So my husband and I have the handy (and free!) "Beirut Electricity" app in our phones, which tells us when the electricity will be off in the coming days and we can plan accordingly. Trust me, when you go grocery shopping, you don't want to carry your bags up multiple flights of stairs.

What really cracks me up is when I am in an important meeting, with everyone debating heatedly, and the power goes out. When it comes back, all the people from outside Lebanon have a puzzled, and sometimes scared " what's going on?" look on their face. And then you act like this is normal and continue with the meeting. 

Therefore, we are all condemned to pay extra (lots extra) to have electricity 24/7- or more like 23.75/7, as there is always a delay when the electricity switches from source. My Lebanese friend even has another generator for this gap, but that's another story. 

I thought this electricity issue added "character" to life in Beirut until I read an article that brought to my attention the environmental and health hazards that this problem brings. Turns out that these diesel-run generators release carcinogenic particles in the air we all breath, and residents are highly and directly exposed to them when the generators are on. And the fact that generators are not necessarily new, or well maintained, aggravates the problem. Just imagine having the generator blowing carcinogenic stuff into your balcony every day?? Not an encouraging thought.

So generators are a quick fix to a broader electricity problem in the country, but now it turns out that it is also having a direct negative impact on our health. When will this issue be fixed? With the current state of affairs in the country and the region, I think we'll all keep involuntarily inhaling bad stuff, planning our grocery time and turning off appliances for a while.

PS: Thank you to M.M for sending me this article.

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