Power—electric energy—came to Gigante in 2000, Juan said last night. How often does the power go out now, I asked. De vez en cuando. Once in awhile.
Updates in the midst of a blackout:
The power went out at 2 this afternoon, and I spent the hour of my afternoon class slightly irked because the fans didn’t work, thus rendering me a drippy mess. It’s gone out before but usually comes back on within half an hour. However, it is now dark and we are without power. I arrived back from my evening run to find that the power situation had not worked itself out. I took a dusk shower in a dark bathroom before several students from my 6 o’clock class came. We had an abridged class before I sent them home 20 minutes later because dusk was passing into night and well, it’s hard to have language class in the dark.
Apart from the obvious lack of lights that makes the night very dark, the real problem is that we are now sans fans. The ceiling fans in the main room and the fans in our bedroom serve two purposes: to cool and keep away mosquitoes. Without fans, the sweaty, sticky uncomfortable factor has increased times several million. Without lights, life slows down and night’s normally peacefully cool darkness looms in obscure thickness. In the dark, scorpions lurk around every corner. On electric nights, I open the door to a room, switch on the light, and enjoy a full and thorough eye-sweep around the room (creature check) before I enter. On this non-electric evening, corners are infested with spiders and scorpions that I can’t see. I turn on the sink in the bathroom to brush my teeth with trepidation, wondering what lies below the faucet.
If the pace of life here is slow anyway, life really slows down when there’s no power. In conventional language, I did nothing last night. Darkness falls and you light a few candles, but there’s nothing else to do. Somehow, though, time passes.
Night without lights is part adventure, part boredom. After a very odd dinner of eating food that I couldn’t see, we retired outside where there was an occasional breeze and a force field of mosquitoes. Luckily, an almost full moon emerged from behind a tree, lighting up the grounds of little Hotel Brio nestled in the forest. I do believe I stared at the moon for close to four hours. I got a neck-crick from staring at the moon for so long. It emerged from behind a silhouetted tree to my left. It hovered above the tree for sometime. The clouds hovered around it. Clouds reflected the moon nicely but blocked what could have been an amazing star gazing night. I slapped at a mosquito. Watched the luciérnagas sparkle over the hill. With no other light to look at except the fireflies, it seemed like I had my eyes pressed closed and was seeing stars. I looked at the horizon, the ocean expanse somewhere out there in the darkness. For some reason, all of our chairs pointed at this ocean-bound horizon, although it looked no different than any other direction, any other dark horizon, in this moon-lit darkness.
I’m startled to see how far the moon has journeyed from the edge of the tree. Three inches, I estimate. (Three inches, my perspective from waaay down here on Earth says, while the earth rotates on it’s giant axis much more than three inches.) Mosquitoes swarm. Silence is punctuated every ten minutes or so when someone says, ‘ay zancudos’ and slaps at their skin. I sit. I think (about what? huh. who knows now). I get a liter of beer from the beer fridge, crack off the metal cap using a bottle opener and muscle memory rather than sight. It’s 8 p.m., hot, dark—if this occasion doesn’t call for a liter, I don’t know what does. I show Zach, Rob’s kid, a magic card trick. He doesn’t get it, or doesn’t like it. Every breeze is cause for a mini-celebration (wooo evaporation, I cheer inside my head). The moon is higher still. Its light breaks through the cloud cover. There is the bright sphere and then a circle of fading light around it. I stare at it long enough that it seems to bounce and bob in its little circle of light. (Although, the liter is now a half-liter, perhaps this is why.) I catch a mosquito trying to bite my arm. It already has. The moon keeps moving, slowly slowly. (The earth keeps moving, slowly slowly.)
I realized something several days ago. My dad bought me a new headlamp the night before I left, as I had lost mine in the shuffle of moving and unpacking. Thrilled, I ripped open the package and put it into my already packed backpack. A headlamp is a good thing to have here, walking back and forth from my room through debris-strewn darkness, down a steep hill into my room, and living in a town that is accustomed to rolling blackouts. I, incidentally, have a headlamp. It doesn’t turn on, you see, because I forgot to bring batteries. In my haste to pack it, I did not actually notice that the reason it weighed so little was because it’s empty. My flashlight-less existence hasn’t been a problem so far. Last night, though, I was less than pleased with myself, especially in the aforementioned bathroom scene, as I groped around convinced that every move would cause me a great deal of pain and face paralysis. Face paralysis is a new fear, as Rob chose last night to tell the story about when he got stung by a scorpion. He said it felt like a bee sting and went away after about an hour. Not bad, huh? He continued. His friend got stung later, and his face became paralyzed for the better part of an hour. Knowing my body and its propensity to swell to unusual sizes after even a bee sting, the later shall be me.
It’s morning now. We’re 20 hours into life without power. I was mildly worried about all the groceries in the freezer and fridge, and mentioned this to Rob just a moment ago. He doesn’t seem too worried, and also, there’s not a thing we can do about it. The kitchen has a gas stove, so we can still use that to cook, and Jackie somehow managed to make coffee this morning. (Coffee is so much better when you wake up thinking in dismay that no power equals no coffee. Those crafty Nicaraguans!) But even with coffee, life is greatly reduced in its amenities. Namely the fans.
I miss those good ol’ fans. This is tropical living, to be sure. The air is stagnant, humid. I had been slowly adjusting to heat and humidity but it’s a whole different situation when the hot and humid air doesn’t move, when it sits on you like a ton of bricks. I feel sweat-soggy, and just soggy in general. What an odd attachment to electricity I have. I’m not lacking for anything. We have food, water, beds, a view of the ocean, even coffee. Fans, internet, the ability to charge my computer—this is the only thing I could use. Nothing essential. The word ‘blackout’ is sort of silly during the day, as the ocean shimmers just as it always does in the distance, and the bright sun beats down upon us as it always does. It’s not black out at all. Without fans, the breeze takes on unusual significance. I plan my day, my English classes, around the breeze. I stop everything when it comes, enjoy its dry cooling power, and dismay when it slows down. I stop for the breeze and watch four or five, no definitely five, ants tackle a leaf, move it across blue tile. They’ve got a long way to go. They stop. Management problems, disgruntled ant workers. Maybe a strike. They start up again; they swerve, as they try to figure out where they’re supposed to be going. One ant leaves the leaf and darts out in front, to see what lies ahead, and then returns back to the group, perhaps to tell them all that he has seen. What lies ahead? A sea of blue tile. My feet.
It’s two in the afternoon and we’ve arrived at twenty-four hours without power. I went for a walk around town and a swim in the ocean in an attempt to cool off. I feel like an overheated car. My ears surely must be shooting out steam. I wondered, though, as I walked throughout Gigante, how many of the houses have electricity under the best of circumstances. It hasn’t even been a decade since power arrived. Most cook over a fire or in a wood-burning stove. Many get their water from a central well in the middle of town. How interesting to live so that a power outage doesn’t affect you. Modern society shuts down during blackouts, but little Gigante limps along as usual—nothing looked remotely out of place on my stroll around town. Ladies hang laundry to dry; children run around; the little pigs wander in my path. The men go out to fish as they do everyday.
Brio is quieter than usual, today is a lull before it fills up tomorrow with more guests. Only two volunteers left, me and Adam. I suppose this is a preview of how September will be, as it is officially the off-season then, and I will become the sole volunteer living among the bunk beds.
A breeze shifts outside. I go grab it.