Sunday, June 17, 2012

Living without electricity

A friend from John Carroll asked me how I managed to get along without electricity.  When I came to Burkina Faso and realized that I might be in a place without electricity or running water, I decided to think of it as camping out for two years.  Actually I am much more comfortable than I would be if I were camping. 

Light for reading

The biggest challenge for me has been to have enough light to read by, because I read a good deal.  I study French, and read books in French (Harry Potter, books 1-7 and The Three Musketeers) as well as many books in English that I refer to as marshmallow fluff. By fluff, I mean things that don't take much effort to read, like mysteries and adventure stories. At the Peace Corps transit house in Ouaga there are several hundred (maybe several thousand) books, mostly paperbacks, that have been contributed by volunteers.  The book shelves are overflowing and volunteers are encouraged to take books back to their sites.  If all the volunteers returned the books they have borrowed I don’t think there would be space in the transit house living room for anything other than books.

Typical Burkinabè houses tend to be dim, even during the day. The windows are small and there is usually only one window per room, as you can see in this house under construction and the small house in the background.
 Luckily for me, my house was built to accommodate a more European life style. It has bigger windows than typical houses and big double doors that I can open because there are also double screen doors. Here is Jesse coming through them when he was here at Christmas.
 During the day, when the sun is shining, I can easily read by the light that comes through the windows and doors. You can see how light it is at my table in this picture of Jay and Annie enjoying mangos during that same Christmas visit.
In an earlier blog I showed you a picture of my rechargeable 12 volt battery and a fluorescent light bar that I used to read by.   In this picture you can see the battery on the floor and the light over the table where I eat and read.
 After I had three of these light bars short circuit and burn out from bugs getting into the baffle, I decided to try a different kind of light that many people here use. I put two of them on a piece of wood that I can lower or raise like a chandelier.  Until recently they have been my source of light to read by at night. 
 A couple of weeks ago I discovered an even better source of light, that you see above, hanging between the two 15 watt fluorescent lights. This terrific little light uses LEDs that draw a lot less power from the battery, and the light is just as good as the light from the two 15 watt lights.

What do the local folks use?

There are a number ways people get light at night.  In most courtyards there is a cooking fire, and that may be enough light to see by for cooking and eating, but certainly not enough to read by! The most typical types of lights people use are battery powered flashlights and lanterns. These are typical of the kinds of lanterns Burkinabè use.

My neighbor, Prosper, charges my battery with this solar panel.

Burkinabè who earn enough to buy a solar panel have a battery, usually a lot bigger than the one I use.  From the battery they may power fluorescent lights like the ones I used to use, radios, stereos and even TVs..  Here is the big battery Prosper uses, and my little one, getting charged. You can also see his "boom box" charging, and his TV is under the white cover to keep the dust off.

My light sources for things other than reading.

These cute little lamps came with Janet and family last year and are good for giving general light to a room.  I find them hard to read by because the light shines in my eyes.

These odd looking solar rechargeable "light bulbs," were sent to me from the USA. Here they are in my kitchen, but I have strings hanging down in the shower stall and in my "office" where I use my computer and I hang them where ever I need them at night.
 This is a solar chargeable reading lamp which gives a good deal of light to read by.  I would use it if I did not have the battery arrangement.  Along with the light bulbs (above) they are an opportunity waiting to happen.  There would be a huge demand for them in rural areas like where I live, if somebody could just figure out the logistics of importing them and distributing them.

I love this solar chargeable flashlight that was a gift from the parents of one of the volunteers who stopped to visit me while they were touring the country.
If the battery runs out of juice in the evening, I may resort to these head lamp flash lights that give a bright, focused light.  The problem with them is that they attract bugs that tend to land on my face.

A natural source of light at night

It's surprising how much you can see by moonlight.  For a week or so before the full moon you really can see where you are going outside by the light of the moon.  I think I have already told you that one night, shortly after I arrived at my site, I looked out the window and wondered where the street lights were.  After a second I realized there could not possibly be street lights by my house because there is no electricity in my neighborhood. I went outside and realized that what I was seeing was moonlight.  I guess I never realized how much light the moon really give shen it is full. When the moon starts to wane, it still provides a lot of light, of course, but the moon rises later and later each night so a couple of days after the full moon it really isn’t much help when you need it most.

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