If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live and work–be an expat!–in a developing nation. Or, specifically, sub-Saharan Africa, or maybe even Ghana, then this is the post for you.
I was once able to sit and concentrate all day, without disruption. Now, even when I’m deeply engrossed in what I’m doing, I have no choice but to endure random disruptions and shift my attention to something else—that doesn’t require electricity, or internet, or water.
Indeed. I kept a two-week diary of living with power and water shortages. I hope this gives a sense of what life in Ghana is really like. Funny, though. I remember, with a wry smile, a comment I made within my first two weeks of arriving in 2005 and the power cut again. I lost all the work I was doing at the time and said something like: “I can’t work like this!”, out loud, surrounded by seasoned volunteers and Ghanaians who live like this their entire lives. Yes, I was that girl.
Fast forward: 4 years later.
Fri 13th Nov
10.56 a.m. Power cut. I was saving in Word as I wrote. This is now automatic. I ctrl+S after almost every sentence. What to do now? OK, I’ll mind-map out a new project on paper until the power comes back. At least the water is still running.
11.13 a.m. Power returns. Not bad, just annoying. Cleaned dirty stove-top instead of mind-mapping so not an entire waste of time. Opened Word doc. Good. All saved.
1.21 p.m. Bloody power cut again. Time to make sweet potato salad with Khmer style dressing. (I’ll often work through lunch if there’s power, even if I miss lunch. I’ll eat crackers or bananas because you never know when it’s going to cut.)
1.49 p.m. Power back. Good timing. Called town. It was cut across the whole region. Mind mapped project and had lunch too.
Mon 16th Nov
1.31 p.m. Bloody power cut again. It’s called “lights out” in Ghana.
1.55 p.m. Power back. Not bad. What is it with 20 minute cuts? Have to restart all over.
Wed 18th Nov
10.10 a..m. Power cut in middle and didn’t save. Returns 30 seconds later. Bloody hell. Need to reboot.
10.20 a.m. Opened Word. Lost last hour of work. Walked out front of house. Truck ran over water pipe on Monday and its still gushing water today. Called Ghana Water Company repeatedly but they don’t seem to mind losing precious water for days on end.
6.29 p.m. Lights return. Yay. Can cook dinner now.
9 a.m. Just realised water has been cut off. Pipe out front fixed now though. Like living in a parallel universe. Use tank water for now. At least we have power.
10.05 a.m. Just as I reach to plug the stabilizer into the socket and start work, the power cuts. *Stream of expletives* Still no water. Continue mind-mapping new project. Make separate mind-maps of each branch of the main map. Nice and quiet, except for the Guinea Fowls squawking like World War III just broke out.
10.34 a.m. Power returns (we always leave one light on to know). Becoming ADHD. Start computer work.
10.55 a.m. Go to wash hands. Water back!
Day of Barcelona game. Godwin excited
7.06 a.m. Lights out again. Godwin starts cursing and worrying about missing game. I curse missing working time.
8.30 a.m. Power returns. Great. Start work.
12.02 p.m. Power cuts again. Oh boy. Godwin sounding like angry Guinea Fowls. He loves watching Amanpour on CNN at noon—one of the few foreign programmes we get each day via Metro TV. I empathise; I just want to finish my work. Eat lunch. Start working on writing out content for new project on paper. This is how I generate my best ideas anyway, so it’s ok.
1.00 p.m. Still no power.
2.00 p.m. Still no power. Godwin calls town. None there either.
3.00 p.m. Officially Dark Ages
4.00 p.m. Still living in Dark Ages
4.45 p.m. Back in the 21st Century.
Watch game! Barca wins!
9.00 p.m. No water. Great. No flushing until morning.
7.08 a.m. Power cut. What’s new. Eat breakfast in quiet.
7.45 a.m. Power returns. Yay. Stays all day. Get work done.
Tues 2nd December
Noon. Power cut. Seems to be a pattern of Tuesday cuts. Draw some new designs by hand.
3.04 p.m. Power back. Managed to get some designs done. Now to write.
Yesterday evening. 5 p.m.
Power cuts. Godwin stands up with hands on head and walks outside cursing. He returns. He looks like he’s about to cry. I’m about to cry. We’re missing the World Cup presentation.
5.05 p.m. Power returns. Phew. Ohh.
One hour later. Ghana and Australia are in the same group! Why?! And Ghana faces Serbia in their opening match, Ghana’s national coach’s home country and the one nation he expressly said he did not want to face. The “powers that be” certainly have an odd sense of humour.
Believe it or not, this was a fairly reasonable couple of weeks. We were having cuts daily or every second day for a while. In 2007 it was for 12/24/36 hours on end, every second day.
Anyway, that’s a snap-shot of the reality of living without a reliable electricity or water supply as an expat in Ghana. Add to all this, almost every time I go to the internet café the internet connection cuts in the middle of work. The power may cut too. Sometimes I lose everything.(As I paste and check this online now in the cafe I’m getting the message: Could not contact Blogger.com. Saving and publishing may fail. Retrying…and so it goes. I hope we’re still connected when I press publish. Oh it’s back!)
The worst aspect is that it’s very hard to meet deadlines when you lose chunks of precious time. If a deadline is a Friday, you always plan to finish by Thursday because there is no way you can plan on having power or an internet connection on the deadline day—it’s too unpredictable for that.
The worst is when you’ve built up anticipation to do something, and were looking forward to getting stuck into it, and then suddenly you simply cannot do it. You just have to do something else. That becomes very frustrating. If you ever wondered where that look of defeated resignation that Ghanaians sometimes get comes from, I believe this may have something to do with it.
It’s forced me to become creative. I have learnt to write anytime, day or night, anywhere—especially on trotros, in anything—computer, paper, my hand. When you have no choice but to write “when the writing’s good”, then you just do it. I don’t need to be at a comfortable desk with a view. I don’t need a chair. I don’t need to wait for inspiration. I don’t even need air-con when the temperature hits 40. I don’t even need a fan. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you have no choice and it’s just you, your determination and your imagination.
I make sure I’m working on several projects at once, in different stages of completion. I make one low priority and default to it when the power goes out. If I’m writing something, I’ll have printed drafts and use the power cut to edit on paper. So all’s not lost. It just means that you have less control over things. For someone who was once a major control freak, this is good; I have no choice but to go with the flow—or lack of!