Sixth in a series from my work in progress.
On Monday, May 18th 2009, at approximately 3 p.m., we got our electricity back. We had been without for 10 months. Its retrieval played out in true Mexican fashion with false starts, missed appointments and much patience.
Though we did not have to bribe anyone per se, we did have to find someone from the electric company who was willing to hook it up on the sly while making it possible for us to be billed. So apparently there is a network of people in the company who provide this service for which we paid $100. Personally, I am grateful to them for making electric service available to us and not requiring us to install several $1,000 regulation electric poles. I was happy to pay him.
On the day it occurred, Felipe left to meet the electrician and told me to listen for his call from the top of the ridge and make a really happy noise if we had power. I tend to wait on any act of expectation because more often than not things do not work out as planned, but in this case I took an enormous leaf of faith and set up the stereo. I placed the speakers in the window facing the direction of Felipe’s location, and went back to work.
Suddenly there was static, obviously electrical and the washing machine began to fill! I froze. A surge of joy, which felt coincidently similar to electricity, ran through me. I ran to turn off the washer and put in a CD. I chose “Love is my Religion,” be Ziggy Marley. I blasted it up the mountain, certain that Felipe and likely all of our rancho would hear it.
I ran around the house checking all of the switches and pulling the non-food items out of the refrigerator. It had become a shelving unit in the interim and housed my wrapping paper, plastic bags and candle making equipment. I plugged it in, turned it on and made ice! It was thrilling. I smelled electrical burn, horrified it might be mouse damage to my refrigerator, I looked frantically for its source. My kitchen light fixture was spewing ants. Likely it was the colony I had abolished from my iron the week before; they had occupied most of my nonfunctional electrical gadgets during our blackout. I battled them with raid and the fly swatter until the smell subsided. I excitedly awaited Felipe’s return, of course there were big hugs and kisses and giggling, we actually jumped up and down.
“We’re studs!” I said. He nodded, grinning.
Though I know people all over the world live without electricity, it had never been my intent to live so rustically. It felt like an accomplishment. It was hard. I felt strong and adaptable. Ten months is not forever, but it feels like a long time when you have none of the conveniences you are accustomed to.
We put in another CD. Felipe chose Buena Vista Social Club; he sang for a while and then just closed his eyes and listened. He brought cold beer which I elatedly put away. I was startled by the light every time I opened the door. That continued for several days, glee at the sight of the refrigerator light. We drank a beer and did not hurry to drink the next one as it would still be cold. It was in the 90’s and the knowledge of more cold beverage was pure contentment.
In an hour or so we went back to our daily activities. Felipe left the house and I was dying to do a load of laundry—Yes, dying to do laundry. I put in George Harrison and started to gather a load, but I found I could not work through the music. I had to sit down and listen. I turned the volume up and sang at the top of my lungs. I was enrapt, and when “My Sweet Lord” came on I started to sob, sing and sob.
I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed this connection to my culture, my language and the outside world. I felt reborn. I don’t recall what I listened to next, but it wasn’t long before I began to miss the songs of the birds and the insects, so I turned it off. That felt good too, not to have the desire to soundtrack life. I had imagined that I would listen to every CD I have, several hundred, in the first month. But after five days I was still listening with intent to just one or two a day.
It really has been fun, noticing and being thankful for all the things I can do again, like use my small appliances, or grind all of my masa to have enough for several meals and only have to clean the molino once. What a blessing it is to turn on a light to go to the bathroom at night making it much easier to watch for scorpions, and to read without using a headlamp which attracts bugs to one’s eyeballs. Cooking without a flashlight is a real boon as well. The electricity has proved a little idiosyncratic, such as you must turn off the refrigerator to listen to a CD because it turns off when the fridge kicks on. For a few days we had current everywhere—in the sink, the windows, the shower, we wore our shoes at all times and today it turns off if you close the fuse box. It is a work in progress, well worth the effort.
Felipe called his brother Julio shortly after we regained service. He had loaned us the money to have it restored. He said,
“Thank You, my wife is bien contento.” Julio said,
“Solo cuando se a probado lo amargo se llaga apreciar lo dulce de la miel.” Roughly, “Only when you’ve tasted bitterness can you know the sweetness of honey.” Well put Julio, and thanks again.
Two years later we are still without a contract with the electric company. We did encourage the man to install a meter for us; he said it wasn’t possible because we are too far away from town. The company comes periodically to disconnect grafters. Felipe calls our tech and he assures us we are protected and then he comes for mescal and a botanna at Felipe’s sister’s store, on us. I am sometimes concerned that one of our neighbors will turn us in—someone who was stealing service as well, was disconnected and is now disgruntled, but to date we are electrified. Our goal is to be fully solar-powered before we celebrate our 1oth year here.