February 3, 2008

How Eskom Stole My Saturday Night

One of my new found Jo’burg friends planned a big evening out for Saturday night – dinner and dancing at the Monte Casino, full on Vegas style. She wanted to introduce me to Jo’burg nightlife, have me meet all of her friends, and essentially show me – the new foreign girl – a good time in her city. Obviously, I was looking forward to the evening, especially as my new friend had gone to so much effort.

Eskom is South Africa’s electricity provider. These days, they are also Public Enemy #1. On the lips of every radio talk show host, newspaper editor, businessperson, taxi driver, or street vendor are words of venom toward Eskom as the load shedding continues to disrupt everyone’s lives. The salt in the wound is that Ekom (and the government) knew ten years ago that this power shortage would come, but no one chose to do anything about it.

Initially, I only listened to everyone’s Eskom horror stories, but did not join in the bashing. Load shedding is something I’m familiar with from India, so I didn’t think it was unbearable. UNTIL Saturday night.

On Saturday I learned that the security gates to get in and out of the property where I’m staying are powered by electricity. And lucky for me, the power went just as I tried to leave the house for the big night out.

[ For all who know me, this will be a classic sight: Four-inch platform heels, layers of non-waterproof mascara, recently straightened hair + pouring rain, complete darkness, and manual labor. ]

The only way to get in and out of my place without electricity was to manually open the gates. In order to do so, one has to unlock the padlocks on the heavy iron arms that lock the gate. Then one has to lift the iron arms, move them to the side, then one can physically pull open the massive gates. At first I was quite proud of myself because I figured it all out. But then, as soon as I shut the gates, I learned that one can manually open the gates to get out, but cannot manually open the gates to get back in….

Let’s just say I never made it to Monte Casino.

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