I was disoriented all day. The power went out at 9 am Sunday morning and did not come back on until 7 pm. Alone in Kenya, a day without power by myself made me agitated. It is clear that I am dependent on power and technology; I think it is easier to enjoy being unplugged in my own home. As a stranger in a strange land it was hard for me to settle down. All I could think was; ‘when will the power return, and will it return before dark?’
I paced around inside my house today, inventing tasks, making up things to do to pass the time. Never open the refrigerator, or you will let the cold out. Time passes slowly when you are waiting for it to pass.
So I went to church. ‘Maybe the power will be back on when I return,’ I thought to myself. This was my first time attending a church service in Kenya, although I am regularly asked if I go to church on Sundays. I did not know what church I would be going to when I left my house at 10 am, as there are multiple services on campus in different buildings, and no information about where and when. I followed people and ended up at the Presbyterian Church. They were singing unknown contemporary hymns in Kiswahili when I arrived, and I joined in the step touching, whiter than white, out of place in every way. The service ended at 1 pm, much of it incomprehensible due to my inability to hear and understand from near the back of the church, where I hoped I wouldn’t be noticed. I learned to clap on 1 and 3, and to move in the same direction as everyone else when we sang hymns and stood and danced. The aisles were wide and the movement was calming. For a while I forgot I had no power, and enjoyed pretending I was part of the community. I became comfortable.
When I got home I still had no power, no laptop since mine won’t hold a charge for 15 minutes without being plugged in, and no direction for my day. I had things to do on the computer, and I couldn’t.
After cleaning the bathroom, the kitchen floor, and dusting 4 pairs of red-clay dust-covered shoes, I grabbed a dining room chair, some books, and I went outside and sat in my backyard and read about Russian theatre directors, Meyerhold and Vakhtangov, and prepared to teach this week for a few hours. Often, the big ibis in the yard was more interesting. I feel like I live in a personal zoo, and the birds in my zoo-yard always grab my attention. I felt like I was in Florida playing hooky, enjoying the 80 degree day and the exotic birds, but there was no ocean and I had no power and I was alone in Kenya.
‘Oh brave new world that has such ‘things’ in it.’ I charged my cell phone with the small portable solar panel my brother Daniel, the world traveler, gave me for Christmas. Seriously. I think I am pathetic.
By 4:00 I was lighting my gas stove with matches and boiling pasta for meals for the week. I boiled pasta for an hour. Still no power. I have lots of pasta.
I heated my leftover curried rice and safari-sausages, and read a few chapters of Book Five of Game of Thrones while I ate, watching my iPad fall to 28% and thinking ‘Stop. Don’t read more. Save the power you have. What if the power stays out all night?
Do you use power or save power? That’s a serious question.
My phone rang and I spoke with Peter Ajang from Dadaab. He was loud and excited, and I had trouble understanding him. He is fluent in at least four languages and mixes them energetically. He has applied for a movement pass that will allow him to leave the refugee camp next weekend to come and visit me at Kenyatta University. He has a good feeling.
His obstacles are so much greater than mine, and he is always full of joy. I worked with him for 5 days in 2011, and he is trying to come to Nairobi next weekend from the Dadaab Refugee Camp to see me. He is never powerless.
As we spoke, I saw the red light on my surge-protector power-strip illuminate.
Oh brave new world that has such PEOPLE in it.