The Power of One

It’s finally happened. The much desired, dreamed of, it-feels-like-this-day-will-never-come, inevitable luxury has arrived.

The Maranatha Health buildings are going to be connected to the newly built hydro-dam and we will have electricity for the first time. WOW.

I think I’m a little bit shocked. We have been waiting for so long that I think we had resigned to the idea it might never come. ‘Hope’ in Uganda is a dangerous thing. I think we have had over 30 conversations with the electricity company since April (when the President came out to officially commission and ‘open’ the dam) where they have fed us false fables of electricity just around the corner.   We have been promised everything under the sun – from connection within a few hours, a few days, a week, a month. Every week there is a new rumour in town, about a cousin’s, father’s, friend’s son, who lives near/works with/is related to someone from the company who is operating the hydrodam and knows the inside scoop. The latest I heard was that the dam ‘had a problem’ and ‘donors from out were coming to fix it’ in March.

But now it is happening. There are engineers driving around in trucks with wires and men walking around with legitimate looking blue overalls, and the Ferdsault office is open and has given us a lovely little certificate to say we are ready for connection.

Driving back to the site after paying our registration and connection fee yesterday, Andrew (the MH administrator) and myself were dreaming excitedly of all  the things we could now use/do/have once we are connected. For the first beautiful moment in months, we had allowed ourselves to hope:

  • Guaranteed lights at night rather than Kerosene lanterns
  • No more frustration at laptops running out of battery power at work or home
  • A toaster, so we can pretend that Kamwenge bread isn’t stale
  • An iron, so our clothes aren’t wrinkled  (I could never bring myself to use a charcoal iron)
  • Hot water from our instant water heaters, rather than cold water showers
  • And most exciting for me – A REFRIDGERATOR!

In Kamwenge, we will be one of the only residential houses with a fridge. I am aware that it is a massive luxury. I lay in bed at night actually thinking about that (sad, I know). But it will change my life. How?

I no longer have to buy and boil milk every single day – we can keep it in the fridge so it doesn’t go off in 24 hours. It also means one less saucepan to clean each day

I can cook food for several days and store in the fridge

I don’t have to shop at the market every second day, as tomatoes/carrots/beans etc won’t go off within a few days

I can buy foods from Fort Portal/Kampala that I can’t get in Kamwenge – cheese, fresh non-sweet bread, nice cuts of meat, sauces…. YUM

I can cut up a pineapple and not have to attempt to eat the whole thing in one go- they’re just a little too big!

I can have COLD drinks- juice, soda, whatever. It will be COLD!

We have had solar for the past few months. It is incredibly unreliable and only charges a laptop or two and some lights (on a sunny day when it isn’t too cloudy). Realising how little a solar panel generates and all the appliances it won’t run (irons, toasters, kettles, fridges) and monitoring our energy needs/consumption so preciously has given me a new appreciation for the luxury of power. Of light. Of convenience. Of temperature control. Of power consumption.

In Uganda, the 10% or so of the population that make up the middle class might have a fridge. Often they will have a toaster and kettle. Perhaps a water heater. A TV. Beyond that, everything is still manual. Household electricity consumption is still so minimal. Only 10% of the population of Uganda even have access to the electricity grid. Those that do, often go days without power at a time, due to the lack of power generation and government failures to deliver on infrastructure.

This is unacceptable. But you know what frustrates me more? That in Australia, we take the luxury of power for granted. There has been so much complaining coming from Australian newspapers I have been reading online over the past 6 months, about the carbon tax and electricity prices going up in Australia. The general gist is that people are annoyed – ‘its not fair’ – and the government needs to find a way to lower prices. We assume we ‘need’ all of these appliances and all of this convenience so our lives can move faster. You know what though?

We actually don’t.

Take it from me. I have lived without a lot of that stuff for almost a year. Even the basics – irons, fridges, toasters, TVs, kettles, washing machines, even lights, for a lot of the time. Let alone the other stuff – dishwashers, microwaves, water heaters, air conditioners, a million gadgets, the flat screen, donut/icecream/waffle makers, clothes dryers, hair dryers, spas, the 2nd (or 3rd) fridge, etc. *

Instead of complaining about the cost of electricity, what about we try and lower our consumption? Because all of this electricity – it has to COME from somewhere. Electricity is costly to generate. Financially and environmentally. And if the rest of the world tried to consume as much as we did, our planet would be destroyed tomorrow. The end.

I am not trying to preach. I’m not an idealist. I have lived in Australia for most of my life. I understand that you think you need all that electricity. I have only really learnt about my consumption in the past year. I’ve learnt this as I’ve seen what I can live without, as I have been forced to check every appliance I brought over here to see if it could run off our little solar panel and now, if we can afford the cost of running it off the main grid.

Rather than idealistic, I am trying to be realistic about the state of our world. The cost you pay doesn’t even come close to the real environmental cost of coal-generated power. So If you don’t want to pay so much for electricity, than reduce the amount you use. Start looking at how much you consume. Which appliances are ‘necessary’ in your eyes, and which ones can go. Whether you can do some things manually. I’m not asking you to use Kerosene lamps or candles, or boil your milk or water each day in a saucepan, or hand wash all your clothes and sheets and towels and dishes, or go without fans, fridges and air-conditioners, like me and everyone in my community does.

But I am asking you to care about the future of this planet

and own the choices you make.


*You will notice I haven’t mentioned laptops here – perhaps it is the exception to my post. I can’t live without mine! We are almost inseparable and I use mine (unless we have no solar power) everyday – for work, study and keeping in contact with people….

4 responses to “The Power of One

  1. Love reading your blogs Kim – thanks for filling us in about your life in Uganda. Yes, we are spoilt brats in Australia and we do take things for granted. It must be your Wedding Anniversary soon – the 2nd isn’t it?
    I had a visit from Sanje and Dais just before New Year – wonderful to catch up. They showed me the slide show of their visit over there – beautiful scenery everywhere. Good to see the Clinic in its finished form. And great news about Felicity’s Engagement. – another Wedding in the family coming up. Much love to you and Michael — NanaBet. XX

  2. This is fantastic news for the mothers and children and sick people of Kamwenge who very soon will be able visit the Maranatha Health clinic. BECAUSE IT WILL BE OPEN!!!!!!!!!!

    Please let us know when the switch is turned on

  3. Amen re: your comments on power consumption. While the things you mentioned are lovely and worthwhile things to have (like fridges, and in this era, computers), most things that are required for us as humans to sustain life do not involve electricity. Many billions of people over many centuries managed without it and we are now thinking that all these luxuries we own are things we desperately “need”. From your perspective, I’m sure your clinic will run much more smoothly and help many people because of the wonders of electricity, but I’m sure your clinic and lifestyle still manage on a fraction of what similar services run on in Australia.

    I hope this new-found power will bring you some joy to otherwise tough conditions that you speak of there. And I hope that means that the people in your care will be able to get the best possible help you can offer!

    • Hi Mike – thanks for adding your thoughts. I agree – isn’t it amazing to think of all the bizarre contraptions we put in the ‘neccessary’ list that didn’t exist even 50/100 years ago!?. Most of my friends in Kamwenge live in a one room – max 2 room – house with only a few possessions. Their consumption of everything – electricity and stuff – is so minimal. It shames my life and my need to consume…

      I visited your blog recently and really enjoyed reading your reflections on environmental issues – thought provoking. I’m trying to get into the blogging thing (ie reading other people’s a bit more) but there is so many good writers and so little time to spare!

      Thanks for the encouragement – oh and give Heidi a big hug from me! The wedding should be coming up really soon now??

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