Stories from Afar & Up Close

The Unfair Lightness of Being

So Lebanon has a problem with electricity. Not only are the electric cords so old and rotten that with every bit of rain they break and leave whole neighborhoods in the dark, and not only is illegally tapping public power sources (streetlights and such) and refusal to pay the electricity bills a common occurrence, there also simply isn’t enough electricity. What does that mean, you ask? It means that every day, for a few hours, the electricity goes off. These power-cuts are scheduled on different hours during the week. For example, on Monday, the power cuts from 3 in the afternoon until 6 in the evening. Tuesday, it cuts from noon to 3pm. Wednesday, there is no electricity from 9am until noon, and Thursday from 6am to 9am. On Friday, the cycle starts over again at 3pm. And this is for the lucky ones in Beirut – outside of the capital, the power-cuts can go up to six, seven, eight, in some places even 10 hours a day.

In many places, people buy private generators or subscribe to a big one that provides for the whole neighborhood. Some buildings have a generator just for the elevators, but ours unfortunately doesn’t. Not that I mind a bit of physical exercise, but I do plan my grocery-shopping around the power-cut – I don’t feel the need to carry the 10-liter bottles of potable water all the way up to the 8th floor. And it’s not only the grocery shopping that gets scheduled during electricity hours; the same goes for showers (no hot water!), watching a movie (no TV / computer!) and even cleaning the house (no music!). Luxury problems, true, but inconvenient nonetheless – and I have come to realize it contributes greatly to the feeling of ‘in Lebanon, you can never decide for yourself, it’s always outside forces that determine your life’ that I have heard so many Lebanese people express over the time. It’s not just about wars and major political events; it’s the small, daily stuff that puts you out of control over your own actions.

But back to the electricity, and there not being enough of it. As I said, those of us living in Beirut are lucky, with the minimal power-cut of three hours, thanks to the strange reasoning that ‘tourists come to Beirut so the businesses there need it more than elsewhere’. With the arrival of a new minister for electric affairs, however, this unfairness was going to be addressed: cutting the electricity in Beirut for four hours a day instead of three would presumably free up enough electricity to bring back the power-cuts everywhere else in the country to five or six hours. All fair and well, right? But no, heavy protest ensued, especially from those men in the government with many followers in the city. It was even named an attack on the capital, and a continuation of the siege that happened in May. So the fair and equal distribution of electricity throughout the country never happened, and Beirut is still given preferential treatment with 21 hours of electricity a day.

Bragging about electricity

Obviously, I don’t mind, living in a house on the 8th floor with no generator. But I don’t think we need to brag about it by leaving the streetlights on even during the day…