Stories from Afar & Up Close

A whole other electricity problem

One of the most complicated things in Lebanese daily life is paying the electricity bill. That is, if you want to do everything like a good citizen is supposed to do. First, you have to convince Electricité du Liban of giving you electricity. This can be quite costly if, like in our house, the previous tenant of the apartment has not paid their bills for over a year and has left the country with an outstanding debt of about $300 with EDL. You will be given three options: either you pay her outstanding debt in full and they will resume delivering electricity to your place, or you pay a fixed sum which happens to be around $250 dollars with the same result, or you buy a new energy meter for about $250 which you install in the meter box of your building and leave the debt for the tenant after you.

Once this inevitable payment is made, you go to another counter to tell them how many Amperes you want (5, 10, 20, 50, 100 – they can tell you exactly how much you need if you tell them how many appliances you have. The friendly employee smiled broadly when he announced we could even run ‘another A/C!’ on what we chose). You make the rounds past various other counters and offices, get some stamps, signatures and more stamps, pay some more, and then just like that – you have electricity in your house.

And that’s where the real fun starts. Because then, every month, a guy will come by to pick up your payment. He will come during the day, so usually there won’t be anybody home but the cats, so he leaves a little green note with the fact that he was there, found no one, when he will come again, and how much you owe him. (For us, this is usually around $15, or $25 in really hot and really cold months). There used to be an indecipherable name and number scribbled in the corner of the note, but now he has upgraded to a stamp so that you can actually read it and call him.

Which you will do, because the proposed date to pass by falls in the same category as the first one: a working day between 9 and 6 when no one is home. He then says he will pass by at a time you agree on, but you both forget that that’s when the regular powercut is scheduled, so rather than walking all the stairs to the 8th floor where you are waiting, he decides to skip your house and wait for you to call again.

You call him again to ask why he didn’t show up as promised, and hear that he will pass by in a few hours when the electricity comes back. He will ask you to leave the money (exact change, please) with the janitor of the building. This means you have to be on friendly terms with the janitor, which can be assured by monthly payments equal to your entire electricity bill (you should also do this if you decide not to pay your electricity bill at all, because the janitor is the one with the key to the meter box of the building, and the one to turn your electricity back on after the electricity guy has turned it off due to default. But that's only for those of us who do not aspire to 'perfect citizen' status.).

If you are not on friendly terms with the janitor, there is nothing you can do other than to carry with you the amount due, including the little green note he left a few days before, and walk around in the neighborhood until you see the electricity guy passing by. If that happens (hopefully without a lot of phonecalls as to his exact whereabouts), you hand him the money through his car-window, he gives you back a little white slip of paper, and you will have paid your electricity bill for the month.