Monday, December 1, 2014

power outages in the north

My plants are sad because the sun does not rise anymore.

Life got a little busy this month so I haven't been posting on this blog much, but things are under control, and there really is never a shortage of stories to tell in Cambridge Bay.

Lately, after dealing with blizzards, the newest adventures have been power outages. Some of the generators at the power plants aren't working, so when the working ones break down, the whole community goes dark. And cold, because we're talking about Arctic winters with no working heaters.  It's been a problem lately, and hopefully a permanent solution is found soon, but in the meantime, it's an adventure.

A lot of times, the power goes out while I'm at work. On one hand, it's kind of fun to be sent home from work because of a power outage, but it's not fun at all if you have actual work to do - or deadlines to meet. One time, the power went out right when I was supposed to have an important phone meeting. With no access to my files on my computer, I ended up finding my contact's phone number in the phone book - after having to learn how to use a phone book, because who uses phone books these days - calling the person on my cell phone (because our office landlines don't work without electricity). While taking notes by scribbling them down on paper in the dark.

Another time, I was desperately trying to get some research done, and power was being rotated on a half hour on, half our off basis. Luckily I had my laptop, so for half an hour I would frantically search for cases online and print them out, and then for the next half hour I would read the cases in the dark.  I am told that lots of people used to do research without the Internet and computers a long time ago, but I have a hard time believing this is true.

Even when you are able to go home due to electricity-related office closures, there is the question of what you are supposed to do at home, in the dark. I mean, there's no cable and there's no internet.  You can't even post photos on Instagram or tweet about how bored you are (smart phones are a relatively new thing up here).

I suppose what's more of a concern than the lack of cable, internet, or landline phones (if your phone needs electricity to work),  is the fact that you don't have any water either because the water pump operates by electricity. Which basically means that you have all the inconveniences of running out of water, but also in the cold dark. So you can't kill time by doing the dishes or running the washing machine, in case you like to do that sort of thing.

Eventually I started compiling a list of things you can do when the power goes out:

  • Eat sandwiches
  • Do your nails 
  • Lift weights (but you can't shower after)
  • Floss
  • Quarrel with your spouse
  • Accidentally drip candle wax all over your hand

I discovered the latter activity while wielding a candle stick around the house to defend myself against my biggest worry: Arctic vampires. An isolated defenceless community plunged in darkness with no sunrise expected until mid-January: this would be prime attacking season for vampires. Isn't there a movie about this? Anyway, as the Boy Scouts always say (probably in reference to vampire attacks): Be Prepared.
Of course, what is probably the main concern is trying to keep warm when your heater won't work and it's -40 outside in the middle of an Arctic winter. You can only imagine the kind of damage it could do to your house if the pipes freeze too. In theory, the power company was trying to rotate power so that each house would have a half hour on and an hour off. But in reality, some of us were going hours without any power. Things got cold fast.

Meanwhile, the power company was providing updates about the progress of repairs on Facebook and Twitter, which was great for everyone who had, you know, electricity and stuff.

We decided that the best way to cope with it all was to head over to our friends' home and pretend that the candle light was a camp fire and tell ghost stories with a few drinks.  The dog discreetly ate our crumbs off the carpet, hoping the darkness would hide her stealthy deeds. The only person with a working smart phone and a battery read out the latest news from Facebook. So-and-so's wallet is still missing, a woman is looking for a reliable cook, and the convenience store is still open (cash only).  It's good to have company when you're going through these adventures. We're sure everything will return to normal tomorrow. The power will come back. And as little Orphan Annie sang, the sun will come up...maybe next year sometime in January.

I am going to miss these sunrises