Battery-powered days

Posted on February 25, 2011


In Nepal, it’s springtime. The days are longer and warmer. Sitting on the balcony under a blue sky with the sun on your face and the birds busily creating a racket in the trees nearby feels so idyllic that you could sing a song about it. But springtime also has its downside in Nepal. Spring brings the peak of “loadshedding,” the bane of electricity-loving citizens throughout the nation.

Reading and working by fading daylight in our dark, electricity-less house.

Loadshedding is a way for Nepal to deal with its diminishing source of electricity during the dry season. Most of Nepal’s power comes from hydroelectric plants, where swollen rivers power the entire nation during the wet season. Monsoons and heavy rains make the plants hum with excess electricity. This last for about half the year. But come winter and spring, when the rains end and the rivers dry up, only a small trickle of water provides power. The result? There’s simply not enough power for everyone. This is where loadshedding enters our lives: Daily mandatory blackouts aim to spread what little electricity there is throughout the nation. These blackouts start at an hour a day in the early winter, then gradually build up to 16 hours a day. Currently we live 14 hours a day without electricity. This is loadshedding.

There are no streetlamps at night during loadshedding. We carry headlamps everywhere with us and walk in the headlights of passing cars.

So what does this mean for people who need electricity to work, to live? It means you get really resourceful really fast. These are some habits we’ve incorporated into our daily lives:

1. Carry headlamps with us wherever we go. The streets are plunged into darkness, and not every night has a full moon.

2. Use an inverter in the house. An inverter is, as Taylor puts it, “basically a big car battery.” It charges during the hours we have electricity, and then powers one electrical outlet and a few lights around the house when we’re loadshedding. It’s a lifesaver, because we wouldn’t have access to our computers or wifi otherwise.

3. Get used to the crappy, cold, blue light of energy-saving light bulbs. When the inverter is powering our lights, we have to use these awful light bulbs to curb the amount of energy we use.

4. Do my makeup by candlelight. On nights we go out on the town, I have to get ready in semi-darkness. This is complicated, because the dim light of the energy-saving light bulb in the bathroom isn’t enough to apply makeup. So I light a candle to get a little extra light. But who knows, the light’s still so dim I probably end up walking around town most nights with streaky concealer on my face. Heavy sigh.

5. Don’t drink milk that’s been in the fridge overnight. The fridge is off 14 hours out of the day, so any milk that’s been in there for over 24 hours is suspect. Into the trash it goes. Same goes for eggs, raw meat, and other hyper-perishables. We have to buy these groceries fresh every day.

6. Shuffle our computers between outlets to keep them charged. When we’re loadshedding, we have to charge everything with the one outlet powered by the inverter. When we’re not loadshedding, we don’t want to sap the inverter of energy so we have to move our electronics to other outlets around the house.

So that’s the jist of our battery-powered, headlamp-dependent, and candlelit life. Springtime is beautiful and all, but don’t you wish it were monsoon season?

All photos by Taylor Weidman.