Thursday evening. It’s the first English class I’ve held in 2 ½ weeks and I’m aching to see my students/friends. I never know how many will come each evening, so I plan for the most, and embrace whoever comes; today I have seven adults and a few children (the younger siblings and children of another student).
After trying many different teaching methods and mediums, I have discovered one which is both interesting and informative: stories. I (or a student) tell a brief story in English, writing out each of the sentences on the portable whiteboard, and then I help them translate the words they don’t understand into Spanish/Miskito. Vocabulary learned in a memorable format. I supplied today’s lesson:
On Sunday there was a big rainstorm.
We lost electricity in our house.
Today, some men came and fixed the poles.
Now we have electricity again!
The limited vocabulary of my tri-lingual students, combined with the inhibiting size of the whiteboard, requires all stories to be completely simplified. Only essential information. But for your sake, fellow English speaker, and for the sake of a good story, I will elaborate.
Yes, last Sunday we had “a big rainstorm”; water pounding against the tin roof in heavy sheets, wind blasting the rain against our screen windows, filling the house with misty breezes, thunder so loud that conversation is futile. We tried to watch a movie that night, but even with the computer and speakers on full blast, you couldn’t hear anything over the thunder and rain.
And then the power went out.
No big deal. This is Waspam, a small town in a tropical, developing country. If power-outages had an airline, we’d definitely have frequent flyer miles. With an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude, I resigned myself to an early bedtime, optimistically looking forward to the electricity returning sometime in the night. At very latest it would be back by the next morning.
Monday morning came and went. The storm raged on and the electricity still hid. That afternoon, when the rain finally let up, Tom hopped on his bike, ready for a sleuthing adventure, and soon returned with news that electricity was out throughout the whole town. They men at Enel (the local electricity plant) were slowly returning electricity to each neighborhood, one at a time, to identify where the problem was. We were confident that our little spot at the end of the airstrip would soon have its turn. Hours passed, and still no lights, no fans. As the sun started to sink below the horizon, we pulled out the candles once again, and prepared for another dark night. Evidently, our neighborhood was the one with the problem. We could see lights in the houses of those around us, but none in our area.
The next morning showed us that, sure enough, a wooden pole suspending the electric wires had broken in the storm, cutting off all current to those further down the line (aka, us). Ok, problem identified. The solution, however, was a bit more difficult. We already had poles ready to replace the broken one, but the Enel men required to sink the pole and fix the lines were down river, working on another project. No one knew when they’d be back in Waspam.
And so we, the Wangki missionaries, started to adjust to an electricity-free life. It was easy in the mornings, when the breezes coursed through the open house and the sunlight illuminated our work. But the evenings and nights were difficult, stuffy and dark; we were going through candles like nobody’s business. Tuesday passed, Wednesday passed, and by Thursday, we started rationing water (the water we use in the house comes from a tank refilled by an electric pump which draws water from underground). If the tank went dry, we knew we’d simply have to carry water into the house in buckets. No big deal, we’re living Wangki style.
Another small piece in this dilemma was that were how isolated from the outside world. No electricity means no internet, a taxing problem when all communication and preparation with coming groups is done online. (New development: we now know that the local internet provider, a little one-room shop on the edge of town, was actually struck by lightning during the Sunday storm, frying all his computers and equipment. Internet was gone, indefinitely.)
Thursday afternoon I borrowed the Keogh’s Nicaraguan cell phone to call my sister; we try to keep in touch via email, facebook and Skype (all of which were eluding me), and I wanted to relieve any worries she might be having because of my week-long silence. At fifty cents a minute, I had to keep the call brief, but it was good to hear her voice. I hung up and started preparing for my English class, copying song lyrics (I also teach English through songs translated into both languages) by hand, a job usually simplified by an electricity-powered computer printer.
And then I heard this funny noise. Wwhhhhsssshhhh…. I looked outside. Nothing. “What’s going on?” I thought. And then I realized: The fans are on…. The fans are on! WE HAVE ELECTRICITY!!!!!!
Those of you who know me well can easily imagine the next scene: rejoicing, Jessi style. I was dancing, singing, yelling, and laughing as I went through the house, turning off all the fans (somehow fearing that if all of them were running, the power would leave again. Electricity was now a precious commodity). For the rest of the night, I was positively giddy, tickled pink by the smallest convenience. “Wow, cold water from the fridge!” “Look, I can turn the light on in my room, and it actually comes on!” “I’m gonna go charge my iPod!”
A miraculous event summarized into four simple sentences for an English class, but what simple beauty those sentences held for me!
Thank you, Jesus, for helping me appreciate the simple things.
Turns out we did get internet back that Thursday, July 26, but internet took a lot longer. The same rainstorm that knocked our electricity poles over actually fried our internet provider; lightening struck his business, killing all his computers and eliminating any chance of getting online. We were completely internet-less until yesterday, August 8. Learned that I can easily live without the internet, but how good it is to be back!!!
ps: If you’re still wondering about this post’s title…. Whenever the lights go out, a Spanish speaker will say “Se fue la luz” (The lights went away of their own volition). I can’t help but think of my small-town Alaska grocery store every time I hear it. Makes me smile…)