“It was two o’clock in the afternoon – impossible to see anything without a light. Villagers with lanterns were busy on the ice: great icebergs drifting near the coast were now imprisoned by the freeze; using an ice knife (a sort of chisel with a long wooden handle), they broke off big lumps which they loaded on their sledges to be melted down at home for drinking water.”
An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
6 weeks we have been in South Africa now.
Trying to work here remotely, has been a fight against the odds, but I think we are winning.
I have been reading Tété-Michel Kpomassie’s amazing journey from Togo to Greenland in the 1960’s and his account of living with the Eskimos, enduring the polar nights, melting icebergs for water and battling the elements.
Our battle, though different of course, has also been rather dramatic.
Day 1 – Wednesday – Eskom maintenance day – NO POWER!
It all began with a scheduled 6am-6pm maintenance day on the electricity station supplying power to Morgan Bay, Kei Mouth and the surrounding villages. We were assured, by many, that it would likely not last all day and so we decided to stay at home, hotspot all devices to my pay-as-you-go Vodacom data package on my mobile phone, and drink copious cups of tea using our fancy gas top stove kettle.
However, it turns out that Zoom calls and WhatsApp video meetings use A LOT of data! So we bought more data at UK prices [EEK!].
Then, at 3pm, in the middle of an important call to Russia (cue freak out by Hubby), the Vodacom mobile phone tower on the hill opposite our home ran out of battery, and we lost our 4G signal. Never fear, we quickly packed up our laptops and walked to the hotel to buy 12 hours of 1mbps WiFi for R30 each. Certainly NOT the speeds to handle Zoom calls, but enough to send an apology by email and accomplish a smidge of essential work while sipping a hot Milo.
That night the electricity came back on at 8:30pm and we walked home in the dusk with the cows.
Day 2 – Thursday – Electrical storm – NO POWER!
The day dawned sunny and bright with all plug points, lights and WiFi working.
Then, at 3:15pm, a huge electrical storm moved in from out at sea and put on a dramatic display of thunder and lightning and – POOF! – a power line somewhere in the inaccessible bush was struck, and NO ELECTRICITY!
This time, with no hot Milo, and no sense of humour, we once again tethered all our devices to my 4G mobile phone data.
By nightfall we were still without power and our mobile phone batteries we running seriously low. That night we (me, Hubby and Mama) headed to the Hotel for a beer and their famous fish and chips, which went a long way to cheering us up.
That night, it was early to bed in our dark house with dreams of power in the morning.
Day 3 – Friday – MacGyver routine.
After a run on the beach and a lukewarm shower we took Mama’s car and headed into East London to work … somewhere … anywhere …
Instead, what followed was a frustrating couple of hours of trying, but failing, to get a decent WiFi signal and to get some work done. At that point, we made an executive decision, for our marriage, to take the rest of the day off.
What followed is what I like to call our MacGyver routine …
We rolled up our sleeves (metaphorically) and took the power back!
At the renewable shop, ‘Out the Green Box’ we bought all the ingredients to build a UPS battery power inverter. At Vincent Hardware, we purchased a 6.5kva (whatever that means) generator. Then we spent what felt like a lifetime at Vodacom, signing up to the speediest 4G router available for our rural area (which turns out to not be too bad – beats rural parts of Abergavenny).
That night we dined in style at a our friend Birdie‘s Wild Women Decade charity dinner – our worries behind us.
Back home in Morgan Bay, the power came back on Saturday and we retuned triumphant.
Day 4 and 5 – Monday and Tuesday – NO WATER!
Some time around mid morning, the water board for Amatola District Municipality (our local council) went on strike and turned off all municipal water – an illegal act for which they would later be fired. Our whole village was without water (including us) because when we switched over to our rain water tanks (which are full – it’s right in the middle of the rainy season here) we discovered that our water pump was kaput – the mother board had burnt out.
The next few days might have been called smelly – if it were not for one limited wash in a trickle of water on day one, a swim in the sea, and one glorious shower in one of my Mama’s many en suite bathrooms.
Day 6 – Wednesday – Sorted!
A local electrician replaced the burnt out motherboard of our water pump and set up our generator, I installed our UPS, and the water was restored by a private company once strikers had been forcibly removed and arrested.
Business is still super challenging and we are soooooooo tired, but I’m trusting those battles will, similarly, soon be won.
Against the forces of Eskom, electrical storms and water boards, we feel like a small war has been fought and won.
Stay safe peeps!
P.s. We see my Mama every day which is divine, we run on the beach. We do longer trail runs past the Cape Morgan light house. We fend off the goats who want to eat our cabbage trees. We’re learning Xhosa and have taken up Pilates classes looking out at the sea. We do feel far far away from “Sad, cold England.”
P.p.s. We continue to stay away from crowds, wear our masks and wash our hands.