How to make our power cuts bearable

Everyone in Cairo knows that power cuts are about more than just sitting in the dark.  Living in a desert climate brings a set of challenges not faced by people in cooler climes.  The air conditioning goes off.  The ceiling fans grind to a halt.  The fridge stops running.  You take the stairs as the lift won’t work.

Most power cuts in Cairo last only minutes, or a few hours at most, but in some cases they have been known to go on much longer.  So here is my guide to getting by.

flashlight-beamWhen the electricity dies most of just reach for a torch and sit quietly.  Doing anything more strenuous just makes you sweat right?  But… before your next black out consider the unique challenges your home could encounter.  I have already mentioned elevators but what else could present a potential problem?  Dark stairwells. Uneven garden paths and walkways. Loose floor tiles. Wet floors from dripping taps. Clutter. The list is endless and it will be your own.

So let’s assume that your next power cut goes on longer than normal.

My first consideration is the perishable food in my fridge and freezer.  I try not to open the doors unless absolutely necessary.   Opening the door exposes the food to room temperatures.  It warms up faster and food will spoil. If the temperatures do rise and no sign of light is in sight remove anything from the fridge that may go off.  Eat this first before starting into the contents of your freezer.

A tip here:  Fill empty space in your freezer with bottles of drinking water.  Not only does this slow the defrosting process – a full freezer stays colder longer than an empty one – it will also give you chilled drinks and/or a cold item to help you sleep.  Think of a reversed hot water bottle.  Try it – it works!

The next point is important, particularly if you have young children or people who require extra care.  Keep a stock of canned foods.  Think of meats, soups, tuna, vegetables and juices.  These can be kept for months and make a great quick meal.  Snacks, treats and cookies are essential for the kids.  Not only to feed them, but to keep them entertained when the TV, internet and iPad have all deserted you.

camping-stoveI cook on a gas stove but, if you don’t, then have a back-up way to heat food and water.  A small camping stove is ideal but be sure to read the instructions carefully and operate it only in a space that is appropriate.  You don’t want carbon monoxide poisoning.  An outdoor barbeque is also great if you have space big enough.  Remember to have fuel stored for your stove and to keep gas bottles filled. Charcoal for the barbeque could turn a boring nights into a fun filled cook out.

I now have a back-up method for staying cool during blackouts.  Rechargeable fans. They are now easily available in Cairo and don’t break the bank.  Also, and this sounds stupid, keeping a box of baby wipes to use as a rinse does help keep body temperatures down.

Consider installing automatic power failure safety lighting in some areas of your home.  I appreciate that the industrial style of these often does not look great in your living room, but sometimes convenience beats couture.  Start with the kitchen and the bathrooms.  These are the most used areas of any home.

Often for me, power cuts mean getting out of the house.  I go shopping, have coffee, take in a movie or get together for drinks with friends.  Why stay home and be uncomfortable?  There is lots of time to do that when it gets late.

If you do stay home find ways to pass the time.  In daylight hours, read a book, play games with the children, or try that ancient art of talking to each other.  You might surprise yourself and have fun.  After dark – sleep.  Time passes faster when you sleep, especially when there is nothing else to do but wait.

Consider buying a battery powered radio.  Tune into Nile FM and get dancing in the dark.

Mobile phones will lose their charge, a battery power charger is a good idea.  I also have a solar unit for day use which is great for garden drinks and car rides. Don’t forget your laptop.  Save any open documents and shut it down.  There is nothing worse than losing hours of work to a dead battery.

Another top tip…. When power cuts occur at night leaving you in darkness don’t immediately jump up and start searching for the candles.  Wait a minute or so and let your eyes adjust.  You will be amazed at how much more you can see and it will help stop you stumbling into tables, chairs of the family cat.

Remember that cordless portable phones don’t work during a blackout. Make sure you have at least one wired phone in the house.

extra-waterBut whatever you do don’t forget this….  Water is much more important than food.  The water in my home is pump driven so off during power cuts too.  I keep filled bucket in all bathrooms at all times. I change the water regularly and top them up whenever needed.  If I think the power may be off for longer than normal then I also fill bathtubs for flushing toilets etc before the trickle that is coming out of my tap dries up.

Power cuts in Cairo are becoming a chronic problem.  Egypt cannot produce enough electricty to meet the needs of the populations.  They will not be going away any time soon.

Martin the Power Man

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