All of the Lights

Load shedding: 1. an intentional electrical power shutdown, sometimes mandated by the government, where power is cut for periods of time over different areas of a distribution region 2. frustrating

ZESCO, the Zambian power company, began load shedding a little over a month ago all over Zambia. This means that every day, throughout the day, different areas of Zambia experience power outages for a set period of time.

We were introduced to load shedding on the first day we arrived in Lusaka, experiencing a power outage from 6pm-10pm. From there on out we lost power for roughly 8 hours a day, typically broken into 4-hour periods. The lodge staff told us that sms messages were sent daily to announce the load shedding times for each circuit, but after they reported wrong information, we stopped believing in a system.

ZESCO claims that this reduction in generation is due to low water levels as a result of decreased rainfall in the 2014-2015 rain season. However, many Zambians have shared that the country has experienced low rainfalls before but power outages were not necessary. Many speculate that the government is mandating these power cuts so that Zambia can export energy and earn more revenue.

Regardless of the reason, load shedding is certainly impacting productivity. Since load shedding is a fairly new phenomenon, most companies have not had the chance to invest in a generator. Thus when power goes abruptly during the day, employees must search the city for an internet café or work without Wi-Fi until their laptops die. If there is one positive benefit of load shedding, it is that everyone must be on top of deadlines for fear of losing power at the last minute!

Before arriving in the Copperbelt, Mwansa and I were reassured that load shedding would not be a concern, but we arrived to no power. At first we thought we understood the schedule, predicting that power outages alternated between 6am-12pm and 6pm-12am during the week, but then we were unpleasantly surprised. This is what I have recorded so far:

Sunday 4:00pm-10:00pm
Monday 12:00pm-6:00pm
Tuesday 6:00pm-12:00am
Wednesday 12:00pm-11:00pm
Thursday 6:00am-12:00pm
Friday 8:00am-2:00pm
Saturday 6:00pm-12:30am

CHEP routinely expects to not have power for most of the working day on Fridays, but who can predict the pattern for the following week?

I think the hardest part of adjusting to this year will be learning to work and live with the power outages. If we have power during the work day then I have access to Wi-Fi and a higher probability of being productive, but it usually means no power in the evening hours which results in candlelight journaling and munching on cereal. On the other hand, if we do not have power at work, then I forego internet but can cook dinner on my hotplate in the evening. Some days we do not have a choice and have neither power at work nor home.

As this way of life is also new to Zambians, we will all learn how to cope together. Here’s to hoping we figure it out!

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