Shocking

02-10-2010

One of the more interesting aspects of life in Rwanda is learning to live (and work) with the unexpected. There is a general rule that we have adopted: 'Just because it was there ten minutes ago doesn't mean to say it will be there in ten minutes time.' This usually applies to articles left lying around, but the other day came to apply very appropriately to the electricity supply at the CPR offices.

Now, the power going down isn't anything unusual in itself. Sometimes someone forgets to put 50 francs in the meter. More often, Electrogaz the power company, decide they would rather use the current somewhere else for a while. So when the alarms started sounding on the continuous power supply packs sitting beside each computer we turned to something else to do. As ever, power was restored shortly after but only to go down again a few minutes after that. By the time the lights were off, on and off again several times we started to think that something was amiss.

A casual glance at the junction box in the entrance to the building gave half a clue to what was going on. The front had been removed from the box and a cable twisted around the two main terminals. The cable led away, in two-meter lengths twisted together and held with insulating tape, across the yard and on to the front gate. The large gates, ten feet high and made of steel plate were both off their hinges and lying on the ground. The cable ran to a transformer from which a second cable led to a bundle of rags and some string tied around a welding rod. It didn't take us long to figure out that every time our workman fired up his bundle of rags, the power went down.

There wasn't much we could do except let the man finish the job and put the gates back on their hinges. Watching the process provided good entertainment though. Besides a DIY welding torch, the man was using an electric grinder to cut and shape the pivot rods for the hinges. With one foot firmly holding the metal to the ground, he used the grinder to cut within an inch of his big toe. Health and safety aren't words that appear in the Kinyarwanda dictionary. Oh, he did have goggles - a pair of sunglasses.