The rains have come. Apparently, we’re witnessing the arrival of El Niño, that occasional phenomenon that sees our crops and bridges washed away and grandma in the rural areas waking to find that she’s got that waterbed she once read about in ‘Pulse’ magazine.
The expatriate who has lived in Kenya long enough might think that Kenyans dislike preparing for El Niño because they’re such card-carrying, born-again Christians (in theory), who baulk at the idea of warding off something named after the Christ Child.
The expatriate is used to rain. Indeed, to vast amounts of continuous, cold rain throughout the British spring, summer, autumn and winter. But he’s also used to the idea of drainage, water tables, vegetation to hold soil together, and a national electricity grid that functions.
Now, I have written about power cuts before. It is well known that power cuts strike the nation every time a molecule of moisture hits the atmosphere, and that Nairobi lurches into darkness more terribly than a live man who has a coffin lid closed on him. But what is less talked about is the alternative, the options a Kenyan has when power fails.
The options are few: a) go to bed; b) turn on the generator; c) light a candle, a paraffin lamp, or else use these solar-powered lamps that are all the rage, or electricity-charged lamps.
I usually go to bed. Well, if it’s after dusk, I do.
This is because option ‘b’, the generator, is nonsense. Firstly, few people, if any, can afford a generator. Secondly, all generators purchased in Kenya do not convert petrol into electrical power, but rather just convert petrol into noise. Your apartment complex might have the largest generator in the capital, but it will still only light two or three flats. It will, on the other hand, be audible as far away as Mombasa. Expatriates don’t like noise. Indeed, they all left the horrible industrial towns of Britain precisely in order to escape the noise. In Kenya, in their ignorance, they expected to find the silence of the plains, not the aural agony of a two-million-horsepower Chinese engine.
And, candles? Nonsense. Since the 1990s, all candles have been made of fake ‘wax’ that melts from top to bottom the moment you strike the match.
And solar? All middle-class Kenyans are too proud to use a form of light sold to the poor by means of M-Pesa.
LED lamps? No. These blow out and cease to function after only one use, and then you sit there on dining tables, looking foolish for eternity. Charge them for as long as you want, but these things will blow more swiftly than K-Street professionals.
Paraffin (sorry, ‘kerosene’) lamps? No. They’ll ruin the middle-class wallpaper, creating smoke stains.
And so, what? Well, it’s to bed. Often, to create another ‘child’, that Nino or Nina who’ll pester us, thirteen years down the line, when the power goes off during the rains and they can’t watch television or charge their phones.