I turned on to my street the other night and noticed something was different. Even after being away for 10 months, I could still detect it. The normal eerie orange glow from street lamps towering above my little street were out. A certain tasteful illumination of plants in the garden, tall trees and spots on my house was missing. I walked into the house, flipped up the light switch (not down like Nigeria) and sure enough, the power was out.
In Nigeria when we suddenly find ourselves in the pitch black, we say “they have taken light.” The “they” usually refers to NEPA, the Nigerian Electric Power Authority which is actually now called PHCN, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria. Saying “they took the light” is an ambiguous statement because we don’t really know who “they” is. It could be one man that got paid a handsome sum to switch off power in one neighborhood and turn it on in another. Whenever I pondered this statement–that is so ubiquitous in Nigeria–I tried to visualize the mysterious identity of this “they” millions of Nigerians blame to every time the electricity goes out.
When I used this term this morning in my Chicago-area abode, my family questioned me, “They took the light? What does that mean?” Applying blame to “they,” doesn’t make sense in America. When the electricity does not work and the lights don’t turn on, we say, “the power is out.” We don’t assign the fact that the electricity doesn’t work to any person or group (“they”); the usual thing to blame when the power goes out in the U.S. is mother nature.
I can not help but think of how serendipitous it is that two days after I return to the U.S., the electricity goes out for two days (as of now, we have not had light for 40 hours). The culprit is a bad thunderstorm that ripped through the Chicago area, destroying trees, power lines and electricity for some 400,000 Chicago-land residents. It’s a meaningful coincidence that I experienced power outages so frequently in Nigeria and now I am in the U.S. to help lighten the mood of my frustrated family and friends. We experience black outs so infrequently in the U.S. that people don’t know how to handle them. They can be a novel experience; families light as many candles as possible, curl up together and tell stories. For those who live in such a mechanized world, they can be quite a nuisance. A family friend shared his woes with me, “This black out is terrible! I couldn’t sleep last night because I couldn’t get my electric curtains closed!”
Serves us right.