At My Watts End

Posted on February 21, 2017 under Storytelling with 3 comments

I think I have my wires crossed.

North Americans are prone to taking things for granted. We never think twice about our electrical supply until an ice storm renders us incapacitated. It’s bad enough not being able to watch our favorite sitcom or browse the internet, but not being able to make a cup of coffee or tea? Incomprehensible. We expect to turn on our taps ( one marked H and the other C lest we get confused )  and to have an endless supply of hot and cold running water. Our garbage is disposed of on a weekly basis.

Not all countries enjoy the same level of certainty.

When I entered the convent ( as a guest and not a noviciate! ) at the end of December, 2016, I was escorted to my room. It is located in the B@B operated by The Daughters of Mary, an order of Roman Catholic Sisters. There were two switches outside of my door. One was a doorbell and the other was the main power supply to the room. I was told to always leave this switch in the on position.

My room is similar to what one might expect to find in a hotel or B@B. It is large and spacious with an Indian bathroom. Power outages are very common in this town and in many parts of the country. I was told to expect multiple cuts in the power supply but not to worry because a generator would kick in maintaining power to the overhead fan, a small light in the main room and the bathroom. All of this sounded great.

I was then directed to the air conditioner. I am not a big fan of A/C but thought that I should know how to operate it in case things became uncomfortably warm. I’m a big fan (!)  of simple electrical devices. I like an on/off switch and nothing else. I have been known to suffer long periods of sobbing, trying to get a television, with two different remotes, to turn on. My host showed me the remote and took me through a sequence of steps that might as well have been the code to detonate a nuclear missile. I’m not great with gadgets.

The bathroom required some specific instructions on how and when to extract hot water from the shower, and how to operate the taps. My brain was starting to explode with all this new information.

Oh yes, I was also informed that the internet connection was spotty in the building. I came to discover that I had a better chance of seeing Halley’s Comet than getting a clear internet signal. This didn’t pose an insurmountable problem as my host told me of the wonders of tethering, using a second cell phone possessing data.

After a week or so, I started to notice some minor flaws with the electrical. Yes, as promised, there were frequent power interruptions  but when the building would lose power, I was finding things that were supposed to work, weren’t and vice versa. I also started to notice “incongruities” with the hot water in the bathroom as hot and cold water came out of different taps on different days until no hot or warm water was available.

In one of the more embarrassing events of my time in India, I was showing a guest to their room in the B@B and was going through the explanation of how the electrical worked. The overhead fan, which was one device that was supposed to work in all conditions, wouldn’t budge and the bathroom light wouldn’t work. I told them that that I would, forthwith, send the maintenance people over. By the time they arrived, the guest, an Indian citizen, had figured things out and all was well.

This left me scratching my head. Apparently, when there are problems like this, you can reactivate the system if you know the sequencing of the various switches in the rooms. There are 16 switches in the room. I secretly wondered how long it would take a mechanically challenged sort like myself to interpret “ the secret code.” I thought back to a statistics course I took in grade 10 and mulled over “permutations and combinations. It’s a good thing that I didn’t spend a lot of time on this exercise because there are thousands of possibilities.

Everything reached a head one day. After several days of cold showers , no internet ( the tethering didn’t work in my room ) and one full blown power outage when nothing would work, a full scale investigation was done and I am overjoyed to say that by days end, all was well.

Except it wasn’t.

Luckily the electrician hadn’t left the premises as I patiently (!) explained to him that the fan and bathroom light weren’t working. He calmly went outside my room to the main power supply, turned it on and off a couple of times and , presto! everything worked. Gee , why didn’t I think of that.

When I arrived in India, I bought a small purple flashlight, for emergencies. Over here they call it a torch. It is stunning in its simplicity. There is an on/off switch. The next time the power goes off, I’ll just grab the torch and resist the urge to call the electrician. And then go off to my cave and light a fire.


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