Sunday, September 05, 2004

Black Monday 

On August 24, a little after 8 in the morning, Bahrain lost power. The whole country went dark, and slowly became hotter. Where I am staying, power did not come back on until nearly 12 hours later.

Now, this is a place where air conditioning is a basic necessity for survival. On that day, like every other day this time of year, a cloudless sky left the island to bake in the sun, with temperatures rising to around 110 degrees. And it's humid, too. Most people assume the whole Middle East is a hot, dry desert. It is hot and it is a desert, but Bahrain is also an island in the Arabian Gulf. It is surrounded by water...water which, when heated by the sun's rays, evaporates. Voila, 110 degrees with 50-60% humidity on the day of the blackout.

Fortunately, I was at work for most of this, and we had everything running on backup power so it wasn't so bad. I felt terrible for the poor guys whose only way to feed us all lunch was to grill hundreds of burgers and hotdogs outside in the heat. I can't imagine how hot they must have been. I was hot enough just standing in line for a burger and then sitting down to eat it. We had heard rumors about various parts of the island regaining power, so I left for the hotel hopeful that I was staying in such an area.

No such luck. The power was out here and it was pretty warm here in my room. So, I decided the pool was a better place to be. After the pool, the bar was next, and a wise man there had gotten some ice so cold drinks were available.

Overall, people made the best of the situation. They found cold drinks where they could, they went to the pool or the beach, or they found a spot in the shade. The police did an outstanding job, standing in the sun on the hot pavement and keeping traffic flowing smoothly despite the lack of signal lights. By all accounts, the nation's electricity workers worked feverishly (no pun intended) to restore power. As it turned out, we were among the last to get it back, at around 8 PM.

We take electricity for granted, but when it's gone--especially in a place as hot and humid as Bahrain--one really develops a new appreciation for it.

Some of the locals in this sweltering place, however, met the blackout with nostalgia, if you can believe that.

"Summer did not really bother us, I do remember those good old days when we had no air-conditioners," recalled noted historian Ali Akbar Bushehri, adding, "I remember seeing the air-conditioner sometime in 1960 first – I was around seven years old at that time. At night time we would sleep on the rooftop taking out our mattresses with us. We would sleep there until dawn – we had a good time, we would even count the stars before we go to sleep. In the morning, we would wake up all wet because of the humidity."
Ah, the "good old days..."
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