Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Power or No Power? That is the Question.

The winter season brings many discomforts and hardships to Albania. Torrential down pours, dumping of snow, violent winds, biting cold, and the flooding of many below sea-level areas. Many places around the world face these elements, however as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania sometimes it seems a little tougher than usual.

In addition to the 'normal' winter weather, Albania's lack of modern developments makes winter a little more, shall we say interesting? than it ever was back in The States. There are three main issues....the lack of building insulation, the absence of central heating/homes in southern areas not equipped with wood stoves, and the constant and ever frustrating power outages.

I am sure many of you can imagine what it would be like if you lived in a concrete building with no insulation, no central heating, and the power flickering on and off. If you can't picture this situation just think of me in a black, fleece, spandex suit plus a winter hat, wool socks, and my puffball jacket with my headlamp on trying to see by candlelight, as I pray that the battery in my Kindle won't go out. Frequently this combination is in addition to me inside my sleeping bag.

I don't know if last year was just an extremely mild winter over here or I am much more of a wimp this year, but it is absolutely freezing this winter. Going to school in Colorado and enjoying winter sports has always made me think that I am a fan of cold weather. Now I have completely changed my mind. I think the key to cold weather is always having a place where you can go to warm up.

We, as Peace Corps Volunteers, have been prepped and advised about these winters. However, no matter how much one mentally prepares, no one is ever prepared enough for an ice-cold shower in a freezing apartment. Because I live in the southern part of the country, my house has solar panels on the roof, which (when exposed to the sunlight) powers the water heater in my home. Let me tell you something not many people think about when they come up with the idea of a solar-powered water heater. When it is hot and sunny outside, who the hell wants hot water? It's when it's raining, cloudy, and bitterly cold that I want a scalding hot shower. NEWS FLASH: Solar-powered water heaters don't work during that type of weather.

The most frustrating aspect with the intermittent electricity is the fact that when we do and don't have power makes absolutely no sense! Let me lay out a scenario for you. It's a sunny day, the air is still, and everyone has paid their electric bill. One would think that power would not be a problem, but no. The entire town's electricity is out. How does this make sense at all? For the most part, bad weather = no electricity, but it's when there is absolutely no reason for there to be a power outage that drives me up the wall.

Although there still are frequent power outages through out Albania, Albanian electricity and electric power has come a long way since the late 1990's. Many businesses and families own generators that help during long periods of power outages, people in the northern areas have wood stoves to heat their homes, and it is said that Albania is working on their electric deficiencies. Unfortunately, the mentality of not feeling obligated to pay one's bills is really hurting the electric companies and slowing the development of electrical power in this country. The good news is I have power right now!

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