Yesterday at about 3:30, dark clouds gathered. The sky grew heavy, purple, truly threatening. Kenyans who don't have cars---Kenyans who own just one pair of shoes---are very aware of imposing thunderstorms. Women carrying bundles of sticks on their head pick up their pace; men walking two hours home from work start jogging. The sky grows darker, and darker. Kenyans with cars leave work early (in the rain, the traffic becomes unbearable). A nervousness infiltrates the air. A scurrying. The staff rush around closing windows and pulling things inside. The sandbox is closed, the rabbits are secured, the laundry brought in from the line. You can almost feel the weight of the sky about to break.
When the rain starts, it is swift and relentless. Within moments there are moats around each bush in the yard, the gutters are overflowing, the planted pots too. One step to the car from the door and I am drenched. My heart suffers for those caught out in the rain, those who have another hour to walk home, to arrive drenched and chilled to a room without heat or a fireplace or hot water. I give Evans another 100 shillings and make him promise to take matatu home. He might. I doubt it. The fares triple in the rain, and he's voraciously saving every shilling to build a house upcountry.
Inevitably when the rains are like this, like last night, the power goes out. Inevitably it's when the three year old is tired and cranky and pulling out every trick she knows to make her mum insane. A Winnie the Pooh dvd would take the edge off, but that's not an option now. Inevitably, the babe hasn't had his bath, and the water heater hasn't been on long enough to assure hot water. Inevitably, M. has just called to say he'll be working late.
When the power goes, my first reactions are irritation, frustration and a little fear. Two tired children without the distraction of a warm bath or tv? Two tired children and no distractions, in the dark? Panic! Panic!
After the panic, I remember that I'm the mom. If I don't get the candles out, no one will. I think about Little House on the Prairie and get inspiration from that. I find the lanterns. I light a few candles. Lighting candles is a spiritual act! The fear ebbs a little. The candlelight in the living room is soft and calming. The kids don't try to leave our circle of light, there's nowhere to go beyond it. We sit together, they play with electric lanterns and little flashlights. I think, I want to read. But I can't so I put the desire aside. I think, I want to write an email! Make dinner! Start the bath! But I can't, so I put it all aside. I resign myself, and I have accepted a night of darkness. Now there are no distractions. There is no "I want I want I want...". The girl knows that when the power is out, there are no options. The babe responds to the peace around him, he plays with the blocks and the lantern. It's peaceful. Last night, the girl listened to me read two chapters of Alice in Wonderland, without pictures. My throat hurt from reading aloud that long.
There is a depth of silence that is remarkable when the power fails. The humming appliances---the refrigerator, the stereo, the water heater, the computer, even the lights---are like stones now. A peace settles in the brain, a resignation. The children grow naturally, peacefully, tired. After reading by candlelight, they go to bed with ease. There is no buzzing in the living room to distract them, there is no energy to excite them... not even the smallest energy of a burning light bulb.
Every night that the power fails, I want to write to my friends with children and beg them to try this at home. Turn off the main switch just after dinner---everything must go. Pretend it's real. It's scary----not because of monsters and ghosts, but because of ourselves. The first few minutes, maybe even half an hour, will be truly uncomfortable. It's scary to be together without sports or news buzzing in the background on tv, or music or telephones or email or cooking or movies. But after a few minutes, you'll find out how great you are. And everyone looks better by candlelight.