Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A new definition for stupid...

My husband works for the country’s power utility, Eskom, and while I think the company is often hard-done by in the press and public opinion, sometimes they do something so unarguably stupid that harsh criticism and ridicule is warranted. Take this afternoon, for example. I was merrily typing along when suddenly, the power went out. OK, I’ve got a laptop and therefore battery backup, but gone with the power is my internet connection (the router requires electricity), so while it’s not a train wreck, it is mighty inconvenient.

What makes this whole thing so incredibly stupid, however, is the recorded message I heard when I called Eskom to check if this was a known outage or if it needed to be reported. Speaking at the speed of light, a woman's voice rattles off the tidbit that “load shedding is currently happening in the Whgbysdysl*rel$gly,” followed by a slightly more intelligible admonition that I should check Eskom’s website for load shedding schedules for my region. I re-dialled the main number since, due to that lightning fast, garbled delivery the first time around, I didn’t get the area that was experiencing load shedding. Turns out it’s Western Region…what does that mean?

OK, I’m pretty sure I’m in the Western Region, but since we don’t have a so-named province and no towns are mentioned on the taped message, how do I know just who is affected? Is all of Cape Town down? All of the Western Province (Eskom is a national entity, after all)? Or is it just my little strip of civilization north of Cape Town and strung up along the western seaboard?

More to the point, however, is the little fact that the vast majority of the people in the country, including the majority of people served by Eskom, cannot afford either computers or internet service. How is Mbwelo, whose shack has gone dark and whose prized little bar fridge...which keeps a precious food store from spoiling...has stopped, supposed to find out when the township is going to be darkened?

And even more to the point…if the power has been shut down, exactly how am I or anyone else supposed to connect to that website to find out why the fridge is silent and the router dead? No power, no internet connection..DOH!

And what is with mid-day load shedding, anyway? The heaviest use of power is in the hours between 5 and 8 pm when people come home from work and turn on their kitchen stoves, fans, and televisions. Electricity isn’t like water, that you can keep bottled up for a mass use later on in the day. My lack of electricity this afternoon doesn’t mean that there will be extra electricity to spread around this evening, it just means that tasks I could be doing now, during low use hours (like washing and drying clothes) will have to be put off to later…peak use time…since the electricity isn’t available during low usage time.

Now that’s just stupid.

UPDATE: well, the power’s back on and I decided to drop by Eskom’s site to check the load-shedding schedule. Guess what? My suburb is scheduled for load shedding between 6 pm and 8:30 pm. What…Eskom can’t tell time or do they think that I can’t?

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