It’s a phrase that takes me back to my childhood in Ghana. A typical scenario being; I would be in the middle of taking a bath, and just as I’m about to rinse off the soapy white lather from my skin- I would catch my breath!
It’s not the shock of the cold water I am about to splash over my body that has caught me off guard. It’s the fact that all of a sudden, I am now standing in in pitch darkness. A normal evening routine of bathing before bedtime would rapidly become a chore as I struggle, with my eyes sealed shut with panic, to aim for the bucket filled with water to wash the soap off my face. What’s even more terrifying is that my older cousin Kay could creep up behind the closed door at any moment and chastise me in his then childish rascal manor by whispering: “Mummy wata is coming to get youuuuu..!”
Oh-ho (typical Ghanaian worrisome sigh)!
Fast forward 20 years. During my recent trip back to Ghana, arriving at night to my grandmothers unlit house except for a few flickering candles, I soon learnt that not much has changed. Except that I’m now an empowered woman since my trip to Brazil where I discovered that mummy wata is celebrated as a Goddess. A far cry from the taboo I associated with bath-times.
Without sounding like some ‘high maintenance’ girl who can’t go a night without electricity because it brings back damaging childhood memories of having to bath in the dark, I’d like to clarify that those memories have in no way scared me as an adult! However please bare in mind the humidity! Without electricity there is no air to act as a cool breeze to aid me into sleep. Or even a breeze to shoo away the blood thirsty mosquitos!
Ok, so in some parts of the developing world electricity is a luxury, but this is Accra- not the middle of the Sahara desert! Only two years ago Ghana’s economy was placed as the fastest growing in the world (for the first half of 2011 by EconomyWatch.com). Still standing firm, it’s the fastest growing economy in Africa and is marked as one of the top ten fastest growing economies in the world.
And what do we have to show for it?… Quite a lot actually.
Except when the power cuts out. (Say it with me; “Oh-ho!”)
Light off… Whoever plays with the control switch must feel like a god! Let there be light *flick up* and there was light… *flick down* Or maybe not!
A loud annoying drone crescendos into the background of the city. The generators are on.
My frustration with the ‘light off’ situation is especially intensified at night. Forget sleep! It’s at night when the city comes alive with the ‘big ballers’ step onto the stage where the constantly charged limelight awaits- Accra’s social scene. From restaurants to bars and clubs, it seems there’s either too much happening at once or not enough to supply to the demand. As with any rapidly developing country, there are high expectations to be met. And those expectations include appearance. If anything, I think Ghanaians are taking it back to the ‘old days’ (I use that term losly not to offend anyone from that timeline), when there was pride in how you dressed. This pride I’ve inherited from my grandmothers, my mother, and my aunties. The ladies in my family know how to dress- with or without “light-off”. So why do I find it so difficult to deal this the situation? I’m a new generation. Spoilt with the luxury of abundance in the west, yet hungry for the fast ride taking place in the ‘westcoast’. “You can’t have your cake and eat it.” My aunty Marian often says. But cake is to be eaten no?
I was in my grandmother’s house in Kolegona during the Easter, preparing to go to KOD’s Rythms on the Runway, when the lights when out. Within minutes my younger cousin came rushing with an emergency torch lamp for me to use. I stood in front of the full-sized mirror inspecting the damage done… The damage I’d done to myself that is, due to dressing in the dark! The off-white bluish light did no favours in suggesting the truth about my appearance. It didn’t tell me if I’d missed a spot while apply my makeup, or if I had rubbed enough shear butter on my prone-to-dry-skin bare legs. I left the house tall as ever in my heels, but striped of my confidence in my appearance.
I dressed that night (and on many other occasions) in darkness, yet I headed out into Accra’s bustling nightlife to sample the trending delights the capital of my developing country offers. Golden Tulip Hotel; the venue for the event I had been looking forward to. The hotel with every bulb pulsing with electricy, in stark contrast to the home I’d just left; glowing with flickering shadows of candle light. That night I mingled with VIP, drank champagne and experienced a social event that could satisfy western standards. We’re eager for the rapid change, but the lifeline that keeps it going is still in crisis. Like my aunty would also say; “charity begins at home.”
If there is a way to address the ‘light-off’ crisis so I don’t have to get ‘dressed’ in the dark, I’ll be a very happy woman during my stays Ghana! Of course, I’m using getting dressed as a metaphor (to address the main issue). There are greater consequences to lack of electricity than loosing a dress sense in pitch blackness.
We can cover up the naked issue of Ghana’s ‘light-off’ situation by buying expensive generators and even protect its modesty by becoming accustomed to it. The only pro in that is I’ve since become an expert at putting on makeup in the dark thanks to my numerous electricity shortage experiences! If that’s not stimulating enough, then like myself, what you really want to know is; when will Ghana’s electricity shortage be fully (ad)dressed (in kaba and slit) once and for all?
On a serious note, how much further can Ghana’s whirlwind development go with ‘lights off’s?