Wednesday, April 23, 2008

There is electricity tonight, for a change. It’s taken me a while to find out the reason for the frequent power outages. There is a schedule, although I don't know what that schedule is, communication being what it is here. It would seem the unseasonal dryness in Ethiopia this year means there is not enough water to power the hydroelectric dams that provide electricity for most of the country. So we’re having rolling blackouts. I am so used to having power, even here. Until now we have usually had not more than a few hours without power each week. It’s frustrating going into work with a load of computer work and photocopying to do and having no power for the whole day, and it usually doesn’t come back on till about ten o’clock at night. My favourite beeswax candle is now down to nothing. But it certainly does make me aware of how much I take electricity for granted, as my colleagues do too. In some ways it’s strange, because it was only a few years ago that there was no electricity here at all. At the college lounge, as at most cafes in town, we now have a fancy coffee machine. And although last year (before coffee machine – BCM!) coffee was made using the traditional method. Now this is verboten, and it seems to be asking a lot to simply boil water for tea when the power is out. I’m just as bad, and I do appreciate it when power failures land on our workshop days. But if I happen to be in the office, I’ll stare wistfully at the computer and flick the light switch regularly, even though I know there’s no way that power’s coming back on before nine at night. I might take the opportunity to go visit a school, or I might go for a walk after work, but come darkness, I’ll be sitting in my house counting the minutes till the power comes back on.

I will be returning in a couple of months to one of the richest countries in the world. Unfortunately, much of her wealth is dependent on huge investment in economically and environmentally unsustainable industry. Perhaps it is because I am working in a country that is just at the beginning of its modern development that I am particularly conscious of sustainability. Or because of the overwhelming awareness of climate change and the population and food pressures that it exacerbates. I am increasingly worried about the need in all countries for development that is sustainable. Development is ultimately only economically and socially sustainable if it is environmentally sound. So as I return to Canada, I wonder about how truly developed we are, and how we might shift our development onto another path that might bring greater sustainability and security.

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