Thursday, February 11, 2010
Access to electricity is something that you tend to take for granted. Having ours cut off went from being slightly humorous (for me), to seriously annoying, to anger inducing in a fairly short period of time. For my wife, the reaction was straight to anger.
Wednesday at about noon, I got a call from our housing and visa officer at our school telling me that the electricity had been cut off in our apartment. Not the whole building, just our apartment. He went on to tell me that due to some change in the billing, a number of people working at our school were without power or water. The really interesting thing about the billing is that despite all my asking, I have never received an electricity bill. I was always told that they arrive sporadically and that I'll get one eventually. One of my co-workers got his first bill a couple of months ago after living here for a year and a half. The response I always got was, "It's just like that here. You'll get a bill eventually." I called my wife and got a very angry reception. She knows it's not my fault, but still needed to vent some steam.
The phone calls from the visa officer went from: "Come bring some money down to me at 3:00 so I can pay your bill," to "Come bring some money to my assistant at 2:00 so he can pay your bill," to come bring some money down now so my assistant can take you to get an account so you can pay your bill." I got into a school vehicle with the housing department assistant and another pissed-off looking guy who'd had his power cut off and headed to the electric company.
When we got there I noticed one of the Deans at our school also paying his bill to get his power restored. At least the power company wasn't only picking on the new guys. They were just randomly turning power off in the apartments. Their new position seemed to be: If you owe more than 1000 dirham (about US$270) then the power was cut. That policy is understandable until you realize that they only send out bills every year or so. After sitting in the waiting room patiently for an hour while the housing assistant talked to various people from the electric company I was told that the housing officer didn't "know anyone here so we have to go to another office where [he knows] a guy who can help us." While I was unclear why we had to know someone to pay an electric bill I went along with it.
By this point, it was 4:00 and like it or not, I had to call my wife to give her an update. When I told her that it was going to be a while until we had electricity she informed me that it was starting to get dark in the apartment. I decided to give her updates by text mail from that point.
I later found out that the reason other people were able to pay their bills and we weren't was that the account of the previous resident of my apartment had never been closed. That was also the reason that I owed for 14 months despite having only been in the country for six months. The housing assistant told me that if he hadn't known someone in this office, the electric company would have to shut down the power and wait for 4 to 5 days before turning it on again. He assured me that it wasn't going to be a problem.
By 5:30, I'd paid the bill and was told that they would be around in an hour to turn the power back on. I figured that it would be a good time to go to the Internet company office and pay whatever money I owed on that bill and see if I could finally arrange them to send us monthly bills. I sure didn't want to get the Internet cut off (again) just after our electricity had been cut off.
By the time I got home, it was dark. Arriving home to a candle-lit apartment didn't bode well for marital bliss. Having the refrigerator off for eight hours didn't bode well for the milk and other perishables in the fridge and the freezer full of ice-cream. We got the kids to bed and started watching a DVD on my wife's laptop running on battery life with little hope of having the power returned that night. Suddenly at 8:30, there we were with lights.
As it turned out, all they had to do was literally flick a switch, something we could've done. Something that one of the many people without power opted to do in her apartment rather than suffer no electricity for a few days. While I do believe the housing guy that this change was sudden and beyond his control, he's pretty quiet on why the bill from the previous owner was never cut off and why I had to pay for 14 months of electricity. I have been reassured that I needed to pay for the full 14 months to get power back and the school would will it out with me to get me a refund for the 8 months that I wasn't living in the apartment. As long as that happens, I'm happy to chalk this up to being an amusing anecdote. I understand that not having electricity for a day or two in the scheme of things is no big deal. The real annoyance was that despite reassurances that there was nothing to worry about, it turned out that there was. Experiences like this shake your faith in the systems that you are supposed to be able to rely on.