Normal Life: Electricity

“Power’s off!” is a phrase commonly heard in our house. In fact, it’s one of the first sentences our girls have learned. It’s usually accompanied by one or the other of the girls trying all the light switches in the house, and opening the fridge to see if the fridge light turns on.

So the title to this post is not exactly accurate. Electricity is only sometimes a part of normal life. But the way we do electricity here is so different from how we have ever done it in the States, that I thought it would be interesting to show what “normal” looks like for us.

Here’s our meter box.


All fancy, high-tech, and digital isn’t it?! Well, to remind you we live in Africa, there are usually 2-3 lizards living in this box too. I open it and jump back to see what will come out! Only lizards so far. But anyway, you can see the keypad on the meter. Our electricity is pre-paid, so in order to “top-up” our electricity, I buy units of electricity from the power provider (Electricity Supply Company Of Malawi – ESCOM), and on the receipt, I’m given a code that I must input in my meter in order for the units to be applied to our account. So I check the meter every week or two to see if we have units, and buy and input more units as we need them.

Now. Having units does not equate to having electricity. If the power is on and we have units, then we can have electricity. But these days, we never know how many hours a day we’ll have power available to us. It could be on all day, or it could be off from 4am to 4pm. Usually it’s off 4-8 hours a day (alternating mornings or evenings), and on overnight. But you never know!

Enter the generator.


With 6.5 KVA available and a battery backup for the starter ignition, this machine is our friend! We’re not the type to turn the generator on every time the power goes off, but if it has been off for 7-8 hours, this generator saves the day by recooling and refreezing my fridge and freezer. Especially if the girls have been checking to see if the power is back yet. (Ahem, yes, we are trying to break that habit…) It’s also helpful when we need to have sign-up sheets printed for church and the power has been off for hours, or if we need to turn in an online assignment for Matt’s grad program by a specific time and the power is, once again, off. I will admit to occasionally asking Matt to turn the generator on for bath time too, because, well, it’s ok, but sometimes I need to see in order to scrub all the African red dirt off those girls!

Can I just point out for a moment how wonderful my husband is? The metal housing held above the generator not only covers the generator to make the side of our house look nicer, it also greatly reduces the noise. And Matt designed it. He’s wonderful! He also designed this little switchover:


If the green light is on, we have power from ESCOM. If it’s off, we can flip the switch and start the generator. Brilliant!

And if all else fails, we can buy a 6-pack of candles for about 85 cents. We actually like candle light, so it’s sometimes our power of choice! Not that it will run our internet router, but it sure is pretty!


However you get your electricity to read our blog, thanks for following along!

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