Kids and Markets

I love raising kids in Africa. Life is laid back and out in the open. People laugh and talk to one another. There is color, nature, beauty, and adventure. It’s truly a great place to raise fun, imaginative, resourceful kids. There are a few things here, though, that I’ve had to think more carefully about than I would if I were raising my kids in the States. One of those things is the market. Abigail has been to the market before, but not for quite a while, and that only because she was in tow with the grandparents or with Mom and Dad running errands. It can be hard to take kids to the market: you have to bargain for everything, watch where you’re going, watch for pickpockets, and keep a close eye on the kids. I don’t have that many eyes! But Abigail is growing up, so today, for the first time as a big kid of 7, she came to help me shop at the Old Bus Depot Market.

Our goal was fabric in the chitinje market. We were looking for new curtains for the project room, a valance for the kitchen, shower curtains, and some fabric to make bags for the girls’ ballet things.

We got busy and found all kinds of things! Some of them we needed, and some… for fun! Most of the fabric here is $1/yard (MWK1500 for 2 meters), so sometimes I pick up fabrics I like but have no purpose in mind for them. Some will go back to the States with visiting professors, some will become skirts for me and the girls. It all works out. Don’t talk to my husband about this. He has very different ideas about fabric hoarding/loving. 😬😁 He’s probably right, so for the sake of my sewing shelves and the love of my husband, I only go to the chitinje market 2-3 times a year. Abigail, I would guess, takes after me when it comes to loving fabric. Me with a bent toward the style of the early 80s. I guess I was 7 years old in the early 80s, so we are right on track.

It was a successful trip to the market. Fabric-wise, we found something for every project we had in mind, and only 2 pieces of “ooo, that will be great for something!” Abigail chatted with the ladies, befriended a one-legged chicken under the tables, and had a great time experiencing more of Africa. It was fun to adventure with her, and we are looking forward to lots more adventures together!

Construction Zone

The paint-the-house project necessitated a few home repairs before we started with the paint. But when you need a whole truckful of sand and lyme for the concrete and plaster projects, well, you know you live in a mud brick house. Stronger mud! That’s what we need!

Some of the repairs are related to water seeping up where the original builders “forgot” to put down that layer of plastic that keeps water from seeping in. Note to self: if you ever build a house, that plastic sheet is mandatory!!! Other repairs are little things like moving this light switch, which for years has lived behind the open hall door. I’ll probably keep moving the door to turn on the light switch for months, but having it in a more logical place makes me feel like we have righted a wrong!

In this picture, you can see 2 new holes in my kitchen ceiling. My wonderful husband is having down-lights installed that will focus on the work areas, and putting the new lights on the inverter. No more chopping vegetables by candlelight!

And the painting continues… bathrooms today. Two coats in each of 3 bathrooms for today.

But look at those clean, shiny, newly-painted kitchen walls and cupboards!

Once the dust settles (literally) today, I’ll move back into that beautiful kitchen!

Bones and Clinics

I haven’t said a lot on the blog about the medical system here, mostly because we haven’t been there recently. God has blessed us with good health, so generally we haven’t spent much time at the Dr’s office, but Abigail dropped a gas canister on her big toe and gave us a chance to document a visit to the clinic.

The offending gas canister was of the 9kg variety and thankfully not the 19kg variety. Abigail and I had been out to the gas company Thursday afternoon to get both a 9kg and a 19kg gas bottle refilled. The 9kg bottle is for our grill (South African: braai), and the 19kg bottle is for our stove/oven. Matt took the 19kg bottle out of the truck and rolled it to its spot, and Abigail decided to be helpful and take the 9kg bottle out of the truck. It fell straight in her big toe. If you know these bottles, you know that the bottoms are not round, rather there is a rim around the outside of the canister. So the full weight of 9kgs of gas and whatever the weight of the bottle itself was… all landed right on her big toe. Ouch.

She was brave. I’m sure it hurt a lot! Thankfully she was wearing sturdy sneakers at the time, and that probably saved her a lot of grief! I sent a message to a couple doctor friends, including our primary physician here in Malawi, Barrett Jones, and the consensus was that we didn’t need to do anything with it that night (5:45 pm and most clinics are closed), but could go in to see Barrett in the morning and get an X-ray.

So in the morning we headed to Partners in Hope clinic, one of the best stocked and staffed hospitals/clinics/pharmacies in town.

It’s an impressive building for Malawi!

Like Drs’ offices around the world, you spend a bit of time in the waiting room. These girls are good at waiting though…

so they asked for a couple soldiers (who live in my purse) and had an imaginary war. But they were on the same side… and I don’t know who the bad guys were. That didn’t seem to be an important part of the war.

It wasn’t long before we were called back to see Dr Jones. The girls know him as “Judson’s dad,” so he’s considered a friendly.

The moment of truth: broken or not?

It’s not. But the bone is bruised, so no ballet class this week, but she should be back to normal in a few days. When Barrett was looking over the X-ray, I asked him a couple vaccination questions. (I know, some people don’t like vaccines, but we live where all those diseases live, so we get them.) He mentioned that they currently had the MMR vaccine – which is pretty rare and very sought after here! – so I jumped at the chance, much to the distress of my girls. Procedure here is that I had to go pay for the supplies, pick them up, and then take them to the nurses’ station. Thankfully all these stops are in the same building, so I filled out insurance paperwork in lieu of paying, and headed to the pharmacy to pick up the vaccines. They handed me a small black shopping bag which contained an ice pack and 2 vials.

The girls were not thrilled at the prospect of getting “a poke,” but Abigail liked my reasoning that it was better to get it right away rather than wait and worry for a couple weeks. She volunteered to go first and get it over with. Those of you with kids will know that there’s a point, around age 7, when a kid suddenly grows up, seemingly overnight. This was that day for Abigail. Logical reasoning and self-control won out over tears and panic. You can see that she’s still a little bit concerned, but she handled it like a champ!

Naomi, however, is still 3, and no amount of logical reasoning was going to convince her that this was even remotely a good idea. She held my finger so tightly while we watched brave Abigail that my finger turned purple.

Sweet girl! She made it through and got her vaccine, though parts of it resembled wrestling a crocodile. Someday she will grow up too, but for now she just wants her mom. And I’m totally ok with that.

Photo credit to Abigail for that great shot of what it means to be a mom!

That was our clinic adventure! As much as we appreciate this great clinic, and as much as we like “Judson’s dad,” we’re going to try to stay healthy and accident-free for a while now!

Season(ing)s

It’s spring here in Malawi, and things are starting to grow! It’s also harvest time too. I know, I’m confused too. I grew up in Kansas where harvest time and most growing things were ripe mid-late summer or in the fall. I thought that when I moved to the Southern Hemisphere that I could just flip the calendar to know the seasonal foods schedule. Not so. I’ve had to relearn seasonal foods. I’m not an expert, but I’m starting to figure it out. The step after figuring it out is taking advantage of fruits and vegetables when they are available. So that’s what I’m trying to do.

Lemon juice and zest from Shannon’s lemons will become lemon bread this afternoon.

Leftover lemon/lime rinds…

became lemon vinegar for cleaning.

Great celery is a rarity here, so when I find it I buy it. We’ll eat some this week, but I’m stocking up in the freezer for soups and such throughout the year.

Our friends the Misomalis have a farm north of town, and they grow enormous zucchinis! I’m making most of what I get into zucchini noodles (“zoodles”) with a spiralizer, but I’m also freezing some and making zucchini breads and muffins – to eat and freeze. Looks like it’s about time to make some more…

The Misomalis also have great cucumbers, so we’re enjoying them in salads but also pickling some.

The MacPhersons sell eggs year round, so they’re not seasonal so to speak, but they are really great eggs. Especially soft boiled – yum!

And those tomatoes are from the Lloyd’s little garden, which is languishing in their furlough-absence, but producing wonderful “baby tomatoes” that the girls enjoy picking after ballet class!

That’s enough stockpiling for this week. Next week I’m in search of rhubarb to add to our freezer stock, and I might look into freezing broccoli too because it’s so good right now. Anyone know: do I need to blanch it first?

DAPP

When I first moved to Malawi, I brought all the clothes our family would need for the whole of our first term, which we expected to be two years. A few years later, I started making more of my skirts, the girls’ dresses, and even a couple of Matt’s shirts. After all, we do have some great, colorful fabrics here! But a couple years ago, I discovered DAPP. And I haven’t looked back.

DAPP is basically a large clothes-and-shoes Goodwill that gets entirely new stock every 2 weeks. It’s organized by style and by color, within the divisions of baby clothes, kids’ clothes, men’s, women’s, shoes, belts and ties, and household fabrics. Like any used clothing store, you have to do a bit of hunting, but I only slip in for 20-30 minutes every couple of weeks, and this time I easily found 2 nice pairs of slacks for me, board shorts for both girls, sandals for me, and Hello Kitty sneakers for Naomi. Last time I found 2 skirts for me, 4 tops for me, 2 pairs of jeans for Abigail, and a pair of Hello Kitty pajama pants for Naomi. Yes, Naomi is a bit obsessed with Hello Kitty, but she has never been disappointed at DAPP!

DAPP is completely restocked every 2 weeks. Over the course of the 2 weeks, they incrementally lower their prices so that by the end they are practically giving the leftovers away. It’s something like 100 kwacha for a bags of clothes the last day. Very picked over clothes, but really only about 14 cents. I like to go Thursday of the first week. Still great selection, and a really good price:

Conversions: 2,000 kwacha = $2.72, 4,000 kwacha = $5.44. And those are maximum prices. I paid less than 2,000 for most of the items I bought today.

DAPP is actually a non-profit aid organization. The clothes are all donated in Europe, shipped to Malawi, sold in retail stores throughout the country, and the proceeds go to fund aid work in Malawi. Smart and helpful!

So when you think of us missionaries over here, so far from favorite clothing stores, we’re really doing just fine. We like adventure, so it makes sense that we like this type of shopping! And by the way, in this picture Naomi is wearing a neon green Hello Kitty skirt – that she found at DAPP. 😁 She’s one happy customer!

Sewing Class

We are broadening our repertoire here at the Floreen Primary School. Today we started a sewing class!

My students were very busy working on their projects. I taught them to thread their needles…

And they worked on some practice stitches.

I showed them a sample that I had thrown together quickly, based on a great blog I follow, and then let them design their own.

Naomi knew immediately that she wanted to make a monster.

Abigail liked the flower idea, but went for a different style. Hers is still in process, but she’s doing great!

Electricity and Inverters

Electricity is an ever-present issue here in Malawi. Last year the hydroelectric production was so low by the time the rains came that we were down to about only 4 hours of electricity per day. May I remind you, we live in the capital city, not a rural village. It was a bit rough.

But over the years, we’ve become somewhat accustomed to power outages. We have had generators and put some great candle sconces down the halls. We’ve had a series of emergency lights too, but the first way I usually know the power is out is if the time display on my microwave is out. No little green numbers means no power. But isn’t this a cool microwave? I mean, how many people out there have a mirrored surface on their microwave? There wasn’t a lot of selection, and I had considered the mirror surface a drawback of this model, but I’ve since come to be good friends with it. It has taken the place of a mirror in the hall, letting me do a quick check to make sure I’m presentable as I run to get the door or the gate. It’s super-helpful to have a mirror in your kitchen!

Why is the microwave my first indicator? Because these days, pretty much everything else still works when the power goes off! Over a year ago, thankfully before last year’s extreme power cuts, we invested in an inverter system. A guy was selling the batteries at a ridiculously low price, so we jumped at the chance. I’m so glad we did!

An inverter system is basically battery back-up for your whole house. Well, whatever circuits you run through it. Originally we prioritized all the circuits related to productivity and the ability to sleep through tropical summer nights: bedside lamps, a couple sockets for fans and charging computers, and the internet router. Once we realized what a great system we had gotten, we added on one light per room, the refrigerator, and the deep freeze. The items we intentionally left off are the microwave, kettle, water heaters, and hall lights. The heating elements draw too much power, and the hall lights … well, we just like the ambiance of candles down the hall!

Our system has 8 deep cycle batteries and the control unit, which switches over to battery power so seamlessly that it doesn’t even knock us off the internet!

The whole system lives in a wooden box that Matt built in our garage. Besides being one of the nicest back-up systems I know, the box is also a great place to hang out!

We will get lots of use out of this inverter in the coming year, I’m sure. We are just entering “blackout season,” and we have had 6-9 hour blackouts every day this week. Those 20 hour blackouts are coming, and 4 hours a day is not enough to recharge all those batteries. We’re working on a solution for that … stay tuned!

Drinking Water

Remember summer days of drinking straight out of the garden hose? Well, we don't do that here in Malawi! We have a great water filter for our drinking water and for years we only filtered. However, about 9 months ago the city stopped treating the water for a period of time and we started researching the boil and filter option.

Ugh. Boil water every day? Not me, not in my house. I don't want to pay more for gas to boil 20 liters of water every day, and I REALLY don't want to heat up my house every day with 2 huge pots of boiling water! This is Africa, in the tropics, we're already hot enough! I'll just clean those filters again, and we should be fine!

But then I learned the difference between how to get bacteria out of your water and how to get viruses out of your water. Our Katadyn Gravidyn filters remove something like 99.95% of all chemicals and bacteria from the water. But viruses are so small they just go straight through the filters. Boiling kills viruses. Done. End of discussion. I became a firm believer in boiling AND filtering water that day! I'm not even going to get into the details of the sewer pipe that leaked into the water main of the neighborhood just north of us… Boil and Filter is my new mantra!

So we fill up our two 10L pots with tap water almost every evening and bring them to a boil (which takes about exactly 67 minutes). We crack the lids and let them cool overnight, and in the morning we pour the cooled, virus-free water into the top part of our two filters. Over the next couple hours, the water works its way through the filters and stores in the bottom of the unit for easy access. Is it a process? Yes. Do we have fewer tummy bugs now? Actually, yes. Do I carry the water on my head. Um, yes… a 10L pot of water is too heavy to carry in front of me without spilling, so I lift it up on top of my head to carry it across the kitchen. Sorry, no selfies of that – I'm not that coordinated!

And that's how we get drinking water here in Lilongwe! We drink it, cook with it, and wash fruits and veggies in it. I'm thankful for the modern technology of such great filters, and for the ancient technology of fire that now rounds out our water treatment process. I do think that all that work makes the water taste just a little bit sweeter!

Grocery Day

Grocery shopping day, and Naomi is ready! One can always use an extra pair of shoes with a day as busy as we had!

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I woke up having forgotten that I had 13 meters of fabric spread around our living room. Priscilla had washed and hung it to dry yesterday, but even with using the full clothesline it was still a little damp by the end of the day from being folded on itself at several points. So it spent the night getting out the last dampness in our living room. It was a strange site to wake up to though! I folded it up and set it by the door – it was going with us today…

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Breakfast was a family favorite – oatmeal. With a new not-favorite – chewable dewormer. Think bitter pepto bismol. Thankfully we only had to take these at breakfast and dinner today and we’re done. The girls didn’t balk at all, after a brief discussion of what worms are and why we don’t want them.

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School first before grocery shopping! Abi loves school and is especially good at memorizing, so we recently added catechism with corresponding verses. It’s been great, and especially fun because we have songs to go with every catechism and verse! Dana Dirksen put together the songs into 6 albums, and is in the process of producing the same albums in several different languages – including Chichewa!!! The first album in Chichewa is already finished, so once we’ve mastered English, we’ll work on the same catechism and verses in Chichewa!

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Once school was finished, it was time to get ready to go out. This is how I usually dress when we go out. Malawians dress up to go to town, so I put on makeup, and try to dress nicely. It’s hard work to do the shopping here, and I have 2 little kids in tow, and it’s hot; so my go-to item of clothing is a maxi skirt. It’s modest, stretchy, and not suffocating. Add a top that dresses it up a little and we’re good to go.

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Most Malawians don’t use car seats, but we always have. I pray we never get in a bad car accident here, but if we do, I want every chance possible that these sweet girls will be safe!

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First stop was at the new mall close to our home. Business in Malawi is almost entirely transacted in cash; however, our cell phone company is starting to change that for us! We can put money in our “mpamba” account and then through our phones pay our electric bill, water bill, cell phone bill, and even wire money to someone else’s phone/account. After years of carrying wads and wads of cash, and adding more stops to our grocery shopping day so that we could pay all our utilities in person, this new services is SO NICE. They have nice chairs in the waiting area too. =)

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On to see the Swan Man. For those of you who have followed our blog for a while, no, I still don’t know his name. But he’s still a good tailor, and I took a picture just to show you why he’s called the swan man.

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We’ve been to see the tailor frequently of late, so much so that he keeps pretty and sparkly scraps to give to my girls now! =) Last week we dropped off a suit of Matt’s to be altered, then a few days later half of the cushions that go on our wicker furniture so they could be recovered. We couldn’t drop them all off, because we still had a couple people who would need to sit on those chairs, like the ladies who come for counseling. But we dropped all the rest of the cushions off today (and there’s the 13 meters of fabric sitting on top of the cushions), and should be able to pick up the first batch on Saturday. We’re cushionless for 3 days, but it’s ok.

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From the tailors we made two quick stops: an electronics store to buy a new watch battery for Matt, and a sewing supply store to get some more elastic. We didn’t quite have enough to finish the second set of bedsheets the other day, but we do now. And some pretty shiny red trim for some skirts, and …

And then we drove to the far north end of town to a shop called Carniwors that specializes in meat. By this time we were getting a little tired and very hot, so the Abi and Naomi got granadilla and pineapple “spicy juice” (carbonated). And I let them ride in the cart while I planned out the menus for the team of 8 that is coming to stay with us in just over a week.

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Oh yes, my FBC friends who are coming next week. Yes I did. Think pork – you’ll love it. When else will you get to eat it? And for $1.25/pound, it’s a great deal!

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Finally, with a large ice chest full of meat, we made our way home. We had gotten all the miscellaneous errands accomplished, with only the actual grocery store yet to do. But that would have to wait. Peanut butter sandwiches and a nap were necessary first!

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The girls lay down and both slept for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. I headed into my room and turned on the window box fan and the mister outside the bedroom window to enjoy a little evaporative cooling. I have the greatest husband and he makes some pretty fantastic things! Ahhhh! 

And I found a little friend on the window sill. Little, as in, only about 1 inch long. We’ve seen several of these little praying mantises in the yard lately, and thanks to my inquisitive 5 year old, we’ve looked them up and know that they are actually babies. Various kinds of adult praying mantises can be 1-4 inches long, but you know it’s a baby if it doesn’t have wings yet – like this one.

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After nap time, we were back to grocery shopping, at an actual grocery store this time! Abi is my list checker, and does a great job of keeping me on track. Today she commented “Mom, why are you buying things that are not on the list? You should just buy what is on the list.” Hmm, good point. Thanks. But I’m pretty sure you want toilet paper, even if I forgot to put it on the list. =)

The reason she knows it’s not on the list is because I keep my shopping lists in order of how we walk up and down the aisles in this store and she tracks with the list to know where we’re at in our shopping. I know, it’s nerdy, but it saves so much time running back and forth, especially when shopping with little ones. Even nerdier: I have a series of 4 shopping lists that I cycle through each month. Today was the Week 1 list, when I buy all our meat, milk, cheese, and frozen vegetables for the month. Next week will include a month’s worth of dog food, the following week all the tea supplies for our staff for the month… It just works out better to divide that stuff up and plan to buy in bulk when I can. And because I have a large chest freezer at home, I can.

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Check out is always a little harried. I had 2 “trollies” of groceries today, so I had to put all the groceries on the checkout counter – but not any faster than the cashier could scan them because it’s not a very big counter! I also kind of keep an eye on whoever is packing my groceries into bags or boxes on the end, as it’s not uncommon for the tomatoes to end up on the bottom, and the dish soap to be bagged with the yogurt and they both leak. Paying for it all takes a bit of time too, as I have to count out the money, then the cashier has to count it all out too. Because it’s all cash. And the largest kwacha bill we have is currently worth only $1.38. So, just imagine paying for all your groceries (and those of a visiting team of 8) with $1 bills. It takes a little time and attention. Not to mention I have 2 little girls who need a little attention too. Thankfully, there’s a TV hanging at that end of the store that always plays the National Geographic channel. It’s always interesting, and evidently a bonding experience too!

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We got home just before 5pm. Whew. Mission accomplished. The girls colored while I put all the groceries away and made smoothies for dinner. Like that cup Naomi has? I think most people just throw those cups and lids away after they use them, but I held on to it after a trip to Jamba Juice when we were in California in 2014. Still going strong!

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The girls did great today. They were both super helpful, very cooperative, and didn’t complain! I’m not used to taking both of them with me, as Matt has set aside a couple hours on Thursday afternoons to spend some undivided time with one or the other of the girls each week. We trade off every second week, and it’s know as Abi and Dad Day, or Naomi and Dad Day. But this week, Abi declared that it was Abi and Naomi and Mom Day. I love it. It was still special as compared to all the other days we have been together this week, and still worthy of a special title!

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.

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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.

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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:

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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!

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