People had warned me before arriving here that Khaling was somewhat “gray” or “dreary”, but for the most part I disregarded what they said. When I arrived here the weather was beautiful and I thought that they must have been mistaken, just as they were when they told me that everyone here drinks and drinks hard.
Well after Keira left it rained for almost two weeks straight. I mean torrential downpour, day and night, non-stop rain. Just in case the rain wasn’t bad enough, there were also a few more hailstorms thrown into the mix, as well as some violent windstorms.
At first I didn’t mind the rain, it was actually kind of exciting. I love watching big storms and being right in the middle of a downpour, especially when I’m in an exotic place, but I never really considered how big an impact rain can have when one is living a relatively simple life. For instance, I ran out of clean clothes after about one week, and considering that my laundry facilities include two buckets that I manually dunk my clothes into over and over again until they are clean and several clotheslines outside my house for drying my clothes, laundry became quite an issue. I could get my clothes clean, but getting them dry was near impossible. I dried my underwear and socks inside, which took a minimum of three days, and resorted to wearing the same two pairs of pants and the same two shirts day after day. The reality was that I had no other options. It was, however, a bit of wakeup call for me because the rainy season begins in June and ends in September, so there is certainly more of the same to come.
As if two weeks of non-stop rain wasn’t bad enough, matters were made worse by a long stretch without electricity. At first it was kind of fun having blackouts here and there. I would usually light a few candles and play guitar or write. There is something about candlelight that really gets my creative juices flowing and makes me feel inspired. I wrote a few songs that I think are quite good and for the first time since I arrived here I started plugging away at a book that I’ve been working on. But that was just at first. After the first full day without electricity my laptop’s battery was completely drained, so I no longer had my computer. My guitar became my saving grace as it has numerous times in my life, and I found myself playing for hours at a time, singing at the top of my lungs to overcome the din of rain or hail hammering against my roof. But even still, I could only play guitar for so long. I would read by candlelight, but I found that reading in such a dimly lit room just made me tired and I would often end up falling asleep at around 7:00 just because I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer without light.
For the first two days with zero electricity I just brushed it off. This is just a part of life in Bhutan, I would tell myself. But after more than 72 hours without power I started to get fairly frustrated. More than anything else I just wanted to have a shower, and considering that showering involves filling the very same buckets I use for laundry with water, heating that water using a crude looking electrical device that is placed in the bucket and plugged into a wall outlet, and dumping that water over my head using a small jug, I wasn’t really looking forward to doing that without the crucial step of heating the water. It had been almost a week since I last showered (and to “shower” here means to simply rinse, whereas to “bath” means to scrub yourself with soap) and I kept telling myself that I would wait until I had electricity again so I could have hot water. But it never came, so on day three, lit only by candlelight, I had myself a cold shower, dried myself off, and jumped directly into bed at about 9:00.
When I woke up on day four the electricity was still off. I went to school, taught my classes in a fairly half-assed manner considering that preparing for work was exponentially more difficult without power, and returned home at the end of the day to find my apartment still had no electricity.
I decided to go to the market to kill some time and because I was actually about to run out of candles (I had half of one left). In town the power was also out, but the shops remained open, lit by candlelight when customers entered, but otherwise draped in darkness. I went from shop to shop searching for candles, but every single shop in town was sold out. I couldn’t believe that it was actually possible for the electricity to be down for four straight days and for no one to have any candles to counter this rather significant problem. Finally, in one of the last stores on the strip I found a small package of six tiny candles for twenty ngultrum (about 50 cents), so I bought them and returned home only to find that the power was back on.
I sat at my table and watched a bit of a movie on my computer as it charged. I took three of the candles I had just purchased and stuck them to the table at various locations, and no sooner had I secured the last of the three than the power went out again. I couldn’t help but burst into laughter. At first not having electricity hadn’t bothered me in the slightest, then I had become quite frustrated by it, and then all I could do was laugh at the absurdity of the situation. I had waited three and a half days for the power to come back on, and when it finally did, it was for less than twenty minutes, and then I was once again left in the dark. I lit the candles, turned off my computer to conserve the battery, picked up my guitar, and wrote another song.