Friday, January 15, 2010

Power Outages

One of the little things that struck me as odd when I first arrived (one of about a thousand such things) was the fact that cigarette lighters sold in Kabul all have a small flashlight built into the end. These are not fancy, expensive Swiss Army lighters; these are just the cheap, crappy plastic kind that you get at 7-11 in the States for 75 cents. Here they're even less, around ten Afghani, which is approximately 20 cents.

So I couldn't figure out why almost every lighter sold here had this tiny flashlight built-in. Certainly it raised the cost slightly, and every penny matters to most Afghans. So why would they all elect to buy these odd lighters? Even the people who didn't smoke had them!

Of course, at the time I was living in a shady hotel that had one redeeming feature: a pair of powerful new German-made generators which kicked on automatically when the city power grid went down. The lights flickered for a minute or two, but mostly I didn't even notice when the power was out.

Now that I live in private quarters at the mercy of the city power grid, and with my only backup a tempermental diesel generator that probably came into Afghanistan with the Soviet 40th Shock Army in 1979, I have discovered the reason for the flashlight-lighters. When the power goes out (which it does every day and most nights, sometimes for as long as eight hours), it's really handy to have a tiny light in your pocket so you don't stumble on the stairs or accidentally pee in the sink.

Not that I've done that. Recently.

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