Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Light and Darkness: or an autobiographical interlude

I read this excellent post (please please go read it) yesterday and sat down to compose a comment. Very quickly, however, the enormity of what I wanted to try to say became too great for a simple comment and so I find I have to write a whole post of my own.

My very earliest recollections of life do not include electric light. I'm not sure how old I was when we moved to Farakala, but we lived next to the old village, before everyone moved to the road to be more 'modern'. Our house was a horse shoe-ish circle of six mud huts with thatch, joined by small passage ways so that you could go all through the house inside or cut through the court yard from one room to another. It wasn't a particularly well built house and besides being beset by termites on every side and in every crack, it eventually melted in the rain and we were forced to move.

The new house was half way between the old village and the new and was designed in the style of a french chateau. The foundation was sturdier, the walls straighter, the thatch thicker and I was older. No longer wanting to play in a pile of sand in the courtyard, or tie kittens on my back as if they were babies, I now participated in the rhythm of life to a greater degree, or at least as much as one can on holiday from boarding school.

There are several, as Jen at Conversion Diary calls them (haven't found the post though), hard stops to a life without electricity or running water. In the morning, water has to be brought in, preferably while the day is still cool. In the afternoon, it is too hot to go anywhere or do anything. And in the evening, the twilight period, the time between full sun and complete black, is only about 20 minutes. If you haven't filled the lamps in the morning or waning afternoon, you are racing against the light to fill them enough to carry you through the evening, and to light them. Once darkness has fallen, the deep quiet and deep darkness restrict movement and work.

But it was, and is, always my favorite time of day. It was so unlike my life now. We were never organized to cook supper before dark. There are too many things to do in the daylight hours, and cooking is perfectly achievable by lamp light. We never ate anything before 7:30. And then, baths were usually had, carrying water heated on the stove across the house to the bath hut, bathing by candle light. And then there was plenty of time to read. But you wouldn't want, certainly, to undertake a major cleaning project after dark, as I generally do here (I scrubbed the fridge until 10 o'clock last night and was fairly and completely exhausted after).

Visits could be had after dark--walking out,whether the moon is a sliver or full, the stars are bright enough, practically, to provide light, carrying with you a large stick and a lantern or flash light, remembering always to look down and keep to the path.

I'm getting all weepy as I write this because I miss it so much. Honestly, one of the biggest shocks to my system on moving to the US, besides the wonder of the grocery store and the overwhelming selection of toothpaste, was the unrelenting electric light in the evening. The absence of silence, the blaring light, the constant drone of computers and refrigerator and shouting of the dishwasher, all of it combines together to be psychologically wearing.

And, in my electric life now, though I have light enough to read and pray at any hour, I don't pray at night, much. We don't, as a family, sit together in candle light and sing the phos hilaron or pray, 'be our light in the darkness and defend us from all the terrors of the night', because we already have light, and we don't remember that there are terrors. We could, but we're busy up to the point of sleep.

It is a great loss. But also, my fridge is clean.


Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Wow, what a fascinating post! Far, far more interesting insights than my original post. :) Thank you so much for sharing your experiences!

Marianne Thomas said...

I read Jen's post last week and hopped here to read this after she linked it. I love your phrase of "psychologically wearing" because it's exactly so. It's near impossible to find quiet in our modern world.

Little M said...

What an amazing experience -so foreign to us young Westerners.

Just Me said...

Wonderful post! I agree with your other commenter - it IS impossible to find any quiet these days. Something is always running, humming along. We can barely see the stars because of all the lights. No wonder people hardly stop and pause about the greatness of God - we've hidden ourselves from it in our "artificial" world.

Rosita said...

It is what you reflected on that I look forward to most when we visit my husband's family in rural Chad. Thanks for sharing.

reneegrace said...

This was fun to read. Remembering my growing up years when I was home from boarding school. We lived in the jungle of Papua New Guinea. Although we HAD a generator, we didn't use it every night and when we did it was a relief for it to be turned off for the noise was incredibly intrusive. I miss my little kerosene lantern and candle light dinners... something it would be lovely to bring back. by golly, I think we will! although I'm in AK and there is no need for any lights this time of year! :)

Rachel Gray said...

My favorite memory of my grandfather was the night we were visiting his house and the power went out. We lit candles, sat together in the living room, talked and sang hymns. I felt closer to my whole family.