Water, Power, and a Birthday

People in New York are outraged over something to do with electricity. Yawn. My wife used to study English by candlelight. Her brother used to carry a barrel of water up six flights of stairs so the family could wash and bathe. They didn’t have electricity to operate the building’s water pump… for months. Not to play the suffering contest game, but living in Kutaisi for a few months has taught me to expect power outages and water outages from time to time. We just roll with it, and we’re glad it isn’t 2003.

My birthday officially began about two hours ago. I mark my birthday starting from midnight on the third, wherever I am, which means I shifted my birthday with the time zone I’m in even though I wasn’t born until 10pm on the third in New York, which is 30 hours after midnight on the third in Georgia. I am not drinking alcohol this birthday because I have a baby in the house who just turned 15 days old and that’s not an appropriate drinking environment. I joked that I’m celebrating my birthday this year with a nice tall glass of second-world tap water.

Yes, I’m drinking Kutaisi tap water right now. It didn’t come directly from the tap, of course, because it’s 2am and the water isn’t on. I’d like to remind my readers now that water is turned on in Kutaisi daily at around eight in the morning and turned off at about one in the afternoon – just about five hours of water a day. We fill up old Nabeghlavi bottles with tap water to drink, and we have a cistern that we fill with water to wash our hands and flush the toilet, and a hot water heater that we fill and a bucket in the kitchen that we fill, all this filling and storing and fussing, just for water – something that I took completely for granted for most of thirty years.

I take it for granted now, honestly – it’s just an extra step in my day. Wake up, make my coffee (with day-old stored water), wait for the water to come on, turn off the valve that feeds the tap from the cistern, turn on the valve that feeds the tap from the building pump, take a shower, turn on the valve that refills the cistern from the building pump, listen for the sound of water spilling out of the cistern overflow pipe, turn off the valve that refills the cistern from the building pump… my first few months here, my mother-in-law mostly handled these duties, but now there’s school and I wake up the earliest so I mostly do them, but now the baby wakes up earliest so sometimes my wife does them when she gets up to feed the baby. Some days the water doesn’t come and sometimes I have to buy extra drinking water because we didn’t store enough for two days, so now we try to store enough for two days. But still, we consider ourselves lucky because the tap water is clean enough to drink. That isn’t the case everywhere and bottled water isn’t so cheap.

It’s a little strange to me that I consider myself so lucky – that I am so satisfied with my life – and yet I have five hours of water a day. There are days when the power goes out – it’s usually back by evening, but sometimes it takes until the next afternoon, and once it was out for most of the weekend. When the power doesn’t go out I’m happy, and when it does I remind myself that having a netbook with eight hours of battery life is a privilege and that most people in my neighborhood are sitting in increasingly dark rooms while I’m watching TV shows or catching up on my reading.

Tomorrow I am going to make myself chicken cooked in butter, garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, and mustard. It is going to be delicious. I might involve mashed potatoes in the equation as well. My wife is getting me a cake from this amazing cake shop in Kutaisi. I will miss American boxed cakes – not because they’re better than the amazing cake shop cakes, but because they’re what I grew up with – and I will probably reflect on being far from my family and where I grew up – but honestly the strangest thing to me about living in Kutaisi is living so far off the ground. I’ve never lived on the seventh floor before and it’s kind of surreal to think of all those floors below me.

Last year at this time I was anxious about turning 30. The big three oh, we call it. I would never have guessed that year 30 would be the best one so far. I couldn’t have imagined that in only a year’s time I would have the best birthday present ever – an adorable little baby boy who is happy and healthy and adorable. I wouldn’t have guessed that another year of experience would make me a much better teacher than I was last year, or that another year of experience wouldn’t improve my Georgian very much. 30 has been a wild ride. I got my first grey hair, but I guess I don’t mind. I guess the best part about being 30 is that turning 31 isn’t such a big deal. It’s almost a relief. I made it through 30, and now it’s smooth sailing until 40. No major birthday events in sight.

I am 31 years old, and I have water, I have power, and I have a family. What else could I ask for?

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10 Responses to Water, Power, and a Birthday

  1. Katie says:

    Seriously, chill out. Transportation for daily life was ripped apart at a moment’s notice; water, food, and gas all but disappeared in some areas; people were flooded out of their homes; not to mention those who died and those who lost their entire life’s possessions, including a friend of mine. And New Yorkers responded by living by candlelight and sharing with their neighbors and pulling together here, just as you describe them doing in Georgia. I’m a little disappointed you choose to play the “New Yorkers are spoiled” game now, and I don’t understand why you feel the need to keep trying to prove and reprove that point.

    • panoptical says:

      Well, it’s because I keep seeing things like “nobody is bringing us generators” and “the power is only out where the poor people live” and it just seems like a lot of people who still have houses to go to (and internet access to whine with) are really upset that some of those houses are dark at night. You need water and food to live, but not electricity, and I would think that people would be more understanding about the fact that resources have to go to basic needs first and electricity is not one of those basic needs.

      • bellatrixed says:

        As someone who was affected very little (and thanks the Lord every hour that we came through as strongly as I did) The power is out in plenty of places that rich people live as well as the poor. This storm affected everyone – and I promise that if you found yourself without power for six days in a row when you lived here you too would be bitching about it.

        I am glad you’ve grown in the past few years, and that your priorities have shifted, but you do need to remember that pain is relative. There are places in the city (again, rich as well as poor) that didn’t receive any aid of any kind until Friday, and places outside of the city that didn’t get any help until today.

        We are incredibly fortunate to live the way we do, but it’s not fair to be smug because you’ve made life choices that mean your expectations about how things work are different from ours.

        • panoptical says:

          Fair or not, being smug when other people suffer because they don’t live where I live is my most fundamental right as an American.

    • panoptical says:

      Looking back, I suppose it’s possible that your Twitter feed does not contain multiple whines about not having generators and perhaps I should have provided some more context in the original post…

  2. Notitalian says:

    People get used to their living conditions, and when they change, they bitch. Neanderthals bitched when their dinosaur taxis were slow, Medieval people bitched when the women and gays they set on fire didn’t burn quite as brightly as they used to, and in the future, we will bitch when our brain-integral Megainternet connection bandwidth dips below a petabyte per second.

    And if a “frankenstorm” came and punched a hole in the cistern of every Georgian in Kutaisi, you guys would be bitching, too.

  3. Kind troll says:

    It’s me again – I think I left a bitchy reply on one of the posts. Sorry about that, it had been a bad day.

    Anyways, both of you are missing the point of this post. He clearly says in the beginning “not to play the suffering game..” so it’s not a “I’m more tough than you” thing. New Yorkers aren’t spoiled, they just have more, resource wise, than Georgians. That doesn’t mean they’re bad people though! It just means that in New York, if you pay your bills on time, you’ll have electricity, running water, gas, and everything else. That’s not the case in Georgia, and it hasn’t been for the past 20+ years. When you live in a second-world country (which is what Georgia is), things like the New York power outage don’t seem as horrible anymore. I remember a couple of snow storms when I moved over here – during one of them, we lost power. My neighbors freaked out and wondered what to do, and I tried my best not to laugh at them. It’s not that I was “insensitive” or “smug”, it’s just that I was so used to the power being out that it just felt natural; you always had a back up plan and the lights going out were something you expected, not something that freaked you out. Pain is relative – and for us, there is no pain in having your electricity gone for one day. I understand American’s point of view now but at first it was difficult.

    Also, both of you forget one thing – aid DID come, albeit late. In Georgia (and most other countries), if the water’s off, it’s off and no one’s going to help you. You just have to wait for it to come back on. So, not only does this not happen every year, but when it does, you have help on the way, even if they’re late. The power outages are awful, but I think the takeaway from this post is “be grateful for what you DO have” – you’ll eventually get back your power, water, transportation. That’s not the case for a lot of people.

  4. Kind troll says:

    BTW just because Georgia’s living standards suck (as Neal can attest to), that doesn’t mean they think they’re “better” than New Yorkers. In fact, most Georgians are worried for the people in New York and I’ve gotten a lot of calls and message asking if I’m ok, even though I don’t live anywhere near New York.

  5. pasumonok says:

    i freaked out last time electricity went out in saburtalo. i had no candles, no matches and no charged comp. i did not know what was worse–sitting with no lights or having no comp to complain about it on fb.
    in the ninities, we had gasoline lamps and heaters, battery-operated radios, flashlights for every family member and we even watched tv of lucky bastard with generator, in the house across, from our window. but we were prepared and we were used to it.
    so, when people don’t know how to cope they freak out.
    oh, and apart from ny bashing, this was the sweetest post ever. i almost teared up. so happy for u.

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