Last week during July 4th celebration, we had an experience that reminded me of my days in the Philippines. You may say, how can be a holiday that is so American (US Independence Day) remind me of my home country, the Philippines? Please stay with me and keep on reading.
Our last 4th of July was kind of unusual as we were invited for dinner by our friend to celebrate it with their friend, whom I never met before. We celebrated the holiday in a farm about an hour drive away from our home, in the outskirt of a small town of rural Iowa. We had dinner – burgers, hotdogs, potato salad, and vegetable salad (very American meal) – in a log cabin near a small pond. Then when darkness came we sat in our camping chairs and watched the fireworks that was fired from the nearby town.
Even though the setting of the log cabin was similar to a small barrio back home, but that’s not what reminded me of the Philippines.
Earlier that day, since it’s a holiday and I wanted my wife to take a break too from the kitchen, so we went out for lunch. We chose a restaurant that is located in a large shopping complex close to our home. After we were seated and only a few minutes after our order was taken by the waitress, the power went out. A blackout!
Why do we call it blackout or brownout? Technically the lights are out so it’s black or dark. Should it be “black in?” And is there a difference between blackout and brownout? Many people, including me, think they are synonymous. But according to energy company’s definition, a blackout is a total power outage while a brownout is a partial reduction in system voltage or system capacity. Now I learned something too.
So while we were sitting in the restaurant without power, that brought me back memories of the power outages in Manila.
I was reminded of those candlelight dinners we had, not because we were creating a romantic ambience, but because there’s no electricity and yet we need some light so not to swallow the fish bones. Those sweltering heat that all you can do was to fan yourself with the abaniko made of fronds from buri palm. For your information, we don’t have air-conditioning in our Manila home, but we have a few Standard or Hitachi electric fans.
Most of the people, at least from our neighborhood, would go outside in the street and hangout in front of their houses when the power is out. No TV to watch any teleserye, and it’s too hot to relax or nap indoors. So no other recourse but to gossip with your neighbors outside while enjoying Manila’s evening breeze. Lahat istambay sa kalye.
Those blackouts most of the time, would last one to two hours. And during the 1980’s to early 90’s, we had rolling blackouts or scheduled power outages, to conserve energy as there’s not enough power supply to cope with Metro Manila’s increasing electric need. Or perhaps the government just thought it was a good fad.
Sometimes it was not just once a day that we had blackouts, as it could be twice a day or more. With the lights going on and off so often, all business becomes “patay-sindi.” Of course the real “patay-sindi” establishments or the red-light districts just gets darker. And when the power is out, Metro Manila becomes one big sauna place, with its residents sweating profusely that no amount of tawas or Rexona matters.
Even hospitals and other vital facilities were not spared from this power outages. Some of the facilities have their own power generator, but even then, their generators cannot supply all their facility’s electric need. So maybe the generators can support the power for the lights, but not the air conditioning or some other functions.
When we were 4th year medical students, one of the roles we have was to become human ventilators. One of our sign-outs was the list of all patients in the hospital on mechanical ventilator. So when the power goes out, we all would run to our assigned patients and manually ambu-bagged the patient for the next hour or so, or until the power returns. Squeezing the ambubag for an hour was a good exercise for the forearm though and it strengthens the grip. I just did not realize until then that, that was one of my duties when I signed up for medical school.
When the long-awaited electric power finally returns, you could hear a loud hurray and even applause from the whole neighborhood. As if we need to cheer the energy company for restoring the power. It’s like it was our “utang na loob” to have our electricity back. Utang na loob na buhay ‘yan!
Back to our 4th of July lunch in the restaurant, as we waited for our food, the waitress told us that our food would be ready soon. They might have gas-powered grills as they can still cook even without electricity. Though it was already starting to get hot inside as there’s no a/c. They did not have to bring out candles though as it was still bright with all the windows open. We were not given the reason for the power outage which in the first place, was a very rare occasion here.
Not too long after, our food came. The restaurants closed its doors for new customers but let those people inside finish their meals. After we were done eating, the waitress told us with a smile that we can go and don’t have to pay, as our meal was on the house. I think with their computers off, we can’t pay with credit cards anyway.
I left a generous tip on the table, both for the free lunch and for the evoked reminiscing – a sultry trip down memory lane.