Several power cables swing between the light poles that line our city and town streets. At each pole, cables come in from all angles, tangling and dangling and coiling around one another. Some of them are cable or telephone wires. How does that even work? How do so many utilities meet at the same point?
When the electricity goes out, they say “se fue la luz,” which literally means “the light left.” As a result, I tend to talk about power outages by saying “the lights went out,” even though power outages are much worse than that, because the washing machine, the phone chargers, and most importantly, the fans are also out. I am lucky enough that in my town, we usually only lose electricity 1-2 times per week, rarely for more than an hour at a time. I have friends who are seemingly without power 30% of the time.
Electricaribe is the name of the power company that services the Caribbean region where I live. Fun facts about this company:
- It is an affiliate of a Spanish company.
- As long as I have been here, it has been the driving force for regular protests – big ones, involving tires burning in the middles of roads.
- It has been mandated to liquidate by the Colombian government “because the company is not in a position to provide the energy service with the quality and continuity that are required.”
- Around Barranquilla there are tags spray painted that say something about Electricaribe problems and provide a number to call.
- They are hated far more than any US utility company that I’m aware of.
It’s not uncommon for people to jerry rig their own electrical connections. Where I’ve seen it in person is at town events. Food vendors have cables going up from their stands and what how does that even work?! I’ve also heard of people stealing their power. Again, I do not understand how this even works. I just know that the people who do it connect their cheating cables for the day and then go back to using Electricaribe services at night, to ensure that when the meter reader comes by they don’t get caught.
I’ve seen power lines and towers do things here that I had never seen before. I’ve seen a transformer get struck by lightning, which resulted in a crazy loud noise and a huge flash of light and then continued sparking and smoking in the utter darkness and pouring rain. I’ve seen one of the finagled energy-stealing cables just randomly start fire, burning a hole through the cable it was connected to until it finally broke and fell (fortunately everyone was aware and had made space). I’ve seen cables fall and drag in dangerously low places across roads and sidewalks and school entrances.
Living here makes me feel like I need to go back to my high school science classes to practice building circuits again.