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January 09, 2013, Wednesday

When the lights go out

Over the years we've probably all met a few expats who seemed a little on the crazy side -- you could say that it goes with the territory. But few could probably match two of my British friends who, a few years ago, made the decision to relocate not sensibly to the sun in Turkey but instead to the chaos of Karachi, Pakistan's sprawling port city. There, inevitably, things did not go altogether swimmingly, and their “adventures” culminated in an armed robbery in their home during which they were tied up and had rings ripped from their fingers. As they told me about this, the writer in me began salivating. “It's a great story for a book,” I assured them.

In due course, then, I found myself reading the manuscript of that book after circumstances had deteriorated to the point that they had been forced to leave the country. In the pages I found a description of the day that Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. But, oddly, what stuck most vividly in my mind was the writer's criticism of the way in which private electricity generators had proliferated in the wealthier suburbs where, more or less out of necessity, foreigners tend to live. Noisy, he complained. Belching out pollution, he moaned. Unfair to the rest of the population, he finished.

Anyone who lives in Turkey will be wearily familiar with the frequency of power cuts, and “elektrik kesilmiş” must surely be one of the first phrases we learn as expats. When I think back to my first days in Göreme, my memories are often of a darkness that had something to do with a lack of street lights but even more to do with the regularity with which the lights would cut out on us.

At that time, it was a problem that affected us all equally. Now, though, the situation has changed dramatically. Göreme makes its living out of visitors and tourism can be a hard taskmaster. If there's one thing a happy holidaymaker does not want it is to be sitting in their cave bedroom in Stygian blackness with no idea when the lights and/or heating will be restored to them. So, slowly but surely the hotels have invested in generators. Now the electricity supply only has to falter and on they come with a dramatic roar.

As I'm constantly reminding readers, these days I live surrounded by hotels and I well remember my fury when I first heard the noise made by the twin generators that now sit just across the road from me. What these do is ensure that the lights in the hotels on either side of me stay on, come what may. Meanwhile, in between them I sit in the darkness, the only consolation being that the noise from the generators makes it 100 percent certain that it's the electricity supply that has failed and not one of my fuses.

I don't blame the hoteliers -- they're only doing what good businesses do, which is strive to keep their customers happy. But of course, the more properties that have their own generators, the fewer people there are to complain to the electricity company about its inadequacies. And, guess what -- most of those people turn out to be the poor and elderly. And me, of course!

Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.

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