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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

entry arrow9:32 AM | Useless Sundays Drenched in Blackouts

"Do not let us speak of darker days...."
--Sir Winston Churchill

The sounds of Sunday in Dumaguete, the visitor will quickly observe to himself, is the drone of many electric generators, their low rumbling piercing the air like a disease. What an ugly, dark, small city, he might even say, while snapping a quick picture of the tangled, black cobwebs we call our electrical lines. He will notice that they race like a threat between low electric posts lining the narrow streets, all of them sorry-looking wooden protuberances that have definitely seen better days.

Sometimes that visitor can very well be ourselves. Because when you are able to step back from your comfortable perspectives of things, to see what a stranger -- free from the blindness of the everyday -- might see, you will have to wonder: how long can you crow about, with a straight face, the so-called progress of Dumaguete City when you constantly have to suffer its epidemic of blackouts?

Let's see.

It's a typical Sunday in Dumaguete -- and as usual, this should be your day of reprieve from all the demands and stress of the working week. Sundays are made for recharging the soul, you tell yourself. Which is why sometimes you take your time waking up on Sunday mornings. When it rains, for example, and the lull of the falling water outside keeps you cocooned in a sleep that is snug and cool. Most often though, Sunday mornings are brightly sunny, a testament to the day's name which calls for an abundance of sun. So on most weekends, you go about your early mornings tending to the sweet, inconsequential matters of housework or hobby. The silence is golden, something you know can only be true on the weekends. There is virtually no snarling traffic outside to cut you away from this reprieve from the fast regular days. So you turn on your coffee maker for that much-needed brew to start out your week. Your body longs for the caffeine that will keep it awake for the next few hours. You turn on the radio for the weekend news or for the lilting music they usually play when it's a Sunday, or you place a compact disk in its turning cradle because Sunday mornings are made for music. Some of you would rather turn on their television instead, to catch a cartoon, to see a rerun of a late-night gabfest, or to watch a movie you have missed because in your pressing days work is what counts the most and movie-watching becomes a luxury you can only enjoy on a Sunday morning. Or maybe you turn on your computer, to finally sit down and write out that long-delayed letter or the email you've been meaning to send, or perhaps to just coast through the rest of Sunday morning surfing the Internet, to catch up with the rest of the world.

You say to yourself, This is going to be a nice Sunday. And you say it with such sincerity, because we are all creatures of hope and renewal, and there is nothing like a transformed sense of humanity to mark the beginning of another week. Sundays, after all, are made for resolutions. It is already eight o'clock in the morning, and everything seems to be going well for this Sunday. You later plan to go out with friends by the afternoon, perhaps to catch a movie at Park or Ever Theater, perhaps to window-shop at Lee Super Plaza, perhaps to have another caffeine break at one of those lovely places and cafes that do not think it a travesty to open on Sundays. This is going to be a nice Sunday, you tell yourself once more.

And then everything grounds to a screeching electrical halt.

Nine o'clock sharp.

The city, once more, is drenched in another exasperating blackout.

Welcome to hellish Sundays without electricity. Like walking the Boulevard, blackouts have become a strange Dumaguete tradition -- and the very fact that we do not seem to care anymore should scare us. It tells us how complacent we have become, how inexcusably accepting of moronic sense of service. Think of the large electric bills you have to pay. Think of the many appliances you once had that have all gone bonkers because of the electrical surges and untimely blackouts we have to endure. Think of the countless inconveniences and lost opportunities you have swallowed because our electric company likes to play with our fates. And if you are a businessman, think of the oodles of money you have lost because most of your services cannot be carried out without electricity, or wasted because a substantial sum has to go towards the running of a generator you really should not have in the first place, if Dumaguete should rightly call itself a city of the first rank.

You know what you thinking when the city once more plunges into darkness: Personally, you just want to go to NORECO II and burn the whole stupid place to the ground.

There, I've said it. That felt good. That felt very, very good, didn't it? Like pus suddenly broken free from its festering boil beneath the skin. Like magma bursting from an exploding volcano. Like seething anger released from its repressions. I have just put into words the very thing every Dumagueteno thinks about when another brownout comes our way.

And what do they give us as a reason for the constant blackouts? Maintenance. Maintenance? Is that a joke? They have been doing "maintenance" forever, and nothing seems to have changed. Last Sunday, for example, the blackout came early, around eight o'clock, rousing us up from our Sunday morning extended sleep because of the overwhelming heat. The air-conditioning or the electric fan had stopped, and our rooms had become tombs. Maintenance, we told ourselves, although deep inside us, we seethed with anger and frustration. By late, late afternoon, the electricity came back on. And then it began to rain. Just slightly -- not a storm, or anything. And just like that, the city once again plunges into darkness, leaving us in a mad scramble for candles and matches.

Maintenance, you say?

I remember a summer two years ago when the Dumaguete National Writers Workshop -- with writing fellows from around the country and from the United States in attendance -- had to endure three weeks where every single day became a season of endless blackouts. This disrupted most of the workshop sessions, leaving National Artist for Literature Edith Tiempo in a huff. Ultimately, we had to transfer to a different venue, to one outdoor cafe -- because intelligent discussion about creative writing just was not possible in a hellhole.

That made me think: if constant blackouts are to be a fact of life for all Dumaguetenos, can we ultimately hope for progress? Progress needs electricity, after all, endless and continuous streams of it, and not just in spurts. We talk, for example, about bringing call centers and other new industries into the city. But why should any new business bother to come here, given our sorry electrical state? Should 24-hour/7-day call centers run on electric generators, too?

I guess I'll end this post now, and save it. It's another Sunday after all. Another blackout might suddenly pounce, and I certainly do not want to rant about two hours of work suddenly lost to the oblivion of darkness, courtesy of your local electric company.


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