With a shower of sparks it lit up the sky. Rather beautiful really like fireworks. Once, twice, three times and then it burst into flames. Considering that it, the transformer, sits atop a steel pole and is mostly metal itself, the fact that there was anything to burn at all was impressive.
I had finished my last escort for the day, and retired to the compound of another company to sit and commiserate with an old friend who worked there. Talking about the “old days” of three or four years ago and sipping (warm) beverages, was a pleasant distraction from the realities of today’s Iraq. No one shooting at us, no one dropping mortars or rockets on us, and then the phone call.
“The house is on fire” was the simple one liner from the client on the other end of the phone.
Thanking my buddy for the good time, I sprinted the 200m back to our compound. 200m is not a very long distance to cover and all I had time to think as I ran was “How?”. Building in Iraq are made from concrete and brick, and covered with stucco. Aside from door jambs and furniture, there’s not a lot that can or does burn in them.
Arriving at the back side of the house I immediately noticed that it was dark, and that no visible flames were present. Starting at the back I began knocking on doors and ensuring no one was inside. Still no flames. Upon exiting the front door I found the cluster of people that make up household and the other member of the security team.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Transformer blew and then the main box downstairs caught on fire” he replied.
“What transformer?” I looked around and that’s when I happened again. Perhaps the second shower of sparks and the fire were for my benefit. I felt special.
Quickly we moved the clients into the house next door. While steel power poles don’t burn like creosote logs, they do conduct rather well. Of all the ways to die in Iraq getting electrocuted is the least glamorous.
Long story short, we spent that night back in the house after ensuring that the dangers of burning, suffocation, and electrocution were past. How could I help but think of our WWO community as I prepared for a night without power.
While they say the nights in the desert can be cold, it’s not that time of year. Doors and windows, opened to let out what fumes might have accumulated, were left open to hopefully cool the house. No such luck, rather, a prime opportunity was created to feed the local mosquitoes. Slapping and sweating my way through a sleepless night, the next morning was even worse. Missions start early to beat the heat of the day. The coffee maker was electric. I think I cried but the tears evaporated before they could roll down my cheek.
Getting electricity in Iraq is uncertain at the best of times. Huge generators and third world wiring make up the most reliable source of power. Large stretches of the national electrical infrastructure were looted for the metal right after the war. The Dora power plant, in the 4 years I’ve been here, has never had more than one smoke stack running. I had to wonder, how does it work in America? Are we guaranteed that if we generate the power it will get to where we need it? Lots of people are talking about the generation of power but what about the transmission of it?
A little goole-ing and here and here are some stories. When profits go towards stock dividends and not reinvestment in infrastructure, this can be expected. How many years ago was it that a summer heat wave killed thousands all over the world?
Power has been restored, the A/C is back on and we’ve instituted our own chemical warfare against the remaining mosquitoes. With the power came the net, and so I can share my tale of woe with you. Like this crisis, which appears to be over if gas prices and availability are any indication, it was transitory.
But it gave me something to think about;
Like how good is our infrastructure,
And what non-electric alternative do I have for coffee making?