Guess what this image is.
I arrived in America just in time to enjoy the coldest winter in almost half a century in some places (Reuters says Atlanta is having the coldest weather it has had for 44 years). Even in Florida, one of America’s sunniest southernmost states, as I left my sister’s house yesterday, her poor hibiscus bushes looked shriveled and sad, flowers translucent with cold, which at some points of the night got down to the teens Fahrenheit (around -7 Celsius). Still in Florida, we passed a fountain that had frozen over while the water was running, looking like something out of the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe film, rather than Florida. Arriving in the Atlanta area where my grandmother lives , we were welcomed with the news that the pipes were frozen. Fortunately, there was still a trickle of water coming out in the kitchen sink and the front bathroom, but the hot water heaters were not working, and the back bathroom was completely frozen up.
We put our bucket bath skills to work, my dad and I going outside to draw water in a small bucket from a creek that runs close by and heating water for dishes on the stove. However, we realized how helpless most of us living in America when faced with power or water outages as compared to Nigerians. First, we just aren’t used to such things and don’t have battery back-up systems or generators for power, or even proper-sized buckets or cisterns for collecting and storing water. Moral of the story being, great infrastructure is great, but it does sometimes leave people a little too comfortable, unable to cope in emergencies. Second, the weather is just so much harsher–North America is not a terribly friendly continent to live on without having a solid house and heat–, so that when such shortages happen, people suffer more in the short term, although the expectation is generally that things will soon be better. I imagine futuristic scenarios where America’s economy continues to spiral downwards into another Great Depression, combined with climate change, and people are left without electricity and water again for long periods of time. In such a scenario, poor people in Africa are much better off than poor people in northern countries, as this exciting new Kenyan science fiction series, Usoni, imagines. (Africa is the only place in the world where the sun still shines, prompting reverse immigration southward). And speaking of science fiction, check out these photos from Chicago!
Fortunately, the power stayed on in my grandmother’s house, though she said she had heard on the radio that it went off in some parts of Atlanta and there have been outages across the continent. According to The Independent, a power outage in Newfoundland Canada “left 90,000 homes without electricity” on Sunday. Imagine being without electricity or heat in temperatures of 20 below… And people have died, especially the homeless. CBC reports that at least 21 people have reportedly died during this freeze.
The most dramatic thing that happened in my grandmother’s house was the toilet freezing and a little flood when the pipes warmed up this afternoon. But fortunately my uncle is a brilliant plumber, so the problem has been solved for now.
When I posted the status update “ice in the toilet” earlier on Facebook, my friend Richard Ali thought I was making some sort of existential statement about America. While it does make make a startlingly original poetic metaphor, this time the ice was literal. As Richard put it a “double entendre” from Nature.
In the meantime, I am hoping that the temperatures warm up before I head to Madison, WI, next week. Please help me pray….