Call me Spartan, but I prefer life without air conditioning. Open windows remind me of my childhood, a time when I knew the rhythms of my neighborhood intimately through its many voices. The song of robins, the squeal of the school bus brakes, the rumble of the trash truck, my neighbors calling out to one another and the sound of bike wheels on pavement all meant something different and added to the richness of my life.
When we were in grade school in the Bronx, my younger brother Johnny and I would leap out of bed when we heard the garbage truck and fly down the street to help, nudging the bins towards the road, flipping the lids off and dragging the empty cans back. In Nana’s New Jersey neighborhood I knew whose dog was barking, whose mother was calling whom and how hot it was by the chirp of the crickets.
Back in North Carolina we have air conditioning and it’s hard to imagine life without it. Our house is not shaded by the trees and so holds the heat of the sun like an oven. When the A/C is on, I find myself reluctant to step outside. Here, without that option, I come and go easily, often finding it more comfortable under the trees, with no screens to slow down the breeze.
Here in Kumasi, even when the temperature rises into the high 90’s, even when the broadcast rants of the deeply religious interrupt my sleep, I happily bear my discomfort in exchange for 24-hour open windows. It helps that the ‘lights’ are on to power the fan at the foot of our bed most evenings. When the power is out we wake and stare through our blue mosquito netting at the ceiling, willing ourselves not to sweat.
Life without lights is a challenge. Not only do the lights not work but neither do the electric burners, nor the blender, washing machine, refrigerators, battery chargers or fans. If the power stays off long enough, we risk losing our refrigerated food and our rechargeable laptop and flashlight batteries drain to nil. On December 25th, the power went out at 11am and stayed off for fifteen hours. Merry Christmas!
Like most hoteliers, our friends at Osda House in Accra have a back-up generator. They told me they chose to switch it on and off manually rather than wire it to kick in automatically. “How do you know when to turn off the generator?” I asked. “We hear cheers from the neighborhood,” was the answer. Indeed, when the power comes back on in Kumasi we hear that same happy sound.
Life without city water also sucks. It means bucket baths, bucket flushes, watering the garden with captured grey water, doing laundry by hand and using the kitchen sink which pulls water from the storage tank on the roof to fill the mop bucket. That roof top storage is a must and has seen the five of us through up to three days without city water.
Waiting two to four weeks for our weekly trash pick-up is also a pain. Rarely does the big orange truck come more than twice a month. And during the whole month of December they only picked up once, on December 8th. Double Merry Christmas.
We threw a little party last weekend and it’s coming on three weeks since the last time we saw the trash truck so we now have the equivalent of three bins of trash to get rid of. Next time Mr. Kinglsey comes to collect his 40 cedis for two months of weekly collections, I’m going to get his number so I can call him at times like this.
There isn’t any kind of formal recycling program here but we have noticed a man in a pink bathrobe who rides along to pick out the aluminum cans. At the landfill there are permanent residents, trash gleaners who specialize in plastic, tin or aluminum. Ever hopeful, we bag our ‘recyclables’ separate from the trash before placing in our bin.
Yes, the infrastructure and services leave much to be desired. After living in Kumasi for six months, we were shocked to see that the roads in Accra and Tamale are in good condition. “Where are all the potholes!” I wondered aloud. Kumasi is full of potholes that could swallow a motorbike. Or at least a couple of goats…
And the police. Well that is fodder for another blog. Suffice it to say they eventually arrive with their palms facing up.
But never mind that, as Eric often says. The sketchy water, power, trash removal roads and police protection do not mar my appreciation for a life without A/C. With the windows open, each new bird song is a puzzle to solve, every stray breeze a gift and the rumbling motors of large trucks give me hope that the man in the pink bathrobe has arrived.