Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mati Lampu

As I’m writing this on my laptop in almost complete darkness, I realize that I have failed to mention one of the annoyances that almost all Indonesians experience. It is an annoyance that we all, rich or poor, bule or Indonesian, politician or teacher must deal with while living and working in Indonesia. This annoyance is a little thing we call mati lampu, or dead light.

In my town of Limboto, I can expect the power to go out about once a week for a 4 hour period. At my school it seems to go out a little more often, and frustratingly, during the day. Today in fact there was tidak strom (no power) for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. Unlike in the United States, school continues to be held, and the teachers, students and administrators try to work around it as best they can.

In my school, where almost all useful light is natural light shining in from the door and windows anyway, there’s not much of a difference in the classrooms. However, I was visiting an ETA friend of mine whose school is a veritable tower, and when the power went off there, I had a hard time seeing chairs that were right in front of me. Still, as everywhere in Indonesia, school continues anyway.

I must tell you that these outages are scheduled. A few years ago the government of Indonesia realized that they did not have enough sources of energy to power the entire country for the upcoming year. The demand exceeded the supply. Wanting to provide the most people they could with power as often as they could, they began to schedule power outages so that they would expend exactly as much energy as they can produce and no more. They have calculated what is needed to get by for a year, and they have consequently scheduled power outages to make ends meet. In some cities this means a power outage almost every day, often during work hours, when the most electricity is being used. For other towns, or in big important cities like Jakarta, there are no power outages. But there are only a few exceptions.

During the workday it’s not the lack of lights that cause such a problem, but obviously the lack of electricity to power a computer, or access the internet. I imagine that businesses grind to a near halt when the power goes out. Productivity has gone down as a direct result of this energy crisis, and entrepreneurs the country around find themselves looking to the government to resolve this pressing problem.

In their defense, there are a lot of pressing problems, and so these outages continue.

My own productivity has been affected at times; my lesson plans have gone out the window due to these power outages. I can remember times that I had wanted to print out a worksheet that I had made only to come to school and find that there was tidak strom. I then had to use the board and my imagination to fill the gaps in my lesson that would have contained the students working on a worksheet. But all this has just made me a more flexible, prepared teacher. I no longer try to print something the morning of my class. The risk is too high that something will go wrong and my plans will fall through. My thanks goes to Indonesia for making me a more flexible teacher.

As I write this the children on my small street have continued to play, ride their bicycles in the pitch darkness, very much accustomed to these power outages as a way of life. Frankly, as children always are quite resilient, they don’t seem at all fazed. I’m not even sure if they dislike it. When the power goes out the whole family comes outside and sits on chairs on their porches, while the children play outside. They make fires sometimes, and grill fish, or just sit out with a few strong lamps and talk into the night. I might find this all very exciting and even romantic if I were a child. At this time the coolest place (temperature-wise) is outside, and at this time, your whole family talks and passes the time together, with absolutely nothing to distract you.

I’m not saying these power outages are all roses, but it forces you to slow down and enjoy the people that are right there with you. There’s no internet to distract you, no tv to watch, there’s only the company of your friends and relatives.

Alexa and I have some of our best talks when the power’s out. I have laughed hard and shared some very personal things by the light of a single lamp in Indonesia. I’m not just saying that to be poetic either. I really mean it. The lack of power, and consequently the lack of distractions, forces you to talk a little longer, get a little more comfortable with the company since, really, you have nothing better to do.


  1. gosh, this sure does make me miss you sarah. i think that my favorite thing about you is that the glass is ALWAYS half full. your optimism is inspiring and i loved this post. miss you!

  2. Is the schedule posted somewhere? It seems like some businesses especially would demand to know the schedule.

    It reminds me of an article I read in the New York Times last summer about people who were going without AC in order to save power. The article discussed the romance and community aspect of it. Good luck in the dark.

  3. Of course i've been reading your blog all along but I just became a "follower." I was encouraged to do so because by joining I completed the 6x3 box of followers!

    I was so thrilled to see two new posts since my last visit. I must say, all of your posts are so insightful and charming.
    Happy New Year!

  4. Having witnessed Mati Lampu on two occasions ,once in Bali during a dance preformance and another in Gorontalo I can relate. The Indonesians are funny- Oh the power is out-I didn't notice but here is a candle for your table. Its Saturday night -it will be back on-never off that long on Sat nite !

  5. I will always remember the first time I played Apples to Apples with you, Anna and Erica during a mati lampu episode in Limboto. Good times!

  6. Aww, Julianne, it's so nice to have you reading and commenting. Who could forget the pancakes in the dark or my stress about how to cook them right? I'm glad we shared that together, but sad that Alexa was still so exhausted from her spell in the hospital. Can't wait to see you again soon!