Let there be LIGHT!

The story for my search for light in Yei began back in October.  One evening, just a few weeks before I left for Israel, I flipped the switch to the light in my bedroom and nothing happened.  I didn’t think much of the fact that the bulb had burned out, and I quickly searched my memory as to whether I had seen any spare bulbs around.  Since I couldn’t recall having seen any, I decided I would put bulbs on my shopping list and for the time being I would switch out the bulb for the one in the washroom.  I laughed at myself a little when I tried to remove the bulb because it took me several minutes to figure out how to get it out of the socket.  (I even tried to come up with a spin on the joke “How many blondes does it take to change a light bulb?”)  It wasn’t a screw-in bulb like the ones we have in the US; instead it had two tabs on the side that snapped into place when turned a quarter of a turn.  After trying a few times I also discovered that the working bulb was labeled with a + and – and therefore needed to be fitted precisely.

It was several days before I made it to the supermarket to buy a bulb.  When I finally made it there, I decided on one with more wattage than my previous ones, thinking that I could really use some more light in my kitchen.  Unfortunately, when I returned home I realized that I had purchased a screw socket bulb rather than a tabbed one.  I set it on the shelf, hoping that the next time I went to town they would allow me to return it.  In the meantime, I had been getting really tired of the constant changing of the bulbs, so I decided I could do without a light on the porch and made the switch.  I figured that was a fine solution for the time being, and that I would make another trip to the supermarket when I returned from the Holy Land.

When I got back I discovered that a dark porch hadn’t been such a good idea after all. During the time that I was gone, someone had taken the dark house as a sign that they could get away with taking the solar panel from my roof- and they did!  Thankfully, I wasn’t dependent on the solar panel for power; my home is also hooked to the city electric.  I thought that maybe I would have a problem after midnight when the electricity was turned off, but found that the lights still worked. Thank goodness!  Even though I was only here for four days, two more bulbs went out.  I guessed that they must have been purchased at the same time and therefore their lives were expiring together.  Again, I played the switch-a-roo game, knowing that buying bulbs was one of the first things I must do when I returned in January. 

The day after I returned, I made the 20 minute trek into town determined to solve my problem and stop the madness of carrying a bulb with me each time I entered a different room.  I didn’t realized until I arrived at the store that I had forgotten to bring the screw bulb for return. I found the tabbed bulbs just like the ones I had at home and purchased five of them, feeling proud that I would be ready when the rest of them burned out!  I plopped one in the socket when I got home and saw that it didn’t work.  I tried the second one with the same result.  Back to the store I went, this time taking a bulb with me so that I would be sure to buy the right one. (Unfortunately, this bulb later got smashed in my purse, leaving it full of shards of glass, ugg)  I explained to the cashier that the bulbs weren’t working and he informed me that I needed DC bulbs rather than AC since they were run off the battery.  He then took several DC bulbs off of the shelf and checked each one in the store socket to make sure they worked.  He gave me the new bulbs and asked me to bring back the others when I could, explaining that I would then pay the difference in price.  I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of spending more than $4 for each light bulb, but I was immensely happy that my problem would finally be solved.

When I finished my shopping and returned home I again started the process of changing the bulbs. I put the new ones in and, even though they worked, the light was very dim.  I tried them in several different sockets with the same outcome.  I still had a few of the original bulbs that were shining bright; obviously the difference between a Phillips bulb and one made by SOLAR TEX.  After playing with them a bit I discovered that if I jiggled the bulb just right it would get bright enough to actually notice the light.  I packed both the AC bulbs and all but one of the DC bulbs in a bag ready for my next trip to the market. In the meantime I used the trick of tapping and jiggling each bulb to bring light into the room after flipping the switch.  The Phillips bulbs were also on their last legs, so they needed tapping, too.

Several days later I went back to the market, returned the bulbs (the manager was very friendly and happily gave me my money back), and I headed to the electronics store where I had been told they carry very good light bulbs.  I spent more than 30 minutes talking to the gentleman about my lighting issues and he offered me a great solution: I could invest in LED lights (at more than $13 a pop!) and my rooms would all be very bright and my electric bill would be very low!  I wasn’t convinced.  We talked a bit longer and decided that maybe it was a problem with my battery system.  He sent one of his assistants home with me to make sure the battery and inverter were hooked up to the city electric correctly.  I showed this young man my problem with the light and he thought that maybe the issue was not with the bulbs, but with the distance the sockets were from the battery.  However, when I showed him that the Phillips bulbs worked just fine in the socket furthest from the battery, his hypothesis was shot.  He briefly looked at the battery and inverter and assured me that everything was set up correctly. He was in agreement that it must be the quality of the bulbs and told me that there was a store he knew in town that sold Phillips bulbs.  He said he would show me the store the next time I was in the market.

Several days later (after much more tapping and jiggling of bulbs) I again walked to the market, found him at the electronic store and asked him to help me find my bulbs.  We walked to THREE different shops in the 97 degree heat looking for Phillips bulbs to no avail.  When we finally returned to his store I spoke again with the manager.  He assured me that the brand of bulb he was selling would be plenty bright- and they were ONLY $6 each!  Even though I wasn’t convinced, I was so tired of messing with these stupid bulbs that I bought one to take home and try.  He told me that if I brought back the other bulbs he would somehow fix them to make them bright again.  After a rather lengthy chat about Islam, Christianity, his neighbor who now lives in Ohio, the man that ran his car into and overpass and lived, and his daughter, we finally agreed on a bit lower price for the bulb.  Off I went with another bulb that wasn’t a Phillips and I was sure was not going to work.

I immediately put it in the socket when I returned home and guess what? DIM. I knew it! By this point there was only one light still responding to the tapping routine, so when the sun set at seven, in search of my headlamp I would go.  The next morning I had to be up early to get ready for a training in the village.  I woke at 6, more than an hour before the sun, and was again in the dark.  I donned my headlamp, frustrated to have to feel like I was camping in my home.  I waited to bathe until there would be enough light in my washroom to see without the lamp and found myself looking enviously at my neighbors bright kitchen light.  When I returned from the training, I marched to my neighbor’s, with the new promised-to-be-very-bright bulb in hand and confessed to them that I was feeling “light-bulb envy.” I asked them to try the bulb in their socket to see once and for all if the problem was these generic bulbs or something else.  He positioned it properly, clicked it into place and flipped the switch.  Bright light came shining out from the bulb.  That solved it: the problem was not with the bulbs.  I didn’t know how to feel about this.  I had been irritated at the thought of spending $6 on a light, but now there was a chance I would need to replace the solar panel if I ever wanted to be able to see without the headlamp.  We talked for quite a while about what could possibly be wrong with my system: maybe the battery wasn’t holding a charge, maybe the inverter wasn’t working, maybe the connection to the battery was bad, or maybe it wasn’t possible to charge it by city electric.  We brainstormed for over an hour, none of us knowing much at all about how this system was supposed to work.  The sun went down while we were talking and I was thankful for a full moon with which to see on my short walk home; my headlamp wasn’t with me and cell phone was dead, leaving me without a flashlight. I stumbled around trying to get the key into the lock without the light of my porch and then knocked my knee on the table while going for the switch.  In my frustration, I tapped the bulb in the socket a bit too hard and it fell to the floor. There I stood in bare feet, my last working bulb in a million pieces on the floor, my headlamp in an undetermined location, trying to decide if I felt more like crying or laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.  I chose laughter, figuring that all of this would at least make for a good story! I felt around for the headlamp, cleaned up the mess of the bulb, and went to bed.

I went without lights for the next two evenings, cursing a little to myself about having to wear the sweat-inducing headlamp.  My days were too busy to think about what I would do next, so I added it to my list of things to do on Monday morning.

Still knowing NOTHING about solar panels, batteries, and inverters, I was bound and determined to figure out what in the world was going on with my lights.  After speaking with my neighbors, we had come to the conclusion that the battery must be dead.  It made sense to us that my battery had slowly been losing charge and that was why my lights were going dim.  We decided that the Phillips bulbs are more efficient and therefore produce light with less energy than the generic ones.  (I felt pretty darned smart for being able to come up with this explanation) But why wasn’t the battery charging? Maybe it needed to be replaced, maybe the inverter wasn’t hooked up properly, or maybe it wasn’t possible to charge the battery off of city electric and a new solar panel would need to be purchased. (My feelings of intelligence vanished when I realized I had no idea what to do about the battery without charge.)

On Sunday afternoon I sat and stared at the system.  The inverter was showing two red lights, but because they weren’t labeled, I had no idea what they meant.  The battery cables had come out of the control box for the solar panels, so none of those lights were working. I searched the internet in vain for this brand of inverter, in hopes that I could find a user manual.  As a last effort, I twisted a plastic screw-looking thing in the back of the inverter and out came a fuse.  After further examination, I found that the fuse was blown.  I tried to keep my excitement at bay and not allow myself to think that the solution could be this simple.  Nevertheless, I ran to the bedroom and pulled out a box that I thought I remembered seeing fuses in:  they were too big.  I headed to my neighbors hoping that they had one: they didn’t.  It was too late to go to the electronic store, but I made up my mind to visit first thing in the morning.

I received a warm greeting and a laugh from the manager when I arrived. “Where are the bulbs?” he asked.  I pulled out the fuse and explained as best I could in simple English what I thought the problem could be.  He gave the fuse to the young worker who proceeded to pull out a Tupperware that looked like my junk drawer in the US.  He sorted and sorted in search of a matching fuse.  In the meantime, the manager began telling me something about his passport and showed me page after page of visas. I smiled and nodded for more than twenty minutes, understanding less than half of what he was saying to me. Finally, the young man presented me with the proper fuse.  I took out my wallet to pay, but he refused, telling me to come back and buy it only if it works.  That wasn’t very encouraging.

I hoped with all that was in me that this fuse was going to be my answer.  After countless trips into town, numerous purchases of bulbs, multiple visits to different stores, several random conversations with the store manager, and a home visit, I could hardly convince myself that I would not spend this night in the dark.  I found my screwdriver, reconnected the battery cables to the control box, flipped the switch on the inverter (per the manager’s instructions), said a prayer, and finally screwed in the fuse…

Nothing happened.  The same two red lights flashed on the control box and the solid red lights stayed illuminated on the inverter.  I flipped the switch on the inverter, hoping I wouldn’t blow the fuse, and still nothing happened.  I unplugged it, plugged it back in and still nothing. I was feeling defeated and angry for having allowed myself to get excited.  I pulled out the fuse to confirm my suspicion that it had blown again and was surprised to see that the wire was still intact.  I screwed it back in and this time gave it a few more turns than I had the last.  The inverter beeped and the lights changed! I was elated to see a solid green light and a flashing one.  I still had no idea what they meant, but I was sure that green was better than red.  I was finally ready to give myself permission to hope that the battery was finally being charged.

An hour later I noticed that the control box no longer showed two red lights, but one of them was flashing yellow.  I hurried to the light switch, flipped it, and out from the bulb poured completely unexpected but deeply hoped for, wonderfully glorious, brightly shining, easy to see in the middle of the afternoon LIGHT! I am not ashamed to say that I danced.  I was (and still am) beaming with a smile and looking forward to spending my evening headlamp free! Praise God!

2 thoughts on “Let there be LIGHT!

  1. I about danced with you on that one. Thanks Elizabeth, I hope your lighting issues are over. Now you may be able to help someone with their lighting problems. You probably know a lot about it.

  2. Your entire story is so symbolic of your teaching mission… trying to make students see the light is such hard work, but so rewarding when the lightbuld finally goes off! Of course, I think it’s just another sign for you to come home 😉 Miss you and am turning lights on all over the house in your honor!!!

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