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Less than an hour after checking into my room here in Edwardsville, they took power!

You heard me, NEPA struck. Or is it PHCN? They’ve got to have one of those acronyms for them here too, but the fact was power shut down! For hours. For up to twelve hours!!! I kid you not.

I first thought it was a glitch, a little error that would be resolved in two seconds. It was not so. I looked out of the window and saw that the few people I saw outside went on as if nothing was wrong. Could it be that this happened a lot? I was confused. And it was cold. And I was alone. My room mate was not around even though I could see his clothings and other personal effects around me. I was the only person here, in those dark, cold, silent hours. I felt drained from all the travelling. And for the first time since I landed in the United States, I felt truly lonely.

And then I received a call from Nigeria, which lifted my spirit for a little while.

My phone couldn’t browse anymore (having switched itself to AT&T from the previous T-Mobile network), my laptop battery was dying, and the campus Wifi shut down with the electric power. Yet, I didn’t have any clue as to what was going on.

By around 7pm when it started getting really dark, I took my phone and my key, and strolled out of my flat. When I didn’t see anyone around, and it felt safe to just go back and cuddle my warm bed, I came back home only to find, on reaching the door, that I couldn’t open it. There were two locks, and there was just one key. How did I fail to notice this, and call attention to it before Sai and Mary left? It began to look really scary, and I thought of the possibility of sleeping in the passageway in this cold, without proper covering.

Before Sai – the Indian – left a few hours earlier, he had told me that there was a phone card in my welcome package, and I could use it to call anywhere I wanted. As soon as he left, I called the number on the card so as to activate it, but I was disappointed. The conversation on the phone went somewhat like this, after several minutes of “please hold on”:

Operator: Hi, Welcome to Zaptel. How may I help you?
Me: Hello, my name is kt and I am calling to activate my calling card.
Operator: Have you tried to do so on our website?
Me: No. It is written here on the card that I should call this number.
Operator: Are you sure there is no website address on the card?
Me: Well, there is zaptel.com.
Operator: No, I mean a link to where you can activate your card?
Me: No.
Operator: You must be using one of those really old cards.
Me: Hmm.
Operator: You should speak to the person who gave it to you to get you a recent one. Those old ones don’t work anymore.
Me: Alright. Thank you very much.
Operator: You are welcome.

It was just as fine with me anyway since when I scratched the card, I saw only two digits instead of ten. The card was really really old. But why should I complain. One does not look a gift horse in the mouth. But now that I was locked up out of my own room, without calling credit and without the slightest idea of how to contact anybody else, I looked at my Nokia N70 again, and brought it to the rescue. I dialled Nine-One-One.

Operator: Hello, this is 911. What’s your emergency.
Me: I don’t know if you would consider this an emergency, but I’ve locked myself out of my room, it’s cold, there is no electric power, and I need to let someone know this before I freeze to death.
Operator: Are you on the SIU campus?
Me: Yes.
Operator: Well, this line is only for emergencies. Why don’t you hang up and call me back on 6503324?
Me: Okay. I’ll do so.

How she knew where I was without me telling her, I have no idea. I hung up, and dialled the other number. I heard this said to me, first in English, then in Spanish: “The call you are attempting to place is not allowed from this line. Please dial 611 for customer service, or dial 1-800-331-0500 from a landline phone.” I gave up. I didn’t have calling credit so even if I called the other numbers, I would not be connected. 911 was the only free emergency line I know, and now I’ve been shut out of that as well. I was going to freeze to death now for sure. And it was just about 20degrees, too cold for my Nigerian skin.

After about thirty minutes, God – or someone really close to him – took pity on me, and my neighbour from upstairs came down and saw me staring hopelessly at the door. He introduced himself and I did the same, then he followed me to the door and asked me to try it again. I slid the key into the first lock, it opened. I told him I didn’t have a key to the second lock, and he said that I should use the same key. I did so, and it opened. Just like that. I thanked him, and after about two minutes of sharing random information about ourselves, he asked me not to hesitate to call on his if I ever wanted to “hang out”. Very nice. I thanked him and I went back to sleep. Later at night, my roommate came in. His name, interestingly, is Christopher, and we both spent a few minutes lamenting the state of darkness. It had never happened like this before, he said. It must be the thunderstorm. Maybe a pole or a tree branch fell on an electric connection. Hopefully, before daybreak it would be restored.

This morning, at around 6am, power was restored, and I heaved a sigh of relief. My laptop is now recharged. I will have to wait till evening to buy a power adaptor for my phone’s charger. Twenty-four hours ago, I could not imagine a 14hour power outage in the United States. Maybe it didn’t really happen. Maybe it was just my imagination, that cynical part of my consciousness with roots still firmly planted on the Nigerian soil. Up NEPA!


UPDATE: The power outage was mentioned in this article about a fire on campus today:
http://www.fdnntv.com/Lightening_Causes_Fire_Southern_Illinois_University_Edwardsville_Campus

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