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A Day without Power

One day last week we were hit with a power outage. Our lights went out at approximately 6am. Brown outs happen occasionally, especially during the summer months, so we expected the lights back on in a few minutes. Coffee grounds already…

…in the pot (freshly ground at approximately 5:59am). Ready to make bag lunch for work. Sorting laundry for the washing machine. But still no power. Do we crack open the fridge to grab a quick breakfast, or pick up a bite on the road?

We decided to play it safe and pick up coffee and breakfast in town. By the time we hit Seven Mile Beach we realized this was more than just a local outage and soon learned that it was island wide. Hmmm … let’s think – what’s our next step? We know that Fosters Food Fair has its own power source. (They cannot afford to lose all their refrigeration and frozen foods – in a small country, food delivery is critical. So for years FFF has stockpiled 2 weeks’ worth of essential goods including diapers and batteries, and long ago installed a dedicated generator to power their stores.) Sure enough, Fosters was open, air conditioned, and serving coffee. The coffee line was quite long but everyone was patient.

The greatest thing about events like this is the instant sense of community that emerges. People in the grocery were especially friendly, joking, chatting, and planning their day. Locals mixed with tourists who had walked over from their condos in search of breakfast. Talk centered on whether offices were open, jobs were operating and when the power would come back on. Of course, all information is by phone, since radios and wi-fi aren’t working.

After coffee and packaged donuts (the fresh pastries were sold out early), we planned our next move. With offices closed, many turned to Camana Bay. We guessed correctly that if anyone besides Fosters had their own power source it would be Camana Bay. Sure enough, most of the stores there were open and also doing brisk business. Again, the coffee line at the bistro was long, and again everyone was good natured. Power outages are much like a snow day – everyone is excited to be out of school or work, wondering what will happen next, and enjoying running into friends while enjoying an unscheduled break from work or house chores. (Really, the only chore we could do at home would be clean the bathroom – naturally browsing the bookstore and shops at Camana Bay is much more appealing.) After spending several hours hanging out at Camana Bay we went back to Fosters, grabbed a bag of ice, and headed home to wait out the power failure.

The second greatest thing about a power outage in Cayman is how quiet the island is. Most of the background noise of air conditioner compressors and other electric devices is silenced. The only noise is automobiles – but with no place to go, traffic was also quiet. It reminded us of the last time there was an island-wide outage, which was New Year’s Day of 2005. This was shortly after Hurricane Ivan (Sept. 2004) and the pervasive quiet was distinctive. On that day, the temperature was around 75F and there was a cool winter breeze. Perfect weather for gathering with friends to celebrate the New Year. We don’t remember how we preserved all the party food – what we remember instead is the sense of community that builds when all are affected by a community-wide event.

Eventually, the power came back on, around 2:00p. The refrigerator whirred, the fan blades started turning, the a/c kicked out an initial blast of hot air and the lights were on. Life went back to normal. We were glad to be able to check our emails and run our appliances. But we enjoyed the surprise break from normal routine, and hope that if a widespread outage happens again, it will be during cooler winter months.

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