May 4, 2005
Our power continued to be out for the entire last week of April. We had emptied our refrigerator except for a few essentials which I kept cold with a block of ice, and were having fun cooking on charcoal and camp stoves. We entertained guests by candlelight. The only thing that was hard was the cold showers in the morning. The weather has taken a turn towards winter, and it was really chilly. But we were coping. Rumors flew, and we heard that the electricity would come back on early in May, or it could be a month before we had power back. When we would get frustrated we would think about our friend who was complaining about a week without power to his security guard one night. The guard said, “I have not had power at my house since December 18 th.” We also think of the millions of people here in Malawi who NEVER have power, or for that fact, running water in their homes. So we settled into a “camping” mode and were doing quite well.
On Saturday night, the four of us contemplated going out to dinner, but instead I made rice and chicken-a-la-king on Margaret’s charcoal burner. We were in the middle of dinner when we heard a sound like exploding popcorn in the kitchen. I rushed in and opened the cupboard door that housed our electrical junction box and to our horror, sparks and flames were shooting out. We told the girls to go outside and call for help. Heather grabbed the cell phone and started calling friends and neighbors. Dan was beating the flames back with a kitchen towel, but it was getting bigger. Alfred heard the screaming and came out of his house to help us. We tossed a bucket to the girls and told them to fill it with sand and dirt. Dan threw that on the box and was able to smother it after a while. The house was filled with acrid smoke.
I rushed around closing bedroom doors and I grabbed our computer. Then I joined the girls outside. Dan kept an eye on the charred electrical box inside. Liewa Schaafsma came tearing into our yard in his Land Rover and jumped out with a fire extinguisher. Andrew Soye followed him. I was unable to reach the fire department – their number had been changed and no one knew it! We repeatedly called the power company and told them to send a truck immediately. (It is very hard to tell people where you live in Malawi, because there are no house numbers.)
We determined that a power surge had caused the fire. All the homes around us had lights, as did the Synod compound. After a while, I went back into the house and opened all the windows to air it out. The missionaries went home but we made the girls stay outside. Dan lifted Alfred up into our attic crawl space to check and make sure that there were no smoldering wires. He didn’t see any problems up there.
After about an hour, we decided that Dan should take a rest. Brooke and I took first watch and sat on the kitchen stoop keeping an eye on the box. All was quiet for another hour. As Brooke and I sat quietly talking, still waiting for ESCOM (the power company) to arrive, sparks started flying again. It really scared us, but it died down rapidly without causing any more fire.
We decided that it was not safe for the girls, who were at this point terrified, to stay for the night, so I drove them over to Schaafmas with our computer, airline tickets and cameras.
Just when we decided that the power company was never going to show up, despite our repeated entreaties, a small pickup truck with a ladder thrown in the back showed up. Two men in overalls looked at our junction box and said, “This is not our problem.”
Dan said, “We know that, we just want you to disconnect our house from the power line so that nothing else happens.” When they went outside to the power box, they looked inside and said. “This IS our problem. There is no breaker here. (The electricity was just hot-wired to the house.) Have an electrician fix your box inside and then call us and we will put in a breaker.”
After checking and rechecking the house, Dan and I were finally able to grab a few hours sleep before he had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to preach at the 6:00 a.m. Celebration of Worship at St. James CCAP Church.
Liewa recommended a good electrician to us and he arrived at our home promptly at 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning. When I showed him what had happened, he examined the entire house, attic and all, and reported, “You were very lucky. I am surprised that the entire house did not burn.” Most of the wires were charred and the hot water heater should have exploded. You can imagine how we felt when we heard this. I was really grateful that we had not gone out to dinner, or we would have lost everything. As he took apart the box, he showed us how the main fuse (which Dan had turned off when the power went out last Sunday) was burned, as were many other wires and fuses. The fire was so hot that the back of the metal box had large holes melted in it.
Edward (the electrician) said that the whole house would need to be rewired, but that if we were able to get some “black market” parts, he could have the fridge, stove and lights working by the end of Sunday. We were thrilled. Dan and he went up into the makeshift markets of Ndirande and were, much to our surprise, able to buy some very good switches and a breaker. Edward, who was a meticulous worker, did just as he promised and I was actually able to cook dinner on our stove Sunday night!
Monday here was Labor Day, so all of the stores were closed, but on Tuesday, he will get the other parts he needs for the geezer (hot water heater) and the rest of the house. We will feel much safer after his work is complete.
So we are still taking cold showers, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. We should get email and internet access back today. We are very grateful that things were not worse. Dan did not feel well the night of the fire. I am sure that his blood pressure was through the roof, and all that smoke was not good for his lungs, but he seems to be better now. We aired the house out for two days, and have washed everything in the kitchen, so there is some semblance of normalcy.
At the beginning of last week, Mary Cullison emailed us that she was our assigned prayer warrior for the week. We know that many people are praying for us each day, but she “rallied the troops,” to pray extra hard last week. Considering what happened to us, I am sure glad that she did. Can you imagine what might have befallen us if people had not been praying?
Our prayers of thanks for safety have never been more heartfelt than they were on Sunday night.