Friday, April 10, 2009

Life without power

Majority of time, we didn't have electricity, and would have to mange without it.

It was great when we at least had natural gas, which was during about half of the war. We used it for cooking and baking, since we had a gas stove. Gas stove also heats up much quicker huge pots of hot water for showers, and the oven was a good supplemental heat source during winter.

We used gas even for "lighting". We used an IV tube connected to gas line on hour stove and with a metal straw at the other tip. It was connected to a doorpost, and controlled with a slider clip on the IV rubber tube. A small amount of gas lit would give enough light to move freely around the room. If we wanted to do any reading, we had to have another light source. We often used a glass filled with water on the bottom and oil on the top (because we often didn't have enough oil for the full glass) with a woven string threaded through a tiny metal plate to hold it in place. We called this "kandilo", like those vigil lamps lit before icons. It is a very low light, which probably contributed to both me and my brother needing glasses after the war. Some of you may think "Why didn't we use batteries or candles?" There were none. There were no stores to buy anything, including light sources.

When we didn't have natural gas, nights were so long, especially during winters when we also had to sit fully clothed under blankets until it was time for bed (we couldn't sleep 12 hours). The cooking was challenging, too. Most households obtained a hand-made aluminum box-stove during the first couple of years in the war. There were handyman who could make those from scrapped metal, for example from gutters or aluminum roofs. It was about 2 feet tall, with an oven and a compartment bellow for fuel material, and a little flue pipe at the top. Since the chimney in our apartments was busted, we kept this stove on the balcony until it became too dangerous. When one day mom and my brother were being shot at while on that same balcony, we decided to move the stove inside, and make a hole in the wall for the flue pipe.

After the first couple of years of war, there were no more trees in our neighbourhood to cut down for burning. The kids were even hammering down doors and windows frames on an old construction site nearby. But, in the second part of the war we had to improvise. We burned everything from encyclopedias to rubber to clothing. One tennis shoe would last enough for the bread to bake. We sometimes had those fuel cubes people use for camping, but they were rare. One cube would be enough to boil water for coffee and make scramble eggs (those with sour cream were the best breakfast ever!). But many days we didn't have a hot meal.

Without power, there was no TV of course, which made boring days even longer. We figured out we can listen to a radio for a short time by plugging it into the phone outlet. Also, old batteries when boiled, would run a small radio few a few minutes. Radios were the only way to find out important information about the fighting and danger threatening a particular area. My brother and his friends hooked up a boom box to an exercise bicycle, and made someone paddle so they can all enjoy the music.

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