Friday, April 10, 2009

You only need the phase

Streets in Sarajevo were shadowed by myriad of cables spread above them. These were referred to as "wild power". Most apartments didn't have electricity, but there were "priority" locations that were almost always powered. These included hospitals, police, and military offices which were located, at least in our neighborhood, on the ground floor of many buildings. There were also some privileged army people, who for whatever reason, were allowed to connect cable on the exterior of the building from the office downstairs to their apartment. Most of them didn't even try to be discrete about it, and would have no shame that in the entire building was in the dark and their windows were the only ones beaming with light.

We happened to have one of those privileged individuals living right above us. He was some officer for moral in his unit - a title that real didn't' fit his behavior among civilians. A cable going into his apartment was right in front of my bedroom window. I didn't understand at first how just one cable can be used to have power, when all outlets have two holes. My brother enlightened me that all that is needed is the phase cable, which, when connected to the outlet, will form the circuit with the ground cable that is already there.

So, we finally decided to give it a try one evening. We got some long insulated wire and I connected one end to one wired in an outlet. On the second end I removed an inch of insulation and shaped the wire into a hook. That evening, around 10 PM, I reached for the wire in front of my window, made an incision on the insulation, connected the hook on my wire, and wrapped it with the electrical tape. Then we put the shades down, so that no one can see that we have a light in the house, and we plugged in a lamp into that outlet. And voila - there was light!

Since we knew there is only so much power we can draw from this cable while our neighbor uses it as well, we only had one light and portable burner and/or TV plugged in. Before going to bed, we’d disconnect the cable and protect the cut outside table with the tape.

Our innovation didn't happen until close to the end of the war, so we didn't get to enjoy our little secret for too long. Having the power on all the time afterwards, however, was way better than stealing it every evening.

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