Sunday, May 17, 2015

Buying Electricity

My friend Laurel often says "there are lots of different ways to do things."  I found the truth of that statement here in Tanzania when were running short of electricity at home.

Here's how it works: each house has a "LUKU" meter that shows how much electrical credit, in Kilowatt hours, that you have remaining. You can purchase electrical credit at any of hundreds of little kiosks / shops along the road that have a little wireless device  - you give the clerk your LUKU number and some cash, and they enter it into the system and give you a receipt with a code number. You go home and enter that code into your meter and the credit gets registered. Pretty slick little system really.

LUKU meter - you will see the we had less than 1 KW hour of electricity left - don't tell Nancy !

When the meter gets down to zero, the electricity stops working. We had already experienced that once, our second night here when we didn't know anything about the electrical and the power just went off on us. Then we had to call the school and the principal came, explained how the system works, took us to one of the little shops and got us some electrical credit.

Anyway, since then I had tried to keep an eye on the meter to make sure we did not run out again, and when I checked mid-afternoon,  I noticed that we were down to about 12 K left, so I walked to the little shop by our house to buy some "LUKU".

Yup - you can buy your electricity here !
When I got there, the proprietor informed me that the network was down and his system couldn't connect to get me the credit. I could understand that, so I walked down the street to another shop and the situation was the same.  I wasn't too worried as the first clerk, who spoke fairly good English, told me it would probably come up again soon and I should try back in a few hours. When Nancy came home from work, I explained the situation and told her that we would have to conserve on our air conditioners, (which use a lot of electricity), just in case. I went back to the shops after supper and found the network was still down. Another gentleman at one of the shops, which is also an Internet cafe, explained that you can also buy credit through your phone- so he kindly tried to do that for me, but that also did not work.  So with our electric credit down to 8, we spent the night with the air conditioners off.

In the morning, with the meter reading about 5 (the refrigerator, you know), I walked over to the shop expecting the network to be back up, and planning to buy some "LUKU".  Nope - the network was still down. "I am going to run out of electricity - how can I get some ?"  He thought for a minute and suggested that there is a regional office a few kilometers away in Tegeta - I could take a bajaj (auto rickshaw) or a piki-piki to the office and should be able to pay there.  I decided the piki-piki would be cheaper and so he waved at one of the local piki-piki guys, and explained where to go - the guy looked a little bit confused, but seemed to get it, so I climbed on behind.
Now I need to explain that a piki-piki (also know in some areas as boda-boda) is a motorcycle taxi and you rent the back seat.  Unfortunately, those seats are not really designed for a big old guy like me, and my knees have tendency to bump against the forearms of the driver. 

Piki-Piki - from wikimedia.

Anyway,the guy didn't really understand where to take me, so after stopping to ask a few people along the way, we found ourselves at a regional maintenance headquarters for the power company, where I spent a few minutes trying to find someone who could speak a little English and who could help me get some "LUKU".  Eventually, communication happened and my motorcycle driver was directed to a shop down the way where I should be able to get my "LUKU". As we approached the area, I noticed one of the shops had a fairly long line out front.  Sure enough, that was the regional electrical purchasing place with a hardwired connection.  Since the network had been down for two days in much of the surrounding area, lots of people were there, like me, to buy some power.  The line was about 40 people long when I got there.  After about an hour I got to the front of the line and was able to get my credit slip - now all I had to do was go home and enter the 20-digit number into the meter and we would have power.  Cool.

Back on the piki-piki and the ride home.  Stepped into the house and realized that the refrigerator was off and the lights were not working - hmm, must have run out of power while I was gone. So, I confidently headed behind the house to the meter with my credit slip.  Where I soon found that the power in the whole neighborhood was out, so of course the meter would not work, I could not the credit. 

So I gave it up and decided to walk to school to get Nancy. On the way there I passed a group of lineman fixing the power lines on the poles. Good. On the way home, the workers were all gone, but when we got home the power was still off.  No problem, we headed to the resort to enjoy a couple of beers at the end of the week.  (Why sit at home where it is hot and humid as well as dark ? )

When we got back home, the power was back on, I successfully entered the credit number and we turned on the air con.

Now I just need to remember to go buy electricity every week or so.  And of course to stop at the other little store to buy credit for my phone.


  1. Hi Tim,

    Love this post. Great lesson on just how much we take for granted here in the U.S. Have a great time in Tanzania. I was there only for a couple weeks to hike Kili. Better do it while you're there as well!


  2. What a hoot. Great visuals in the reading. I'm glad we don't operate that way. In a way, we would probably do a much better job conserving energy if we did have to shell out the $$ every week or so.