It was quite the eventful week with a nation-wide blackout on Wednesday, January 26. This article from Eurasia.net “How are Power Outage Sent a Country into Meltdown” gives a good overview of what happened. I was at school when the power went out in the entire country and in most of Central Asia. It started around 11:00 AM and I was in the bathroom washing my hands. All of a sudden, the lights flickered like an intense, rhythmic strobe light for about 15 seconds and then went out. It didn’t seem like a “natural” power outage. I met with our crisis team immediately and we decided to keep the students in school for the rest of the day, despite not having electricity. The students on Virtual Learning were probably celebrating they could miss their afternoon classes. A few families came to pick up their children early, but the day went as normal.
Rumors were going around Telegram, the WhatsApp/WeChat super app of the Russian-speaking world. First I heard about multiple explosions in the nearby city of Angren caused the blackout. Then I heard the explosion occurred in Kazakhstan. I also heard that it could last two to three days. Temperatures were around OC (32F) and that would have made for some cold nights. Fortunately, power was restored to some sections of the city as early at 5:00 PM. The power at the school and our house didn’t come back for good until around 11:00 PM. Gas pressure was low so many of us did not have hot water the next day. As I write this on Saturday, power and gas are back up and running as usual and a crisis was averted.
From what I am reading, it sounded like the failure originated in Kazakhstan and the power grid shut down automatically in neighboring countries to avoid damage to the system. Central Asian countries do not do a good job of investing in the infrastructure of the power grid. The system is dilapidated, partly due to low level corruption like customers bribing electrical company employees not to pay the full metered bill. Like in the USA, an investment in infrastructure is needed in the region.
Because of the electricity and water problems we did not have school on January 26. That is a special day in our family as it is the birthday of my wife Nadia! She had a nice day at home with the kids while I sorted out problems at school. She is aging gracefully and she still is beautiful and the mujerona I fell in love with all those years ago. I am a lucky man! We ordered sushi instead of going to dinner because of COVID concerns. Happy Birthday Nadia!
Construction will soon start on a new elementary building at our school. Yesterday I went behind the school with our Project Manager to look at where a crane could access the site. Adjacent to our school is a large, low-income / no-income housing project. The building used to be a dormitory for railway workers and is now owned by the city. There are 137 families living in the building rent-free. Each apartment has a small bathroom and efficiency kitchen. There are large communal kitchens on each floor that everyone uses for larger meals. Next to the dormitory is a smaller building with additional families. You do not see homeless people in Tashkent and I would guess that there are other facilities like this around the city. It seems like a good opportunity to make a difference and as the IB states, “create a better world”. Perhaps the international school community could do something to make their lives better.
I end with a photo of the mosque behind our school. As I wrote this summer, the old mosque was torn down. The billboard in front was showing a magnificent mosque in the white/blue style common in Uzbekistan. I had not looked at the site in a while and was surprised at how much progress they have made since August. We should soon be hearing the call to prayer at school again from the towers. One nice thing is that for our practicing employees, it will be a short commute to Friday prayer services.