On Tuesday afternoon, I was alone at my desk in the office, since my director is traveling and my co-workers were out attending to their duties. The office is the second story of the home where my director’s family lives, and no one else was there at the time. Suddenly, the small electric transformer in the office started clicking repeatedly, as it does when the voltage oscillates. A humming noise began to sound through the house, and lights flickered incessantly. I suspected that we had lost one of the three phases of electricity, a not-uncommon occurrence.

As the situation continued, I decided to unplug my computer, even though it’s connected to a surge protector. Since it sometimes shuts off suddenly when it’s not connected to power, I put it on “sleep”. I turned off the printer as well, not wanting any electrical problems to affect it. The transformer, still clicking away, displayed an error message instead of the incoming and outgoing voltage measurement. I tried to read a book, but the strobing lights were such a distraction that I turned them off. It was a dark, rainy day, so I sat by the window for enough light to read my book. Beside me was the conglomerate of electrical connections pictured here, and just then I heard among them a ticking sound that grew incessantly louder, leading to an explosive POP.

That was enough. I jumped up, resolving to shut off the electricity before anything worse happened. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was 15 minutes before Olino, our electrician, would begin his shift as a guard. I remembered that our mechanic had shown me the switch to transfer the house’s power source between public electricity and our generator which we use during outages; and I recalled that it had an in-between setting where neither source of power was connected. I decided I could turn off the electricity that way, then I’d call Olino to inform him of the situation and let him resolve it when he arrived for his shift.

Just as I ran into the laundry room which had the electrical controls, I heard someone urgently requesting entrance at the front door. It was Olino, running in to turn off the home electricity! Arriving early for work, he had noticed something strange happening with the electricity on the property, and had checked at our main electrical station to find that the voltage, which normally should be 220, was over 400!!! He immediately ran into the laundry room and turned off all the breakers, then we breathlessly explained to one another what we had each observed.

After about half an hour, Olino announced that the electricity was back to normal voltage, so he connected the house to power again. During the rest of the week he checked everything electrical on the property and repaired what had been damaged by the high voltage — which thankfully didn’t include anything very expensive. Bonif√°cio, who had already met with the electric company to request a device to control the voltage entering our property, returned there with renewed urgency to try to prevent a repeat of this problem.

Africa, anyone? It offers some powerful experiences!

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