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  • Brenda Hershey

Nuances of Privilege - Electricity

Written in December 2020


Here I am. Wrapped in blankets with a red nose, my fingers frozen as I slowly type these words. You see, I’m living in Iraqi-Kurdistan, which is in Northern Iraq near the Turkish border. The city of Duhok is nestled between two mountain ranges, and let’s cut to the chase - the temperature drops below zero regularly in the winter months.


Another characteristic of the Iraqi experience is unreliable electricity and, therefore, a major lack of temperature control. For the first time in my life, I’m forced to take a closer look at Electricity and all her nuances. Here, we have general electricity, provided by the government. It is available randomly and sadly, less in the summer and winter months (when there’s extreme whether).


When general electric switches off, the generator will kick on, if you’re fortunate enough to have access to a generator, that is. You pay each month for a certain amount of electricity from the generator; I currently have two impairs, which you can think of as “Level 2.” Frankly, it’s not much. When the general electric switches off, I can use my lights, charge electronic devices and use my blender. The refrigerator, oven, washer, HEATER, and anything else do not work, and the periods without general electric during the day can be up to 8 hours, as well as through the entire night.


Not once in my life have I had to think about electricity to this degree, and whether or not it’d be available for basic necessities. Yet, here I am. It’s been about a month now that the temperature really began to drop, and my discomfort level has gradually heightened. Totally unacceptable, I’ve been thinking.


Then, the other day, my team and I were visiting homes door to door in a Syrian refugee camp to register individuals for a small business project. It was an especially cold, windy, and drizzly December day. I didn’t think I was leaving Chicago winters for this! I thought.


Each door we knocked on, we were greeted and ushered inside, where we’d sit for about 10 minutes and complete the registration. We kicked off our shoes and hurried into the person’s caravan, sheltered from the brisk breeze. In the first home, we were led into the kitchen, one of the caravan’s 2 or 3 rooms, and sat on a traditional Kurdish cushion on the cement floor. A family of 5 joined us, all huddled around one kerosene heater in the middle of the room. This was their only source of heat. As we went through the registration, our breath fogged and clouded our vision. It was cold.

My part was finished and, as my teammate spoke Arabic with one of the family members, I just stared into the flames of this heater and the ten hands surrounding it, my breath visibly seeping out of my face mask.


We had a similar experience in almost every home we visited. And you know what? The people would move the heater closer to us… before bringing us tea or coffee! These were their circumstances, and they seemed grateful for the little they did have.


Does not having heat in the winter SUCK? YES! Yet I’m grateful for this extra bit of awareness and an enhanced perspective… for generosity and loving kindness just around every corner. I am thankful for what I do have. But you can bet I’m buying a kerosene heater tomorrow!

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