Generators – Our necessary evil neighbour

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What are generators? My friend (who stays in London and has never had the misfortune of staying in a city with constant power cut) asked recently. I was lamenting  about the excessive use of generators. I had to explain it’s what we use to artificially get the power back on when there is a power cut (what we Nigerians call “NEPA has taken light”) – nearly every home owns one. She thought it was genius! Genius? I went on to explain how we had to use it almost everyday for many hours and how it wasn’t cheap to run. Many Nigerians think it’s normal as they are now used to it. I must confess I am getting used to it but I see it as abnormal. My area never seem to have light/power. Even when we do it’s a for a few hours. Sometimes the power-cut lasts for days. The worst I have experienced in the last one year was for 10 days. I thought I was going to run mad. I used the generator so much that I spent twice the amount of my monthly electricity bill in just a week despite the fact that I tried to be thrifty!

Recently I asked one of the security men at my building to help get fuel. He is from the north. Let us call him Musa. My generator was on and I knew I needed more fuel to last me that evening.

Me: Musa can you help me get fuel for the gen? When you return please let me know.

Musa: Ok Aunty (He calls me Aunty).

After a while I thought Musa was now taking longer than expected so I went to the gate to look for Musa.

Me: Musa so you’re back and you didn’t tell me. You don buy am? (meaning have you bought it?)

Musa: Ah Aunty I don come back longtime and I don put the petrol for gen (meaning he came back long ago and already poured the fuel into the generator).

I was surprised as the generator had been on all the while so I wondered how and when he put the fuel in. It immediately dawned on me that he poured the fuel while the gen was still running. I screamed and actually expected to see fire or hear an explosion. I actually waited a few seconds ready to run for my dear life.

Me: Musa do you want to kill us? No no no. Please don’t ever do that. (I then continue this long speech of how the generator needs to be off before you refuel, it needs to not be hot as it actually builds up heat while it is on and it could have caused a fire or even an explosion.

Musa gave me this look that showed he was wondering if I was going insane.

Musa: Aunty no worry, na so we de do am (meaning that’s how we do it)

Say what? That phrase is all I seem to hear. I consult for a few firms here in Nigeria and some of them even the bosses are so resistant to change that they actually think I’m talking jargons and they say “That’s not how we do it”. Sometimes I wonder why they recruited me if they are not going to take my advice. I just say well that’s why things have not been working, you really need to change your mindset and be open to change. Nobody ever likes that reply but with time they begin to buy into my ideas.

Let me not derail. Still on generators; here’s a little advice for all generator owners.

  1. Make sure your generators are turned off and are cool before pouring fuel into them. This is to safeguard you and those around you from fire and explosions. When your generator is on, it actually builds up heat and takes a while to cool down even after turning it off. Heat + Fuel = Fire. Big fire.

  2. Most times your security staff or housemaids are the ones who turn in your gen. Make sure they are informed of when and how to put the fuel in. Most of them need to be shown a few times. Most times you are at work and have your kids under their care. You don’t want to come back to bad news.

  3. Make sure you have an escape route at your home. Ensure everyone who lives with you is aware of this escape route.

  4. If there is a fire in the process of you refueling your gen and you’re lucky to escape, please don’t try to fight it unless you have the right fire extinguisher (preferably powder extinguishers). Most homes do not have one. Don’t try to use water. Water and fuel don’t mix and will only make the fire worse.

  5. Never use candles or lanterns to aid vision while refueling your generator. This is guaranteed to cause an explosion. My cousin had this bad experience about 15years ago. He was lucky to escape but not without scars.

It can happen to anyone. Even trained people die in fires so please remember these important tips and be safe. Apart from the fact that there is the risk of fire breaking out, some generators are too noisy. Soon, I will write Check out this post on the health and psychological effects of noise from generators inspired by personal experience and the fact that I know what these experiences mean but there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. You don’t want to miss it!