Last Thursday was a happy day for me. My electrician friend finally dropped by my house to replace the faulty light bulbs in my dining room, car porch and backyard. About a month ago, the light bulbs went out almost at the same time – as if programmed. Although it was not exactly dark in the dining room and car porch because the other bulbs were still functioning, the atmosphere had been less than ideal for the past one month. An ideal atmosphere to me was where you could see everything bright and clear and not otherwise. Without the light in the backyard, I was a bit scared to go out there at night for fear of encountering unexpected creatures, particularly snakes.
I felt uneasy after reading about the discovery of a small python in a backyard in Miri town. I did not call my electrician friend earlier on because of the Gawai-Raya holidays. When he came, he took less than two hours to replace the faulty light bulbs and systems in my house. That night, to my immense delight, my living room and car porch were again brightly lit. Before my friend came, I still had electricity at home.
Except for the dimly lit dining room and car porch, I could watch TV, access my e-mails, watch my Korean dramas online, use my fridge, rice cooker, fans and electric jug kettle. Instant electric power is something that we, sometimes, take for granted. Now and then, whenever there is a blackout, we are immediately reminded of the importance of electricity in our lives. Can you imagine life without electricity? In Sarawak, it is sad to note that there are still many rural areas without 24-hour electricity supply.
Recently, I was shocked to learn that 369 rural schools in the state were short of diesel to run their power generators because the sole contractor had failed to deliver the supplies accordingly. Luckily, thanks to the quick action by Education Minister, Dr Maszlee Malik under the newly elected Pakatan Harapan government, the problem was solved quickly. The S a r awa k Educ a t i o n Department, it is learnt, has been instructed to take over the task of supplying diesel to all the 369 rural schools before the students return from their school holidays today (Monday). Maszlee has approved the purchase of new diesel supply as an immediate measure.
Without the diesel, the generators will not be able to function and the students will be fumbling in the dark at night. Without the power from the generators, will there be food and drinks on their dining tables? Will the taps in the schools and bathrooms be running? The story of rural schools without power from the electricity grid in the state reminds me of the yearend holidays I used to spend with my late grandmother in Kanowit District when I was a pre-teen and teenager. My grandmother lived just three miles (4.8 kilometres) from Kanowit town.
At that time, there were no roads connecting the area where she stayed with Kanowit town and other towns and no power from the electricity grid in the state. Like the other villagers who lived there then, my grandparents had to use firewood for cooking and kerosene to light the lamps at night. Water had to be manually fetched from the nearby stream and river.
To supplement the firewood that my grandfather cut, my siblings and I had to look for twigs to light the fire for cooking. We also helped to fetch water for cooking and washing from the stream and river. I remember I almost fell into the stream while fetching water during bad weather once. I couldn’t swim then and still cannot swim now. It was indeed an unforgettable experience for me. There were no TV stations and no TV sets then.
In the daytime, I read books that I borrowed from the then Sibu Urban District Council while my grandparents went to the farm. One of the younger brothers went fishing with his friends in the nearby stream while my elder sister went to explore the jungle nearby with her friends. In the evening, after dinner, my grandparents, my aunts, my siblings and I went to bed early. Usually, only one or two kerosene lamps would be left burning throughout the night to light the way for those who needed to use the toilet. Although my late grandparents lived simple hard lives, I have fond memories of the time I spent with them.
They loved my siblings and I very much and although they never went to school, they stressed the importance of a good education to us. Occasionally, they would bring us to the farm and I enjoyed walking in the jungle even though sometimes, I fell off the logs which served as bridges across the small streams. In those days, the pace of life was slow. Even the boats were slow.
There were no express boats then. Because there was no road from Sibu to Kanowit then, my mother, my siblings and I would take the slow motor launch to Kanowit town. The journey was long and took many hours. Along the way, the boat would make numerous stops to pick up passengers. We would see children frolicking in the river and sarong-clad women washing clothes on the jetties. In Kanowit town, my grandparents would be waiting happily for us.
Together, we would hike through the jungle in order to reach my grandmother’s house. Now, cars can drop the villagers there at their doorsteps. Back then, young and innocent, I never knew that one day, I would live far away from Sibu. I always assumed I would study in Sibu, worked there and stayed there until I died. I had not heard of Kuching, where I now work and stay, then. To some people, the idea of living in a rural area without 24- hour electricity power may sound romantic.
But in today’s modern world, like other Sarawakians, rural villagers and their children have equal right to basic amenities such as clean tap water supply and 24-hour power supply. According to official records, Sarawak is expected to achieve 100 per cent coverage in terms of water and electricity amenities by 2025. It will definitely be a wonderful present to rural villagers and schools if the state government can shorten their long wait for electricity and water.