I was standing in the kitchen when the lights suddenly went out and the fridge stopped humming. It was 2007, I was living two blocks from the Sagrada Familia and the blackout affected almost the entire city. A broken power line had triggered a chain reaction leaving people stuck in elevators, shutting down the subway and forcing hospitals to delay procedures.

Here are a few things I noticed and learned during this blackout:

  • The neighborhood got louder. Traffic lights weren’t working and people honked and shouted their way through the streets – a cacophony that was either entertaining or irritating, depending on your mood.
  • Some supermarkets didn’t open. Electric doors, frozen and refrigerated aisles didn’t work. If you were lucky, there was a small multi-purpose store within walking distance that had manual doors.
  • Shopping with a torch is spooky. About a block from my apartment was one of those stores that probably used to be a garage. They had managed to fit two aisles packed to the ceiling into a very narrow rectangle without windows. It was one of those places where every time you turn around you’re afraid your bag will get caught on something hanging off the shelf and you picture the rest crashing down. During the blackout, it was one of the only open stores on my block. They were pragmatic. No light? No problem! They just pressed torches into customers’ hands and ushered them in. It was brilliant. But still, rummaging through the back of the store in the dark with just an electric torch lighting up small circles was spooky.
  • You can’t cook or otherwise heat water or food. Knowing this is different than living it. It made me realize how much of what we do actually requires electricity.
  • The excitement wears off when you realize you can’t possibly eat everything in your fridge and freezer before it gets moldy. Even when there are four of you living together.
  • When the sun sets, it’s dark. Really dark. Think about it – what do you do in the evenings? Watch the news? A movie or a TV-show maybe? Read a book? Cook dinner? All of those activities require electricity and light. This blackout was an opportunity to develop an interest in raw food and contemplate life before the advent of electricity.
  • You can’t charge your phone, laptop or camera. There’s no internet and the phone doesn’t work.
  • Going non-digital is relaxing. Focusing on physical surroundings and fellow human beings instead of on a screen felt liberating.
  • You might get fed up with the impractical aspects of a blackout, but you can also restore a sense of anticipation. You might be able to get away with reading a book if you have a batterie powered book light or a torch for example. Reading then becomes even more adventurous than it already is. Add playing board games by candle light to the mix, and you’ll be as giddy as a child.

Hi, I'm H.E, a TCK and the author of Culture Shock - A Practical Guide. Love the outdoors. Motto: onwards and forwards! In search of perspective. If you'd like to get to know me a little better, head on over to the menu and click "For readers".