The house I lived in while I served in the Peace Corps had running water and electricity. Most of the time. It was a cement block house with a tin roof and cement floors, featuring a western bathroom and "modern" kitchen and bare bulbs throughout. So much for the romantic vision of a mud hut with a thatched roof, but I can't say as I minded the modern conveniences.
Except when they didn't work. I had plenty of Peace Corps friends who never had running water or electricity, and this who learned to live without such luxuries fairly quickly. They had rain barrels and lanterns and a schedule that was based on the rising and setting of the sun. Part of their routine was fetching water or part of their budget was paying a local kid to do so for them. It doesn't take a genius to figure out how to wash dishes and take a bath with a system of buckets and cups. Doing without running water and electricity just became part of their experience, and, in time, just a part of life.
My water and electric service were frequently interrupted. The town would run out of fuel for the generator, or the generator would break, or a storm would knock out the power or countless other events would transpire to make my house dark and dry. There was never any warning and never any sense of how long the outages would last. A friend of mine lived next to the generator and could sometimes get information from the workers there about service interruptions, but even the town employees didn't usually have complete or accurate information to pass along. And so, in the middle of doing laundry or while trying to grade papers at night, I'd suddenly find myself without a way to rinse the soap from my clothes or needing to stumble through the house for the flashlights, candles, and matches.
The obvious solution to this was to be better prepared. There was no reason for me not to have a rain barrel to collect water for just these situations (well, other than that keeping mosquitoes from breeding in rain barrels is not easy, even with good covers), and I could have purchased some good kerosene lamps to have for when the power went out. But I confess that I felt somehow entitled to my water and electric. It was supposed to work, I felt. Life in Africa was already fraught with difficulty, and I felt I deserved to be spared some of that trial by the presence of water and electric in my life.
John died when the twins were nine months old, and before that he was in the process of dying. I liken my single-parenthood to the situation of my Peace Corps friends who never had running water and electricity to begin with. Not having those luxuries was just a fact of life. They can remember what it was like to live in another place, at another time, with those things (among other conveniences), but in the moment, they adapt and move forward and mostly just take the lack at face value. So it is for me. Oh, do I ever remember how wonderful it was to have John around and oh, how often do I wish he were still here, but he's not. And so I have created a life and a routine and a flow that is based upon the lack of a spouse. My coping mechanisms aren't always the best (Single Parenting: I Guess Poor Parenting Is Better Than None at All), and when I have an extra pair of hands around, it gives me a taste of what I'm missing—much like our occasional Peace Corps training weekends in "luxury" (it was the third world) hotels did for my colleagues who lived without much luxury day-to-day.
I will occasionally get e-mails from friends who have kids but whose spouse is away for an extended period of time. They are lovely e-mails that are usually filled with a newly deepened empathy for my spouse-less situation and an admiration for what I do to manage the logistics of single parenting. These messages often contain the sentence, "This is so hard!" I'd be the first person to agree that being a single parent is hard, but in all fairness, I think it's harder to be a part-time single parent than to do what I do. These friends with spouses who travel or are deployed in the military or who go take care of infirm family members are like I was in the Peace Corps. When you regularly have a support person in your life—or regularly rely on running water and electric—their sudden absence shifts your entire routine. For those used to have a spouse around it's not just a logistical shift of figuring out how to do it all on your own, but an emotional sea change for the kids and the adults. It creates a whole new family dynamic and a whole new rhythm, and it's something you can't really plan for because until it happens, it's hard to know just how it will feel.
For my friends who are going it alone right now, I'm sorry your water and electric are off. I hope they come back on soon. At least you probably have good information about when service will be restored. Until then, know that you're doing a good job at a very difficult job. Hats off.