UPS and down: the demoralizing fight against the power

I often hear people say that a good rule of thumb for life here is to get out of Abuja every three months, out of Nigeria every six.  I’m not able to consider this due to my desire to save all of my accrued leave for when I get to go back to Japan and the need to save as much money as possible to finance the expenses of family travel over the next couple years. I’ve prepared for the grind of living here and honestly, I don’t think it is all that bad.  My encounters with some of the fauna (I’ll post an update of the cockroach attack soon) aside, I don’t mind living here. I’ve got plenty to do around the house, be it reading, hobbies, exercise, or just zoning out with the TV.  I happy just hanging out in my little cocoon.

At least, I thought I was doing ok, until the most recent debacle associated with trying to solve the UPS issue.  UPS are Uninterruptible Power Supplies, the battery backup systems that will kick in to keep computers running during a power outage.  UPS are necessary here because the power is constantly flickering on and off, sometimes going out for a few minutes at a time. We have a generator at the compound that kicks (usually) and prevents extended outages, but if you’re watching a DVD, many of these hiccups will require you wait for the player to start up, the DVD intro to play, and then find your spot in the movie.  If you’re playing a video game, you lose all your progress.  The cable/satellite boxes take a couple minutes to boot up and can be very inconvenient when you’re trying to watch sports (even more inconvenient if you’re hosting guests for that purpose).

I bought 3 UPS before I came down here but messed up on my research of the models. Nigeria runs on a 230v 50Hz electricity system. Many computers have universal power supplies, large power bricks that can handle 100-240v, 50-60Hz electricity which basically means you can use them anywhere.  But many other electronics (bathroom, kitchen, bedroom) only run on 110v, 60Hz. I thought I bought UPS that had universal power supplies but learned after arrival that the units I bought won’t run on a 50Hz grid.

I found a UPS for about $110 in the electronics section of the better stores that turned out to be a complete waste of money. Every time the power went out, the fuse would blow, utterly useless. I should have done more research on it before buying, as it is never good when you can’t even find the brand in a Google search. These are expensive units and I should have know something that cheap was junk.

I asked around and found a reputable dealer of APC, the top brand for UPS. With markup for Nigeria, though, a $350-400 unit was running just over $500, and I needed two of them. I felt ill at the thought of spending a grand on these, but eventually came to terms with the fact that either I drop that kind of change or deal without my computer and unstable TV for the duration of my time here. I need the computer for photos as my laptop doesn’t have enough space to store them, nor does it have any backup.  I’m itching to find out how many photos I actually lost in my earlier catastrophe as well.

So I finally decide to buy 2 of these. My coworker also needed one and bought one on my recommendation.  It was a tough purchase but it was going to drastically improve my quality of life. We dropped off $1500 cash and waited a couple days for the units to arrive. They looked great, huge heavy hulks that looked built to take a direct lightning strike with vigor.

We were all pretty excited until we got home and realized that the input cable had a shielded plug that wouldn’t plug into the wall outlet and the outlet plugs on the UPS were not standard for US devices, ie there was no way to use them.

This was pretty upsetting and I just couldn’t shake it off.  I’ve taken everything Abuja’s thrown at me in stride but was caught off guard by this.  I abandoned my workout and ate a bowl full of mac and cheese and watched Eastbound and Down for the rest of the night, just feeling deflated.  I did get a hold of my seller and she promised that they’d get things working. I’d like to believe that, but I’m reticent to be optimistic. I’m preparing for the worst case scenario where we can’t use them nor return/exchange them. I’ll reimburse my colleague who bought it on my recommendation, of course.

PS: Every day dawns anew! Today one of my colleagues mentioned that he had a couple of adapters that I could use to get things working, so that brightened my day considerably. The guys from the shop showed up and claimed that they can get more adapters for cheap, so maybe in the end, it will all work out.  But nothing in Nigeria, is ever easy, and everything takes at least two, three, or more attempts before its settled.