Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Weather forecasting, kite flying and wind turbines

Good morning… or afternoon… or evening, wherever you are. Allow me to introduce myself. I go by various names in cyberspace, but for the purpose of this blog, I shall be known as Atala Wala Wala. (For the curious, the origin of the name has something to do with a bronze bell, a bunk bed and a thin stainless steel rod, but I shall elaborate no further).

Anyhow, I shall largely be taking a back seat as I assume the role of narrator and relate to you the events in Pangolo Junction. Ah yes... Pangolo Junction, that haunt of political animals of every dye and hue, where people come to exchange views (and sometimes blows) over the prevailing issues of the day. Located in an unnamed street in an unnamed Nigerian town, it's where our three main protagonists go to hang out after the activities of the day over a cool glass of kunu. But I shall say no more... let us intrude as unobtrusively as we can into their discussions...

(The scene: it is early evening in Pangolo Junction, a dimly lit, rather shabby looking bar. The place is half filled with highlife music playing in the background and various animated discussions going on. At one table, there are three men nursing glasses of kunu.

One is middle aged and stocky and is ranting away in a loud voice.

Another is much younger and slimmer and is listening intently to the first man.

The third man is good-looking and fashionably dressed, and is tilted back on his chair with a look of amusement on his face.)

First Man: ..then I thought "Let me go along with the forecast this time". After all, both of you are always condemning me for not keeping up with technology, not so? So I decided that there was no need for me to take my umbrella out the next day. But when I woke up the next morning, I saw that the skies were dark...

Second Man: So you changed your mind and decided to take the umbrella, right?

First Man: No-o Nat, why should I? After all, the weather forecaster had promised me that it would be sunny throughout the day. No, I said "If I'm going to follow this, I shouldn't doubt at the last minute. I've never seen myself as a waverer, and I wasn't going to start now." So with my resolve strengthened, I braced myself and went out into the street, which by now was whistling with the sound of furious wind...

(Indistinct sound from third man)

Nat: What's that, Max?

Max: (struggling to hide a smile) Oh nothing, nothing. Do please go on, Zachariah. I'm all ears.

Zack: (glares at Max briefly, then continues) So as I was saying, I stepped outside into the wind, and would you believe it, within five minutes...

Nat and Max: The rain came bucketing down!

Zack: Too true, my brothers. I was completely soaked from head to toe. In fact, this was one of those rains that my umbrella would have even been powerless against – it came at you from all angles - from on top, the left, the right, the front, the back...

Max: Did it come from the bottom as well? Oh no, that must just have been the water from the flooded road splashing up at you.

Nat: Please ignore him. What did you do then? Did you turn back?

Zack: Turn back? Me? No-o – a man doesn't turn round once he has committed himself to something. I soldiered on until I got to the bus stop I usually take to work these days. Unfortunately, no bus was stopping, so I had to squeeze in with 30 other people in a nearby small shop. Needless to say, the owner charged me 50 naira for the privilege!

Nat: (shaking his head sadly) Honestly! What is this country coming to? Where has all the decency gone? There used to be a time when such a shop owner would not just invite you in, but would invite you to take a bath and give you a hot drink, a meal and a change of dry clothes, free of charge.

Zack: Abi o! Profit making devils!

Max: (smirking) Needless to say, despite the fact that you saw all the signs before setting out, all this is not your fault - your story wouldn't be complete if someone wasn't to blame.

Zack: Of course there's someone to blame - the weather forecaster! I mean, how difficult can it be to predict weather in this country? We just have two seasons – dry and rainy. It's not as if there are the many permutations of weather that you have in other countries – sun, rain, snow, sleet, cloud, showers, fog, hail, haze...

Max: No, Zachariah, you're getting it wrong. We don't do that kind of generalist all-sorts weather in Naija. We're specialists here – we specialise in rain and sunshine. So if the weather man tells us that it's going to rain, that's not enough – he has to tell us whether it's going to be a light continuous drizzle, a short sharp burst, a thunderstorm with apocalyptic sound and light effects, your come-at-you-from-all-angles downpour, the elephant-that-gives-birth-to-a-mouse variety where there are high winds and brooding clouds but just a few driplets of rain… and don't even get me started on the varieties of sunshine we can have here!

Nat: Anyway, all this means you won't be paying any more attention to weather forecasters.

Zack: You're damn right I won't!

Nat: Although the problem isn't really with the weather... I mean, we live in age of technological progress, where God has given man the brains to subdue his environment...

Max: (sotto voce) As you're never tired of reminding us.

Nat: I think what we should do is to find ways of coexisting happily with the weather we have been blessed with rather than clashing with it all the time. This is what our forefathers used to do... they would work with the weather instead. So they would plant their crops just before the rains came in time for them to be watered, and harvest them when the rains had abated.

Zack: All right, Mr. Harmonious Existence, how do you propose that we live peaceably with a 75km/h wind that is threatening to blow the roof off your house followed by 300mm of rain pouring into your house?

Nat: Well, it's interesting what our perspectives are on this... when you look at the rain, you see damage and destruction...

Zack: Yes, I see drenching and disintegration...

Max: (chiming in) He sees dampness and degredation...

Nat: ...but when I look at the wind, I see a burst of energy that could be converted to useful purposes; when I look at the rain, I see God's purest distilled water which could be used for domestic purposes.

Zack: It has probably escaped your attention Mr. Fantastic New Idea, because you've been living in that little bubble of yours – but people already collect the run off from the rain from their roofs and put it to domestic use!

Nat: Ah, but I'm not talking about the run off from roofs – I'm talking about all the water that falls in places we don't want it, like the roads and gutters.

Zack: Oh, oh – I see it now. You want to cover the whole of Nigeria with one large transparent plastic sheet with holes at strategic locations to collect the run off. What an eminently sensible and practical idea. How I didn't think of that, I don't know. I mean, I'm sure that the small matter of manufacturing and supporting a plastic sheet that is nine hundred and twenty three thousand seven hundred square kilometres can easily be overcome.

Max: Zachariah, we are indeed in the presence of a Superior Mind. Let us bow.

Nat: There's no need to be so sarcastic. Actually, the idea of stretching a sheet that big is ridiculous. I wouldn't think of such a thing. No my idea involves flying kites...

Max: Ah, now that's not so ridiculous. Flying kites to collect water.

Nat: Let me explain. Imagine a large flat plastic sheet about 100 square metres that is suspended in the air and is attached to the ground by a plastic flexible hose. The hose will puncture the sheeting in the middle so that any water that collects on the sheet will trickle down the hose and will end up in a bucket at the other end.

Zack: How will the sheet remain suspended?

Nat: There will be helium balloons underneath the sheet. In fact, the sheet will be weighted in such a way that there will be a depression in the middle where the hose is attached so that all the water will run down that way.

Max: You're forgetting one thing, Nat. Remember those winds that our good friend Zachariah was telling us about – the ones that come at you from every which way? You'll find out that your plastic sheet will end up being blown about and up-ended before finally being yanked loose and whipped away to Outer Mongolia.

Nat: Hmm... I hadn't thought about that... I guess I need to think about this some more. (He stares into space for a some seconds, lost in thought, then he brightens up.) But there is established technology for taking advantage of those high winds, though. In the West, they have wind turbines erected in areas where there are high winds to convert the wind energy into electricity. There's no reason why we can't have the same kind of thing here.

Zack: But what happens when there is no wind?

Nat: The energy is stored in batteries, and the stored energy can be used at a time when there's no wind.

Zack: I don't know. How many houses can the energy from a single turbine power?

Nat: Uh... I think that an average turbine will generate about 1 to 1.5 MW of power.

Max: Well, given that the average Nigerian has just about two functioning light bulbs and a battered radio since PHCN has destroyed the rest of his electrical equipment, I'd say we'd just need about 150 of those to satisfy domestic demand. But it wouldn't work anyway.

Nat: Why not?

Max: They're too visible. The moment you build something that's visible, the government wants to tax it.

Nat: Uh-oh. Capitalist rant alert. (Gets up to go.)

Max: Well, it's true! The government would impose a 'high rise structure' tax, and the state government would impose an 'electricity generation' tax, and the local government would impose a 'noise' tax, and the 'area boys' would impose a 'security' tax...

Zack: I'll join you. (Gets up.)

Max: Hey! Where are you going? You know I'm right! I haven't even finished talking about the taxes that the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, the State Environmental Task Force and the Ministry of Levies, Duties and Taxes will impose. You're still going? All right, that means I win! I win!

Zack: Yeah, whatever. (Both of them leave.)

And so I draw a curtain on the events of the evening, leaving Max feeling somewhat peeved by the 'cowardice' of his friends. I hope to see you around some other time.


Atala Wala Wala