Highly Commended in the International Category of the 2015 BBC Wildlife Blogger Awards

Earth Hour, Our Hour

My nature writing colleague, Mary (curator at eco-fiction.com), writes in her blog that, for Earth Hour tonight, she's going to indulge in a bout of solar-powered reading, outdoors, in a hammock. Her words reminded me that, all this week, the kids have been coming home saying things like “Mica’s family is doing Earth Hour, Mum! Are we?”


It’s the first time they’ve been so excited about this symbolic event. I know it’s partly because their new school places particular emphasis on ecological awareness (yes!), but it’s also because they are now old enough to realize the world does not revolve around them, that they are part of something much bigger, something alive and unique and precious, and that we all have a role to play in its future. “Every hour should be Earth Hour” says my daughter. Although she’s not the first to say this, I can see she means it.


When I was her age, I lived in Tanzania for four years. Our house was situated in the outskirts of Dar-es-Salaam, and nearby, across a field, stood Mikocheni Bar. To our ears, the music they played on Fridays and Saturdays was repetitive – with one tune much like another – and it went on and on and on, till deep into the night. My brother and I did not mind it; children have a boundless capacity to sleep through and be soothed by noise (after all, as babies they listen to their mother´s heartbeat and, I imagine, her digestive squeaks and gurgles, day in, day out, for months). But my father suffered.


Every now and then there would be a power cut. Lights would dim, the fridge and ceiling fans would stop humming, Mikocheni Bar would be silenced, and the night would crowd in. In the rainy season, jangly music was replaced by the roar of mating toads. Once, my father sent my brother and I out into the garden to catch as many toads as we could find. We collected them in a bucket, and dumped them on the other side of the hedge. Within an hour they were all back in the pond, their plump passion undimmed.


We did not have a TV or video player. Nor did we have a back-up generator. So a power cut meant merely that we had to read by the glow of candles instead of electric lights. For me, a blackout was always a novelty, even though they occurred regularly. There was something about the loss of sight - though we stretched our eyes wide - and the immediate heightening of other senses, about having to grope in the pressing darkness for each other, for a torch, for candles, that appealed to my romantic, explorer self. We would have to be resourceful to survive this serious setback!


Power cuts often energized us into starting an evening of games. Our favourites were Scrabble, Mahjong and Canasta. At first we were no match for our mother, but with every cut my brother and I became more adept. I have warm memories of the three of us sitting at the edge of a pool of flickering light, each with a stiff fan of cards in our hands or a wall of tiles in front of us, my mother’s glass black with wine, an occasional murmur absorbed by the darkness like a drop of water falling on blotting paper, and, in the background, my father peacefully turning the pages of his book.


We didn’t have Earth Hour then. Three decades later, I am guiltily aware that life is very different today, that, sadly, we seem to need a concept like Earth Hour to stop us in our tracks, not only to reflect on our place in nature but to break away from our screens, to recreate the power cuts of my childhood, to connect with family.


So tonight, at 8:30pm, I will suggest to the kids that we play games by candlelight. Perhaps I will teach them Canasta. Perhaps this Earth Hour will be the first of many such nights in the year to come.


And you? What does Earth Hour mean to you? How will you (or did you) celebrate it?

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© 2014-2020, Jessica Groenendijk