When someone mentions the word “luxury” the first things which come into mind are a holiday villa, a Lamborghini, a big pool with a bar serving fancy cocktails, champagne, and caviar. Simple things like tap water, central heating or common cars would probably not appear on that list. Despite these things became common only in the last century we are taking them as granted without a second thought. Then something happens and we are facing an unpleasant reminder that these things are luxuries indeed and can be gone in a blink of an eye. I did experience a couple of these reminders in my lifetime, sometimes because of politics and sometimes because of nature.
I was born in a country which does not exist anymore. It had many names through the decades but you probably knew it simply as Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, I am not old enough to tell tales about the golden years, as I was born about the start of the declension, but the elders say that it had the nickname “Small America” amongst the neighbor countries, which tells a lot. Life was good back then but, as usually happens, politicians decided that they want to mess up the things. I don’t want to go into details if you are interested, have a look here.
I bet that not many eight-year-olds know what the word “embargo” means. Neither did we. Until it happened. The first thing I remember that after the oil export got banned suddenly there was a shortage of fuel. My family owned a canary yellow Yugo Coral 60, thus we were eligible to buy some fuel. The amount was set by the government. The memory lives vividly in my mind. It was a nice warm spring day. I was standing with my father in a long row waiting for the fuel thickets at the local community building. The adults were chatting quietly about politics, jobs or how big was the fish they caught last weekend.
A couple of hours later we left the building with four small pieces of paper the size of a credit card. Each granted the right to buy 5 liters of petrol at the local gas station. That amount had to last for a month. To be totally honest I cannot recall if we used it or simply sold those valuable pieces of paper to those who were more in need of fuel. I don’t remember the exact numbers as the value of money was ambiguous back then, but according to the prices I found online, filling that fuel tank would easily cost a monthly salary. We did not really have many places to visit after all…
Following the banning of oil import there came a total ban of importing and exporting of any goods. We were lucky as we were living in the northern part of the country where the agriculture was strong and the food supplies were abundant. I don’t think that we ever had problems with the basic ingredients like flour, sugar, milk, and eggs. However, the other stuff we were used to buying as kids (candy, chocolate, chewing gum, and juice) slowly disappeared from the stores along with many other things. I remember walking around the corner store having a pile of stuff in one shelf and another one a couple of meters away. The whole supply of my hometown would fit into a single supermarket I guess but at least we had food on the table and that is something not everyone in the country was able to state in those times…
Fast forward a couple of years and we get to the next conflict the politicians thought a good idea. Exactly twenty years ago, on the 24th of March, we were standing in the schoolyard listening to our teachers telling us that the school will be closed until further notification. We did not really get the situation so with the simple message that school is skipped today, so we simply walked home. I almost arrived home when the first sirens sounded…
That was the longest summer vacation we ever had. It lasted over five months. Again we were lucky as in the northern area the situation was not that bad. There was a dusk-to-dawn curfew and we had to be alert when the sirens sounded. Apart from that, it was silent, lazy summertime. We did what every other kid to kill time. We played video games. Both I and my best friend had a PC back then and we also were members of a computer club. Why is this important? In those days the country was short on energy supplies. Because of that, there were planned blackouts through the day.
Sometimes it meant there were eight hours a day when we did not have electricity. Sometimes there were only eight hours when we had. The trick was that our town was divided into several districts and only one had a blackout at a specific time. Our house, my friends’ house, and the computer club were located in three distinct districts so we always had a place for gaming. The transfer of savegame files was a little bit problematic but we solved it. If you are curious about the transfer bandwidth, the top speed was about 2.88 megabyte per minute. You can easily calculate this if you take into account two kids with two bikes, a ten-minute trip and a twenty pack of floppy disks 😉
My next story happened ten years later. This time it was not our country which engaged in international conflict but there was a knockabout between Russia and Ukraine. As a result, they shut the gas tap. We were living in a flat back then which got central heating from the local heating plant which was running on that natural gas. The lack of heating was not a funny thing in the cold January weather. Luckily we had an electric heater which made the situation bearable but it was obvious that it won’t be a final solution. We were ready to temporarily move back to our hometown where our parents had those good old school wood burning furnaces. It did not happen as after one or two days the heat service providers changed to diesel-fueled heating. The service went on but the smog was horrible in the following days until the conflict ended.
The last example was independent of any conflicts or political activity (if you do not take into account the conspiracy theories about weather control machines). Four years ago we moved into our current home. Like many first time buyers, we were inexperienced and wanted to settle down as soon as possible instead of searching for years. After seeing a dozen horrible options we went for the one which we thought good enough. The decision was almost perfect. Almost.
Our new home is located in that area of the city where tap water is not accessible yet. The work of laying down the pipes was in progress by the time in the neighboring streets. Then suddenly they moved on. The circle was not finished so we thought that they will continue the work next spring. They did not. It was not a problem as our home, as all the others around, has a dug well which provides us with running water. Then two years ago one day the running water stopped running.
It was exactly the week when my wife and our newborn baby daughter was about to arrive home from the hospital. If you think that your marriage is rock solid and can stand anything I would recommend telling your significant other that after spending a couple of days in a hospital, with no less task than bringing a new life to this world, that she can not have a warm shower and that you have no idea when will the running water return. Success guaranteed 😉
A couple of days and a few service brigades later we got know that the water levels dropped in the area. Our well was at a critical depth level and cannot be fixed. Fortunately, our neighbors were helpful and they let us connect our system with their garden tap for a couple of weeks. In the end, we had to get professional help to dig a new well. A couple of weeks and a huge pile of money later the water is running happily ever since but the “happy” memories will remain with us forever.
As you can see, things can go south in a blink of an eye. So, when you next start to feel that you need that latest phone or another hundred TV channels, please stay for a moment and think about what are your real necessities in life and once you discover that you are doing well I bet you will start smiling 🙂
PS: thanks for the inspiration and for this walk down at memory lane for J$ and his Monday post 😉