Blackouts are common in the Lebanese capital, forcing energy consumers to pay whoever can get them power. Wired looked at how the residents of Beirut keep their lights on — and their gadgets charged — in the face of the rolling blackouts. From the report: Electrical power here does not come without concerted exertion or personal sacrifice. Gas-powered generators and their operators fill the void created by a strained electric grid. Most people in Lebanon, in turn, are often stuck with two bills, and sometimes get creative to keep their personal devices — laptops, cell phones, tablets, smart watches — from going dead. Meanwhile, as citizens scramble to keep their inanimate objects alive, the local authorities are complicit in this patchwork arrangement, taking payments from the gray-market generator operators and perpetuating a nation’s struggle to stay wired. Lebanon has been a glimmering country ever since the 15-year civil war began in 1975, and the reverberations from that conflict persist. These days there is only one city, Zahle, with electricity 24/7. Computer banks in schools and large air conditioners pumping out chills strain the grid, and daily state-mandated power cuts run from at least three hours to 12 hours or more. Families endure power outages mid-cooking, mid-washing, mid-Netflix binging. Residents rely on mobile phone apps to track the time of day the power will be cut, as it shifts between three-hour windows in the morning and afternoon, rotating throughout the week. Once called the Paris of the Middle East, sometimes the region’s Sin City, Beirut’s supplementary power needs are effectively under the control of what is known here as the generator mafia: a loose conglomerate of generator owners and landlords who supply a great deal of the country’s power. This group is indirectly responsible for the Wi-Fi, which makes possible any number of WhatsApp conversations — an indispensable lifeline for the country’s refugees, foreign aid workers, and journalists and locals alike.
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