Buckets of Sun
By David Lipschitz and Dorian Haarhoff, © May 2012
Once there was an island just off the coast of South Africa not far from Robben Island. It was roughly the same size. The place had no name. There were 50 houses on it. The houses had no names either.
Power came from the mainland. Islanders referred to this as The Mains. Once a month a man called Bill came from the Mains dressed in a coal black suit. He knocked on every door to collect the monthly electricity and water money.
People grumbled. Mr Expense from no 6 peered at Bill through his glasses with fossil frames (everyone on the island wore them) “this month we’ve even stopped bathing. We only take showers. But the bill goes up.”
Bill shrugged his shoulders “You ain’t seen nothing yet” he muttered as he dropped three of Mr Expense’s R500 notes – yes, the Reserve Bank now issued R500 notes - into his collection box. The residents grumbled but did nothing.
Then one morning life changed for the islanders. It happened to be a holiday - Freedom Day 27 April. The sun was shining brightly as it did most days in this part of the world.
It was Suna from no 13 - the 13 year old, who came running with the news. She panted “There is a man with fiery red hair standing on the beach. He’s wearing green goggles. He has a sunflower in his hat. He is surrounded by buckets. Lots of buckets. You have to come and see.” She ran from door to door. Her dog, Sunbeam, ran with her. She called him Sunbeam for his coat was golden.
Somebody from each house made their way onto the beach. Sure enough there was a man in green goggles standing surrounded by 50 buckets. Each bucket had the number of one of the houses on it. “Come and get your bucket of Sun” he called.
Sunbeam ran up to the man and wagged its tail.
“Who are you?” a few of the women asked.
“You can call me a Sungoma” the man smiled “and I come from up there.” He pointed towards the sun.
Suna cried out “I wrote a poem about the sun’s smile.” She recited it by heart.
“The Sun god beams and smiles
then shakes his fiery hair.
Here’s energy for Africa
as I’ve got light to spare.”
“Ah yes. well done. That’s the generous old sun for you.” Sungoma clapped his hands.
“What is this all about?” muttered Mr Slowchange from number 27 suspiciously.
“It’s simple,” said the Sungoma. “You take the bucket of sun and you pour it onto your roof into a special contraption. And now you have sun power for as long as your house stands.”
“How much does it cost?” grumbled Mrs TightBudget from no 33.
“Costs the same as you pay to Bill from the Mains every month.”
“So why change?”
“Ah the difference is the this cost doesn’t go up and up every month like a helicopter. It stays the same.” Sungoma held up five green fingers and ticked them off one by one. “One we produce electricity. Two we save electricity. Three we save water. Four we save money. Five we save the planet.”
“So,” said Grandpa Thinka, “We are simply being more efficient? We work with nature rather than against nature?”
Sungoma did a dance. “You’ve got it you’ve got it”, he sang.
Addem, the accountant, spoke up. “I’ve worked it out. Energy Efficiency is the first step. We call that efficiency Negawatts. Once we've done this, we make electricity for the balance of our electricity needs.”
“Sungoma slapped him on the shoulder “Yes, yes.”
Grandpa Thinka then asked, “So how do we save? We have to install some saving things right?”
“If all 50 get a sun bucket, I can buy what we need at a rock bottom prices … and wait for it ….the price is thrown in to the monthly cost. And you could all get a tank.”
“What kind of tank?” asked Colonel Fighta, thinking of his army days.
“He means a water tank, Uncle”, explained Suna.
At that point Sungoma handed everybody a pair of green goggles. “Here, take off your old specs. Put these on.” The islanders put them on and suddenly the world looked different. It was full of possibility. “When you wear these”, explained Sungoma, “all the plugs and appliances in your home that chew electricity and gulp water will show up as luminous green.”
“What’s the catch?”, shouted Sir Spicious.
One of the residents, Mrs Ena Sight, suddenly saw the light. “The only catch is if you keep paying coal man Bill more and more every month. Water goes up and up like a fountain except it never comes down. Give me a bucket.”
The couple at no 3 squeezed each other’s hands. They had not done that for years. “We’re signing up too.” They had a mielie farm.
Old Mrs Smiley, Suna’s grandmother began to sing happily “You are my sunshine my only sunshine.”
Sir Spicious asked “Can we trust this man?”
Just then Suna’s dog, Sunbeam, went up to the Sungoma and licked his hand. Sunbeam then rolled over and exposed his belly to the sun’s rays.
“I trust Mr Sungoma”, announced Suna.” Her granny nodded “Children and dogs know things.”
Another resident wanted to know, “How will we organise this? I worked for the Mooncipality and that was chaos.”
“We already have a Neighbour Watch. So we organise a small group that looks after our sun interests” smiled Con Nection from no 41.
“We can call it the Neighbour Watts” yelled Suna. Sunbeam wagged his tail.
So the people took a bucket of sun each. Two neighbours started chatting to each other as they walked away “I have family from the Mains to stay this month. My son and daughter-in-law and their four children. I’m worried I won’t have enough sun power.”
One bright neighbour looked at her through her green goggles “Never mind. I’ll have too much sun this month so you can come with your bucket and borrow some.”
People began to find names for their houses. Sundance, Sundeck, Sunergy, Sunchronicity. When the end of the next month came the people on the Mains grumbled while the green goggled islanders smiled and turned their faces to the sun. After a few months they didn’t need goggles at all so they took them off. Their eyes had adjusted to the green light and insight.
Tourists came from the Mains to see why the islanders looked so happy and had money for holidays. Suna was their tour guide “Now instead of sums we do suns” Suna explained, “and you can create your own sun island just like ours. Just ask Sungoma to bring his buckets. ”
The community met and elected their Neighbour Watts. They named their island Madebasun and they saved happily ever after.