Plugging in…

We were electrically prepared when we moved here.  On our visit last September I went to the hardware store and bought a dozen or so Zambian plugs.  In most households square three-pronged plugs like these below are  used.

Also, we learned that electricity  is 230 volts with a 50 hertz cycle in Zambia.  What does that mean for Americans with power that is 110 volts with a 60 hertz cycle?

That means that anything you plug in with a simple adapter over here (a) gets power with too much pressure (volts) causing the device to spark and burn and the innards to melt if you leave it plugged in long enough, and/or, (b)  is subject to a slower cycle of hertz, meaning if your device has a motor it turns 17% slower causing the current to go up 17%  which causes much quicker deterioration of the insulation of the electrical wiring, which…actually, go read my new internet friend Henk ( because I have no idea what I’m saying and I’m just plagiarizing his website.

Basically, our electrician in the states said that slower hertz means any machinery with moving parts has to work harder, so it may work if you pulse it (like for a blender or mixer) but if you let it go on for more than a minute it’ll burn out.

I can vouch for the experts because I’ve tested blow dryers and curling irons over the years and yes, I had a blow dryer begin to blow flames (out the back) and set off the smoke alarm in Addis Ababa (it worked the first 3 days so I thought it was okay) and yes, the plastic parts of a curling iron do indeed melt (into a solid black glob that I had to scrape off a hotel bathroom counter).

Warning! Major tangent for information junkies in this paragraph.  Skip to the next paragraph if you hated school. What are volts and hertz you may ask?  Volts are how much “pressure” there is pushing the electricity through the lines, similar to pounds per square inch of pressure in hydraulics.  It’s the “electromotive” force (EMF).  Hertz, on the other hand, are the cycles per second that the electrons are oscillating through the lines.  Hertz are only relevant for AC power, alternating current power, which is how electricity typically is transferred from a power station to your outlet (and AC is faster and more efficient in transferring power from one station to another).  Electricians please expand/correct!

Now, back to our electrical conversions.  So, the electrician created appropriate transformers with the correct plugs for us so we’d be all set up to use our appliances over in Zambia.  This saved us thousands of dollars because appliances are outrageously expensive over here because they all have to be imported and are subject to a very high duty tax.  For example, the most simple and cheap-looking toaster costs about $40.

So, we arrive with our ten suitcases and boxes in early January, clear customs and get to our newly rented home and I go to plug in one of the transformed appliances and what do I see, but this below!









Now I learned very young that square pegs don’t fit in round holes.  These were South African outlets, not Zambian!  We were expecting the types of outlets below.





In a panic I called the landlord and she explained that they had lived in South Africa for many years so when they built this house they asked for South African outlets so they could use all of their appliances.

So, we had to hire a Zambian electrician to come and cut off all of the newly-fastened Zambian plugs and replace them with South African ones.  (Note to incoming expats, I have about a dozen Zambian plugs for sale.  Cheap.)





Not willing to admit complete defeat (I wanted to use those square plugs! I lovingly carried them to the U.S. and back), I did buy some power strips where only one plug had to be changed over instead of four.






For those of you traveling here and staying in hotels, many offer two-pronged U.K. type outlets.  Also, most of the good hotels will have an adapter you can borrow if you forgot yours.  Remember, these are adapters, not transformers.  Unfortunately I’ve bought many a travel transformer over the years (some very expensive) and ALL lasted for only a trip or two.  This is why we hired an electrician in the states to customize the transformers for each appliance.

For those moving here, you might want to check what your outlets look like before buying and/or bringing any electrical devices.  Oh, and as you know from previous posts, for large blocks of time none of this really matters anyways because you won’t have power!



About Kimm X Jayne

Gravatar Photograph from the exceptionally talented Ben Heine.
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One Response to Plugging in…

  1. Maureen Witte says:

    Here’s hoping that you finally have the electric problems solved.. Except for the power outages of course. Really enjoy your blog!

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