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9/28/09 Buta Battles Begin...

In the spirit of documenting winter, I should note that I bought my first tank of butagaz today. I haven't fired it up yet, but I'm thinking really hard about it. It's currently looking at me, daring me to cave into the cold.

Today marked another first - the first time I bought butane from the hanut on the hill. I have my regular hanut guy, Ali, who I'm fiercely loyal to. Next door to him is Sayeed, who I'll bring my business to if Ali is busy, sold out, or otherwise unavailable. But tonight, both Ali and Sayeed's stash of butagaz tanks were ismmr. Used up. Their racks were full, yes, but of empty tanks, already traded in for the full ones.

I don't think I've explained this before. If I have, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs. (Or, for that matter, scroll down and read one of my friends' blogs from the bottom right of the page.) Up here in the mountains of Morocco, butane gas is available in pressurized tanks. The smallest is about the size of a gallon of milk. There's a rarely-used medium size, comparable to a big bottle of bleach, and then there's the huge size, which is as big as a 5-year-old (if the kid were curled up in the fetal position, anyway). It's really ginormous. I use a big tank for my oven and stove; it lasts for 6-9 months, depending how much I cook. I also use a big tank for my big buta heater - the one that shoots out 4 square feet of flame constantly. That burns through in a few weeks, again depending on how much I use it. In the depths of last winter, when I hibernated in front of the heater and ran it all day, I went through a tank every two weeks. I also have a little heater, whose flame-face is only the size of an index card. That one is powered by a little gallon-of-milk-sized butane tank. Since I only use it in mild weather, it's never on for more than a few hours at a time, so the tank lasts for quite a while.

In the US, I'm most familiar with the gas that we put in cars. You pour some in, drive around for a while, then pour more in. Here, you don't get to refill your container. Because the butane gas is so highly pressurized, there's no safe way to fill a butane tank around civilians. So what you do is this: The first time you decide to purchase a buta tank, you pay a hefty deposit on the steel cannister and then pay a small amount for the butane itself. When your buta runs out, you carry the steel can back to the hanut you got it from, and trade it for a new tank. Theoretically, the hanut guy could give you back your deposit and then collect it back from you for the new tank, but that would be kinda silly. He just charges you the (really very reasonable) price for the butane inside the tank and takes your empty one off your hands. He stores it in the same locked rack as the full tanks, and waits for the return of The Buta Truck. Every week or two, The Buta Truck rolls up the mountain from The Great Buta In The Sky (seriously, I have no idea where the butane processing center is), filled to its massive capacity with full tanks of butane. The Buta Truck swaps out its full tanks for the empties now filling the ranks of the hanut guys, then heads off to another town's hanuts.

When rain, snow, sleet, hail, transportation strikes, or other problems inhibit traffic up the road from SouqTown, Berberville's supply of buta runs low. In the summer, during the transportation strike, this was annoying, but not fatal. A few people had to eat cold food for a day or two. During the vicious winters that hit my mountains, butane heat can mean the difference between life and death. (OK, Kauthar, stop being melodramatic. It means the difference between staying warm at home and going to the house of a neighbor with a woodburning stove.) It's a big deal.

So I was a little alarmed to discover tonight that both of my favorite hanut guys were buta-free. I headed up the hill - Berberville is big enough to have about half a dozen hanuts, lhumdullah - and found butane at the third hanut I tried. Theoretically, he could have demanded a deposit for the tank he gave me...but since I gave him the last tank I emptied last May (the last time I used my little heater), we just let it go. When I leave Berberville for the last time, I'll take my tanks to the hanut and collect my deposit from them. For three of the four tanks I have in my house (two big - kitchen and big buta heater - and two small - little heater and backup for little heater), this deposit was actually paid by the PCV I replaced. For the fourth, Sayeed didn't actually ask for a deposit; he just asked me to remember to return the tank when I left. Note to self: don't ask for money back on that one.

So tonight, September 28, 2009, sitting in my chilly apartment - temps - listening to a cold rain fall outside, I've decided: the moment has come. I'm lighting up.

Winter has officially begun.

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