Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Water SAAAAgaaaa. Last Installment. Promise.

LAST Part. It has to be.
Part ONE, TWO and THREE here should you wish. I wouldn’t if I were you.

I’ve been sweeping water out of my apartment now for six hours. And its bedtime.

Josh came running down the stairs. He shall now be known as J-McGuiver. He identified the tinaco. He was sure of it. J-McGuiver took our hose and began siphoning the water out of said tinaco. It belongs to the Stateside Beachgoers from Part Deux, who live below us.
How to bathe: use cup and small amount of water from blue container of clean water. Pour cup over body, scrubbing vigorously. Catch water cascading down body in clear, rectangular containers to flush toilet with later. Ignore extremely dirty bathtub because you don't have water to clean it anyway.
Having lived for three weeks without running water, it was painful and anxiety-inducing to simply let water pour out of someone’s water tank, onto the rooftop, unused. But we needed sleep and sanity. And they had gone back home to the US. So, in honor of making use of the water, J-McGuiver washed his feet with it.
An hour later, we thought we could siphon it into our tinaco. What an even better way to honor careful water usage! J-McGuiver tried to reposition the hose and ended up having to start the flow again, ultimately unable to redirect the water to our tinaco. Starting the flow again, however, was not as easy this time. He sucked hard on the hose for some time. When the water finally came, it brought with it a gift: a mouthful of algae. Side story: he was sick for six days after that, missing all of his first week of English classes at the library.
By 11 pm, the tinaco had successfully drained with no sign of our water-wall ebbing its flow. Huh. We were stumped, tired and soaked. We made a plan to make it through the night in shifts. J-McGuiver was able to redirect the flow of water off the wall with a cereal box and, eventually, a lot of duct tape (called American Tape here, we discovered) which we then flowed into an old plastic suitcase—the biggest container we owned.

Water diversion: first draft.

Meanwhile, I built a wall of diapers (luckily and randomly in our possession) with copious amounts of duct tape hoping to direct the water out into the hallway should we oversleep.

Josh asked for a smile. Apparently this was all I could manage.
Building my diaper wall. You know, normal Saturday night stuff.

With the water redirected, we now had an hour of sleeping between sweepings. I set the alarm for every hour and we fell into bed. I took the first several shifts, emptying the container and sweeping what had leaked out each time. At about 3 am, Josh took over ‘til morning.
2 am selfie, water sweeping duty. Aren't you tired just looking at this photo?
Our plan had worked. We’d made it through the night without going absolutely insane.
Plumber showed up Sunday morning, just before 9. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been there.
And then we heard the downstairs neighbors, you know, the ones we'd thought had left the country and we emptied their entire water source? Josh went to apologize in a painfully-hilarious turn of events: We thought you were gone so we stole from you, but now that you're here, we're so sorry!

Plumber opened the wall for a third time, fixed the pipe and didn’t bother cementing it again. Third time’s a charm.

For three days we had enough water and nothing leaking from where it shouldn’t. We thought about not moving for a hot second. Then the LandLady had the city shut off the water to our apartment. But that’s another story for another time.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Water Problemas, Part III

Part III. Still going? Yeah.
Part I, Part II links for those just joining us.
You’re still here? Alright, you glutton for punishment.
Day #ILostCount: All the neighbors decided that enough was enough on a Saturday morning and pitched in to get a water truck. Psst… the water is still leaking out the wall in my kitchen, drop, drip, drip, drop.
Truck arrived, filled the cistern. The water came. Glorious water came rushing in, our toilets filling, our washer filling (Clean underwear!), the shower now more than a place to store buckets—its reborn potential begging that I wash away my likeness to PigPen.
And the kitchen began to baptize itself in a magical kind of way. Every seven minutes. The drip, drop now a whoosh, pouring down the wall, filling the kitchen, to be mopped up, swept out into the hallway or to flood the rest of the apartment. Your choice. Every seven minutes. (Yes, the wall. It gushed down the wall to the floor. Can’t put a bucket under it. Down. The. Wall.) I abandoned the mopping option rather quickly—it being the politest to others but by far the most exhausting and time consuming to me.
Josh was out with the kids. I let MaintenanceMan know about the situation and kept sweeping. I calculated all the things I could do outside the kitchen in 6 ½ minutes and then set about enjoying them. MaintenanceMan came up and helped sweep some of the water out through the hallway, down the stairs and into the parking lot. This was our lot as we waited for Plumber. MaintenanceMan tired after fourteen minutes and headed to tend to other things. #dominoes
Assuming the abundant water situation was ephemeral, I decided to wash all the things. Laundry, dishes, laundry, dishes, floors, me, floors. Two hours of every seven minutes and still no Plumber. My hands were red, raw. The cheap yellow paint from the broom handle had slowly flecked off, exposing the splintering wood.

I took all the clean laundry up to the roof to dry. That took more than seven minutes. Twenty-one minutes meant that kitchen, dining room, living room, laundry room and storage room were flooded. The hallway was under attack when I arrived. Once I’d swept it all out and cleaned up all the things ruined by my gallivanting on the roof, I was officially exhausted. Sometime in here MaintenanceMan quietly left for the weekend. And Josh came home.
Josh sweeps water out the back of the apartment while I make coffee on our stove that has been pushed into the dining room for better water-sweeping access.

By 6:30, we understood that Plumber was not coming. Times for action are clearly set and somewhere between nothing and very little happens Monday-Friday from 12-2 pm and 5:45pm-8am, Saturday any time after noonish and all of Sunday. It has both its upsides and downsides, being generally something we enjoy under normal circumstances.
Josh went to the roof to see if he could figure out himself where the water was coming from, children were put to sweeping/pushing water out and I cooked everyone a meal. #teamwork
Some tinacos, rooftop water tanks, have shut-off valves (where water is blocked from entering apartments), but not all. In the last week, one had been installed on our tinaco as part of all the experimental plumbing that had gone on. Having shut off, one by one, each tinaco that could be shut off, waited an appropriate amount of time and noted zero effect on the kitchen’s wall-fountain, we ate dinner and gathered our wits. Sleepy-time was fast approaching.
Josh took the kids to the roof for more investigation. While they were trying to identify which of the tinacos without shut-off valves could be pouring into our kitchen (nope, it wasn’t our own), I fell apart. I phoned my people for some problem-solving and/or perspective—the ones who know me personally, where I come from and where I live. That list is quite short. Nobody answered.
So I called my mom and cried a bit. She is a great problem solver as a general rule, but it is difficult—oft times impossible—to apply logical solutions to chaos in a place with few systems/laws/structure. Think for just a moment the tv coverage you saw of the earthquake in Haiti versus the tv coverage of the earthquake in Japan. Those are two extreme opposites, but it gives an idea of the spectrum that exists for those who haven’t lived outside their own country for long enough to get a job, bank account, use government offices, sign a contract, get sick, learn/use another language or any of the other things that happen when you’re truly living elsewhere.
I hung up the phone to sweep more out the door. In that frazzled, frustrated moment, having swept water out for five hours straight—every seven minutes—the LandLady came tiptoeing through the water, up the stairs to her apartment, “What’s going on here?!”
“Complete carelessness for people!” I cried. LandLady looked shocked. And I just got angry. She’d known about the leak all week. To be fair, since we didn’t know where the water was coming from, we also hadn’t thought that it would turn this ugly this fast when the water truck came. #optimistictoafault
“Nobody told me!” she said, pointing to the water.
“Yeah, well, here we are just the same. Have a nice night,” and I kept sweeping water out.
LandLady was on the phone in the hallway immediately telling the Plumber that he better get down here because this was an emergency! Dripping all week into the walls and our apartment wasn’t, but now we had her attention with the river in the common area. “This woman is hysterical,” I heard her say, “Listen!” and she held the phone out toward my face. I kept sweeping. I wasn’t crying at this point, but I was silent-gritted-teeth-angry for sure—and mostly at Plumber who had broken the pipe in the first and second place and was now going to come back a third time to attempt to patch it.
Even though trilogies are quite popular, I’ve never been with the in-crowd per se, so it’s time to take it easy (you know, its almost lunch time!). The night gets worse and then better. I’ll explain soon.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Water Saga, Part Deux

If you're just coming on the scene and like all the deets, peruse here first. See ya in a bit.
=================================================

·         This could get real long. Out of control long. I present this to you, in honor of brevity and bullet points (even though technically I'm not using them correctly, it should give you a feeling of brevity): The Saga, Part Deux

·         Plumber dude realized he couldn’t finish his job because there wasn’t any water to flush the chemicals he’d just poured down our pipes. #classic
o   Since people weren’t feeling desperate enough to call a water truck, they all decided to wait until the next day and see if water arrived from the city.
·         We lived in the back of our house, avoiding the front+kitchen entirely and spending all daylight hours outside the home.
·         The next day, the water didn’t come. They decided to wait another day.
·         Panic set in when the pipes spit up a bit (remembering those same backstabbing pipes had been spewing EwThatsGrossWater for quite some time before that), the chemical spreading on my kitchen floor and eating through parts of the bottom of Josh’s tennis shoes.
·         On day three, a wee bit of water showed up. The plumber also arrived. That is a miracle on the level of stars aligning in your favor, so we were optimistic. Plumber flushed the pipes with all our water.
o   It didn’t work. Plumber asked to go downstairs to 1st floor apartment to check out the situation.
·         “You can’t,” MaintenanceMan said, “The keys are partying on the beach.” (Translation: We’re lucky because the owners actually live in the US, but are fortunately in the country now. They have, however, gone to the beach for a few days.)
·         At this point, I needed a guidebook on how to survive Idiocracy. I was living the sequel. We did almost consider bathing with Gatorade. But we continued using our garbage bin of water for sparse cleaning, only-the-necessary washing and bottled water to bathe the children. The apartment smelled/looked/felt #hashtag #sarcasm #awesome. Dear Oliver, this is why I hate camping.
·         Again, we waited.
·         The next morning, the neighbor downstairs, across the hall (also an apartment belonging to Dominicans living in the US) had a family member sent over with keys to her place. The plumber entered and tunneled a hole through her kitchen wall to the apartment below ours. Okay.
·         Plumber discovered that somewhere in the middle of everything down there that a pipe was broken and had been slowly siphoning in sand—and not sending water up to the tinacos very effectively in the meantime. I have no idea how this works or the details thereof, but those were his words. Sand. You know, the stuff that those chemicals wasn’t going to eat through.
·         Plumber worked for a long time over the course of two days, hopping from one apartment to the next, banging on things, responding to my neighbors sporadic yelling as our building erupted in various places and spewed out both ChemicalInfusedWater and EwThatsGrossWater into people’s homes and the hallways.
·         At this point, my apartment was approximately 30% packed. All dressed up, with no place to go. While we’d been avoiding our home in the mornings, we’d been out apartment hunting. As some of you may remember, this is no easy task and is extremely time intensive. We almost signed contracts twice. We thought we’d found a place, stopped looking, but soon enough the things we were hesitant about blew up. Its security was shady at best and then one morning the owner called to tell us that all the car batteries in the parking lot had been stolen the previous night. Security concerns verified. We backed down and went to looking again.
·         Plumber returned to our apartment to reattach the pipes to the kitchen sink. EasyPeasy. “You can use your sink now!” (Pause) You know, when you get water again.
·         Water trickled in over the next few days. As it trickled in, the wall next to our sink began to leak. When Plumber broke open our wall to get to the pipes, he had accidently hit a clean water pipe that they never did figure out where it was coming from. Plumber patched it. When he was mixing the cement to cover the hole in the wall, I suggested, “How about we wait a day to see if the pipe patch holds?”
o   “Nah, I guarantee this one.”


·         You guessed it. Plumber returned, opened the hole again, fixed the pipe again and AGAIN patched the hole with cement. I said nothing, because “I told you so,” was about as eloquent as I was feeling, so I opted for silence.
·         You guessed again. It continued to leak. Since we were receiving war-rationed portions of water for five days in a row after that, the leak was not an emergency and therefore was not addressed with any urgency. I do not own the apartment, and the LandLady had made it quite clear that if we addressed anything ourselves, then simply deducted the cost of the work from our rent, that she would take us to court. LandLady is a lawyer specializing in evictions. 87 of them, she says. And in a place where you get things done based on your connections, not really much else, it wasn’t wise for us to travel that road.
·         It is now time for a joke and some tea -- post the jokes in the comments, please! We're in desperate need over here. We’ll continue the saga in the next post.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Water... Water? Water!


Note to reader: Hi Reader! I wrote this one week ago. I thought the story would peter out, die and I'd be able to wrap it up neatly for a post. The universe had other plans. I shall now publish this first fragment and continue the saga in a subsequent post. Love, me
=====================================================================

This is the end of day EIGHT. I'm beyond mustering hope or feeling disappointment. This just seems to be what it is.
So we've been packing.
To move elsewhere.
We don't have running water. We haven't had running water, with the exception of four precious hours, in eight days.

Take a moment to visualize this and imagine the smells that it all entails. The kitchen, the bathrooms, the laundry, your own bodies during the hottest, sweatiest, most humid time of year in a tropical country. The toilets not being flushed (we've taken to flushing with bottled water for #2, but don't tell anyone).

The abusive relationship with our building's water system began the day we moved in. No water. Everything to clean and seven people who bathe, poop, wash their hands, cook, eat and clean up afterwards (a lovely family of three lived with us for three months starting the day we moved into our current apartment). Like most people I know.

The following is standard operating procedure for many Dominican apartment buildings:
Water "from the street" (city water) comes and goes, without a great deal of regularity, just like electricity. To help correct for some of this government-sponsored insanity, cisterns (water storage receptacle) are installed underground and range in size and effectiveness. Each cistern receives the city water if and when it comes. Cistern water is then pumped up to roof-top water tanks which are connected each to an individual apartment. Our roof-top water tank holds 240 gallons of water when its full. The average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day. (Side note: Josh visited his friend, a plumber, in San Jose, California earlier this month. You know what the city's maximum daily usage limit is per residence? 4,000 gallons. Gasp.)

We slowly learned the routine of our particular apartment building. At 8 am, Monday through Saturday, the maintenance man, Jonaton, turns the cistern pump on to fill our roof-top water tanks. He is generally able to get everyone's tanks filled to full capacity within an hour, which they then need to make last until the next day when he turns on the pump again. Except for the weekends. Since we moved in, eight months ago, we have frequently run out of water sometime late morning on Sunday. Its irritating, sure, but we managed and learned a few things about serious water conservation in the meantime.
There have also been several days in a row where there wasn't any water in the cistern, so we'd go days without water. There is a service, however, which will deliver water by truck and fill your cistern. For about $52, the truck will come and fill your cistern. This is great, albeit painful to pay for something that the city should really be taking care of. It isn't so great, however, when you are one of only three families in a building of 12 apartments that is willing/able to chip in for a water truck. Granted, $52 may not seem like a whole lot, but you have to put it in perspective of your own income. As a percentage, that is almost 6% of my monthly income (Would you pay 2-6% of your monthly income for a day's worth of water? If so, let's be neighbors). Our neighbors aren't and the cost definitely makes us cringe.

Because I went through the last two+ weeks in a daze of exhaustion, soaked in my own sweat and filth, mopping up other's plumbing sins from my kitchen and retching from the smells in my building, I'm going to let you use your powers of inference and just post pictures with some explanation (you might not believe it all anyway) of the fiasco that continues as I type. Here we go:
This water came seeping up our kitchen sink, Friday, August 21st.
Turns out, it was also happening in the neighbor's kitchen while they weren't home. Flooding the apartment building.
It continued regurgitating and flooding for several days. A common combination of misunderstanding, miscommunication, incapability and dishonesty meant that a plumber didn't arrive to start solving the building-wide problem until Monday, August 24th. At which point, I wouldn't say things improved, but they did become... different.





































In desperation, I thought to advise my fellow neighbors above that they needed to stop using their kitchen sinks and this was set up in the common hallway outside my apartment door. The engineer who created his diploma on Photoshop and built the building, installed one three-inch pipe in the middle of the building which all of the kitchen sinks empty into. Shown are sample containers of what had been spilling out of our kitchen, chicken fat, fish bones and all. The sign basically says that the pipes don't generally like these things, so please stop putting them in there.
I then fashioned a pipe-stopper for our kitchen sink using a flip-flop, plastic bags and a fat roll of tape. We didn't get flooded again. The flood found its way to the third floor, where our LandLady lives. Then she decided it was a problem and things started happening. Thanks, FlipFlop.
The plumber decided to cut the tube leading from the kitchen sink to the building. Perhaps he'd find a solution then. This is on Wednesday, August 26th. He'd come to work, but would need water to start/continue/finish a job. "I guess I'll come back tomorrow. We'll see if the street water has arrived by then." And it went on.
We'd been doing our dishes in the utility sink of the laundry room, from Friday when things started until Sunday when the water ran out. And the water didn't come,

and didn't come...

and didn't come.


Hours turned into days. The dirty dishes piled up, the toilets filled (but not with water) and the floors collected more and more dirt on top of the kitchen sink water that had spilled out several times over the weekend.





We received water twice over a ten day period. It was probably about 200 gallons total. Just enough for the kids to bathe, for us to wash their uniforms and for me to wash the dishes. I showered at a friend's house and we went apartment hunting.

Its not over yet. We still haven't found an apartment and last night was the worst plumbing night thus far. I'm hoping last night was the climax of the story, because things look good now. I'll post soon--there are silver linings! In the meantime, send us some prayers, good vibes and happy thoughts that we find a new place to live since the one thing we've learned in the last several weeks is that this building is not for the faint of heart. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Boy-Man and the Pink-Handled Pliers

My son shed a layer of his boyhood today.
This morning I woke him, as I always do, kissing his forehead and asking him to join the family for prayers. He had whimpered during breakfast over something inconsequential, as children do. And I waved my little boy off to his last day of fourth grade, having made sure his snack was in his bag, as mothers of children do.
Home for lunch, he ate like a ravenous animal, as he’s done for years and I thought little of it. Boys will be boys. Until they become men.
I worked all afternoon, joyous that summer vacation is fast-approaching, day-dreaming of the moment I could pass my wee-cavemen over to eager grandparents and finally exhale. Drink an undisturbed cup of coffee and read a few chapters of a book that is taking months to finish. Space out. Paint. Have a phone conversation without yelling across the room and covering the mouthpiece between, “Uh-huh. Oh? Cool! So, what are your plans now?”

His little sister ran up and scrunched her face to mine sometime between dinner and bedtime.
“Don’t tell her!” my son was right on her heels. He turned and marched out of the room, trusting his sibling to keep the secret.
She spilled, all in one breath, “Max has a crush on So-and-So*!”
I kept my cool. His dad had “the sex talk” with him months earlier and his reaction was perfect: absolute disgust. He had no interest in girls and was often frustrated when people told him things like, “You should be nice to girls.” Because men and women are equal – why would I treat them differently from boys?!
A maybe-crush on a girl he soon wouldn’t see for three months was okay. I could handle that.
Zora ran off, giggling and came right back moments later, practically hyperventilating.
“Max!” she inhaled deep, anxiety building. “Max’s finger!” her eyes searched mine. “Mom! The staple!”
My boy-man walked in behind her and showed me his pincushion thumb, more confusion on his face than anything. He and I were both more worried about Zora. Until I saw what she had seen.
“I love my brother! I love my brother!” she chanted, a kind of prayer asking that he survive the ordeal, as I inspected his thumb. The staple had gone all the way through and stopped just beneath his fingernail. I could see the end of the staple under his nail while the rest of it jutted out of his now-ruined thumbprint. No blood. I can handle blood, but this was altogether different. Eerie. A perfect puncture wound sent my head spinning to all the scenes I’ve ever witnessed, glorified by Hollywood. You don’t pull out the penetrating object, right? Or do you? What if it breaks off in his thumb? Is there even a clinic open at this hour should I totally screw this up? Why is he SO calm?!
He couldn’t pull it out. He asked for tweezers, then pliers. My man-boy asked for pliers to treat his wound. I obediently grabbed my pink-handled pliers, told him I couldn’t watch and left the room. His own mother left the room. To go freak out with his sister.
I studied his face as he shared the story afterward with his father, proud. He wasn’t a giddy, emotional roller-coaster of a child. He was calm, collected—recounting a story that involved an overly-distraught mother and a hysterical sister. Then he coolly went to do a thing only mature people do without someone else asking them to--brush his teeth.



*Well, well, well, my gossip-loving reader. Here you are. While my daughter only told me--this is true--I told the whole world (all seven of you) on a public blog. I figured the least I could do was not include the crush’s name.