The water man came the night before last.
Good luck seems to come in fits and starts here. We seem to go through long, difficult stretches with nothing but work, problems, and squabbling, then several good things will happen, one after another in a dizzying rush. But just as there is no cloud without a silver lining, so, it seems, is there no silver lining without a cloud. Every good thing that happens to us here seems to be followed by a not-so-good thing. Sometimes our life seems like the ultimate good news/bad news joke.
We've had water problems since almost the day we arrived. To begin with, the showers in our house had no stalls in them so the water went everywhere. Then there was no hot water and all that came out of the taps was barely lukewarm. Finally, even the lukewarm water stopped and we were left with cold showers every night. Then the water stopped altogether. For several days, we all cleaned our feet with bottled water and went to bed grubby.
Our house, it turned out, had a number of other problems too, though the rent was comparatively high. The gas leaked and the stove could not be turned on without a significant amount of trouble. The electric circuits tripped out at the drop of a hat. The oven tended to burn everything you put into it. One of the rooms got so hot during the day that the airconditioner had to be kept on 24/7 to keep it cool -- an expensive practice in a country that gets as hot as it does here. There was no dining room table, so meals had to be consumed on a plastic table outside. One of the rooms did not have a proper bed or any other furniture.
So we moved to a cheaper place where the water supply seemed secure. The first night we stayed there, we all enjoyed a cold shower, though we had to keep it down to one minute per person, ever-mindful of the possibility that it might soon run out. Who would have thought that a cold shower could feel so luxurious?
That morning the taps in our house let out their last pitiful drops of water. The one in the kitchen was the last one to give out, but before we'd had the chance to start on the breakfast dishes, it emitted a gasping sound and a few squirts and sputters of water -- then nothing. We could not wash our clothes or even our hands. The toilets would not flush. When we checked our tank, we saw that it was empty. When we asked when the next delivery would be, nobody could give us an answer.
At work, I was far too busy to do anything about this until the last minute. Fortunately, someone knew someone else who had a number. This someone knew someone who was prepared to make an emergency delivery -- for a rather high price, of course. By that time, though, we would have paid just about anything for a halfway decent shower.
Thirty minutes before the water man was due to arrive, we were outside waiting for him, flashlight in hand. Few things have looked so good to me as his truck rounding the bend, the shiny steel tank flashing as it passed under the street lights. And bless him, he even spoke English.
We watched as the water man's 13-year-old son backed the truck up to our tank, then turned off the engine, hopped out, and detached a huge hose from the side of the truck. The water man opened our tank and fit the nozzle of the hose into it. By the beam of our flashlight, we watched as the water poured out in a frothing silver stream. It was like watching an anemic person getting a transfusion; you could practically hear the tank sighing in relief and pleasure.
After the man left, we all ran into the house and flushed the toilets. The girls started washing the dishes and we all had a shower. When we tried to turn on the immersion heater, though, it tripped all the circuits and we had no electricity. The next day, we noticed that water was overflowing from our tank and creating a great lake of a puddle in which mosquitos were already beginning to collect. The town, it seemed, had finally delivered the water, only hours after our expensive emergency delivery. As usual, it was feast or famine for us. We couldn't get a tank full of water; we needed a whole flood -- and we had to pay for it, too.
My first class was at eight thirty. Preoccupied with marking papers and our electricity and water woes, I looked up in surprise when I saw my lone West African student wearing a beautiful, traditional-looking outfit.
"What's the occasion?" I asked him. "Is it your birthday?"
He smiled and shook his head. "Today I am very, very happy."
His smile widened. "I am wearing this for Obama."
Later that evening, we all watched on wide-screen t.v. as ecstatic crowds of Americans wept and cheered and hugged each other. People of all ages; people of all classes; people of all colors.
Our silver linings will always have big, fat clouds attached, but for once there wasn't a cloud in sight.
Friday, 7 November 2008
The water man came the night before last.