Man, my patience is tried. I’m fried, wiped out. I surrender. Ok, I almost surrender, but it’s touch and go. When bad things happen here – just everyday bad things – you come up against the culture shock thing big time. Because simple solutions here are not… simple. Mainly because they take way, way, waaaaaay longer. And you can never get the truth about when that solution is going to happen.
Like, the house phone went out two weeks ago. Not that it’s critical, but when you need a phone, nothing else will do.
It seems so silly now, but when we first got here, the telephone was, unexpectedly, a huge hurdle. It became our enemy, a thing of mystery. There to push our buttons. When you call someone who is not there, the voicemail tells you "GRA-see-us poor jah-MAR-may DAY-hay oon men-SAH-hay dayce-PWAYCE del TOE-know." Huh? We’d have to just hang up. Turns out that means "thank you for calling, leave a message after the tone." But at first it sounds like graseeuspoorjahmarmay, dayhayoonmensahhaydaycepwaycedeltoeknow. Say that really fast and record it as your Personal Greeting. See how many messages YOU get.
When you call a doctor or hospital or Pizza Hut and the person who answers says AH-low instead of hello – which happens 99% of the time – right away you know you’re in trouble. Because that person speaks only Spanish, and sign language and facial expression are no help over the phone. And getting phone calls, oh man. We had no idea who was calling, why they were calling, what they wanted. We’d finally say, "Disculpe," [dee-SKULL-pay, sorry] and hang up. How we got around two years ago knowing only COMB-oh s-TAH and OON-oh through dee-ACE is beyond me.
The very first time I called voicemail to get my messages, I was on the phone for an hour. I kept calling back, listening to the initial instruction over and over again, trying to decipher it. In the end, I gave up. I stopped giving people my phone number: "Email me," I said. "I can read."
By the time we moved from the finca [FEEN-kah, farm] in barrio Jesús de Santa Barbara de Heredia [hey-SOOS, a little village outside the slightly bigger town of Santa Barbara in the province of eh-RAY-dee-ah], after only eight months, I could pick up my messages and get a phone number from information. A triumph.
In the Escazú house, there are probably 400 jacks. One worked. A year and three different handymen later, two work. When you call my phone number, half the time you get a fax tone. We don’t have a fax. If you get a fax tone, just hang up, give it a minute and call again. We tried to have that fixed before we knew better. The fiasco went on for days and days with a million phone calls in halting Spanglish on both ends. Oy vey. You learn to let the little stuff ride, because that’s how it’s done here. "Fax tone, schmax tone. You get through half the time, that will do." There are only so many hours in the day. Who wants to spend it on the phone?
Occasionally, the phone would go dead. Usually just for an hour, then back on. We only knew the phone was out because ADT, our alarm company, would call and ask if we were being held hostage at gunpoint. (They monitor the phone lines and assume when there’s no signal, the lines have been cut. High drama.) But after two days with no phone, we called the landlord. She called I.C.E. Still waiting. It wouldn’t have been so bad to be without a phone the last two weeks except that…
Our kitchen gray water backed up – into the kitchen – after Day 6 of the last mighty rain. The plumbing in Costa Rica is something. I have a post written about the time, a couple of months ago, when all the grey (and none of the black, THANK YOU, JÉSUS) water backed up into the house in several assorted rooms and closets. We learned some very unpleasant plumbing truths that day. It was so traumatic I can’t get back to the post. Someday.
So Friday morning, I’m washing dishes when I realize I’m standing in a burgeoning puddle. It is god-awful disgusting. Even though it’s only gray water, it’s horrible. I know I’m only 30′ from where the black water goes, too. There is a tile under our sink that covers the open hole via which the grey water from the upstairs laundry room and the kitchen runs to the septic. Just pick up the tile and watch ‘er flow. When it’s flowing. When it’s not, the gray water bubbles up around the edges. Ugh.
Hal looks up all the words for pipe, clog, drain, kitchen sink and disgusting, and calls Carlos, the plumber, who we’ve used before. Carlos says he will be there soon. He does not show. We call for two more days. He never shows. He’s always lovely on the phone, makes promises, but he never comes around. Fortunately, as long as you don’t overwhelm the sink, the water goes out, so the situation is livable. On Monday, we call the landlord (on the cel phone which gets spotty reception at our house). For some reason she decides it’s time to have the septic pumped. Pablo, the septic guy, comes right away, pumps out the septic and our sink flows fine.
It flows fine ’til just after Pablo, who is also a plumber, and his truck disappear from sight. Then it backs up big time. We call his cell, trying to get him back up the road… no answer. We leave a message, call his other numbers, plead with his wife. We call Carlos again. After many broken promises from both of them and another week, Pablo showed up yesterday and in 30 minutes has us flowing downhill again.
You are so grateful he finally came, you greet him like family, forgetting all the broken promises. Your emergencies are not his emergencies. Ticos don’t need to be heroes. He got here as soon as he could. It’s a different mentality; being the Queen of Huffy is useless to me here.
I am not a wuss. It takes more than two weeks without a phone and 12 days of cleaning up grey water in my kitchen and dining room to wear me down.
It took the radiator busting in the car. That was on Saturday. Hal and I were supposed to leave Sunday for Rancho Mastatal for a night. We found a mechanic and he said bring it in Monday, he would fix it, same day. Late today, Wednesday, we got it back. I think we were actually lucky at that. Not having a car puts me over the edge: the women in my family are car people. Have car, am complete. When her kids took Granny Boo’s car away (because she would drive down the boulevard in Ft. Lauderdale on the wrong side of the median), she never got over it. I understand that.
Still no phone, but the plumbing is fixed and we have the car. Unfortunately, just a few minutes ago, the water heater started leaking from the rusty old bottom. The valve to shut off the water going into the tank is rusted open, so we just have to keep towels on the floor and hope for the best. I shut the door to the laundry room so I can pretend it isn’t happening. Besides, the plumber is coming tomorrow.