Sunday night, Monsoon Season started. In my guest bathroom. The hot water heater, which for some bizarre reason is always installed on its side in the ceiling here (the better to ruin your house, my dear), burst a valve and sprayed water all over the bathroom until DiploDad, with the help of our Dear Neighbor M, shut off the water supply.
I’d like to say this sort of thing is a one-off, but unfortunately it’s not. I’d also like to say that I will be able to get through this post without any profanity, but I’m thinking that won’t happen. (Sorry, Mom.) I’d also like to take this opportunity to remind you that I’m not the diplomat.
Embassies and consulates worldwide rent a lot of property. We actually own very, very few houses or flats where the diplomats live. We sign long-term leases with local landlords and fill the houses and apartments with standard Government Issue Jesse Helms furniture and short-term diplomat tenants. In order to maintain these properties, we have sections of the Mission devoted to leasing, maintenance, and procurement. After 17 years, I still am not certain if it’s the General Services Office or the Facilities Maintenance Office who does the lion’s share of the work, but I know the FMO are the Guys Who Fix Shit.
Individually, I love the Guys Who Fix Shit. They are the painters, the plumbers, the carpenters, and the electricians who paint, hammer, and jerry-rig your electrical box with rubber bands, a screwdriver and a series of wooden sticks and then leave it out in your hallway on a plastic lawn chair until they can get approval to install a new fuse box the next morning. (I am not kidding. This really happened.) They are the ones you call up personally because you know they live very close in and can come help fix your water pump at 11 p.m. at night because you really, really, REALLY need to have water because your five-year-old started puking blueberries all over the house and you can’t just leave that until the next morning to clean up. (I’m not kidding about this either. I wish I were.)
I am really, really, nice to the Guys Who Fix Shit. If I’ve got cookies in the oven, they get some. When we were in Accra, I baked tons of holiday cookies and breads and took a mess of them over to the warehouse and the FMO with the DiploBoys and passed them out. If I need some painting done, I’ll usually try to hire a few of the Guys Who Paint Shit at a reasonable rate to paint at their convenience during their off times, and I often pay them double what they asked for and feed them lunch. I like to know their names, and some of them are in my housing so often (Ugh) that I know the names of their wives and children and what school their kids attend. There are a couple of bad apples, of course – the guy who said he had a plumbing license and then really didn’t but he couldn’t be fired because of procedure and local laws comes to mind. Most of them, however, are incredibly focused, professional, and helpful. Plus, the USG is paying, so the price is right.
What I am less thrilled with, generally, are the Guys and Girls Who Manage Shit. Some of it is due to a system where people who need to don’t talk to each other, where a computer program doesn’t generate a feedback report, or where the feedback is “X is not fixed” and it’s just filed away instead of followed up on. Sometimes, it’s that the Guys and Girls Who Manage Shit have just too much to do. But oftentimes, I think it’s just because No One Gives a Shit. Accountability isn’t too great. There are plenty of places to hide, and lots of other layers of people to blame. Maybe other people are to blame, but honestly, I don’t see that as a reason to not communicate with the person who needs something in their quarters fixed. Radio silence does not make me (or anyone else I know) feel comfortable or cared for, and it doesn’t make me think that you know how to do your job. Just my $0.02.
At some posts, weather conditions are harsh. Monsoon, rainy season, and scorching temperatures wreak havoc on buildings and grounds. Electrical fluctuations can fry a water pump in a nanosecond, and you sure won’t have water if the local pipes that were laid up to your house from the main road to your house are the size calibrated to run from your water heater to your tap rather than the ones that should be used to run from the street to a building. There’s a lot of repairing done at posts like that. Mumbai is a post like that. Shoddy, haphazard construction done by semi-skilled workers. I’ve got a lot of marble in my house, which looks elegant, but a lot of the stuff behind the wall is cheap quality Chinese shit that breaks a lot.
Most of the time, you only have to deal with two layers of “Responsibility” The question when something breaks or needs replacing is whether the repair is the responsibility of the “tenant” (i.e., the Mission and FMO/GSO), or the “landlord”. Believe it or not, you can have some serious disagreements between the parties. (Wherever “Responsibility” is capitalized, please also read “Bullshit”.)
In my experience, I would so much rather have the Mission responsible. I trust the Guys Who Fix Shit. The contractor hired by the landlord? Not so much. Well, not after I had one steal money out of my purse while he was installing some tile. Yes, it was Tile Boy. The tile dust in my bag and on my wallet gave him away. No, nothing happened to Tile Boy, even after an RSO investigation and a “print dusting” by the local police. The landlord even wanted to use the guy for a future repair in my house. I don’t think I need to tell you that that did not happen.
Some places, however, add a third layer or Responsibility. This third layer is occupied by the “Association” or “Society” – essentially the housing board of the apartment compound you are living in. What this means is that instead of taking two Tylenol, you should consider just taking the entire bottle and doing yourself in, because that is surely less painful than trying to get something fixed in a timely manner when there are three layers of Responsibility.
Over the last eleven months, I’ve watched my flat fall in on itself.
The A/C repairman (landlord) has been out fourteen times, beginning about five weeks after we moved in. Most of those were for the master bedroom. The A/C likes to die on Thursday so that we have to sleep another weekend with no A/C in 95F degree weather. I think the A/C is a sentient, evil, creature. There is no other explanation. This is the landlord’s responsibility though, and he has an A/C company on contract. These guys are such a presence in our home that the DiploDog doesn’t even bark when they ring the bell. I wish we could just get a new A/C. But no, it’s not Consulate Responsibility.
A month or so later, we had some light issues. A light in the ceiling blinked off and on repeatedly after being switched off.
The Guys Who Fix Shit said it was due to a broken light control touch panel and that it was either Landlord Responsibility or Society Responsibility.
As a temporary solution, a Guy Who Wires Shit disconnected the blinking light from the circuit. We now have one fewer light. We’ve put in a work order. It’s never been addressed.
A month after the minor lighting issue, we had a major lighting issue. Our power cut off as many as eight or nine times a day. It was happening on four floors in the building. Guess who got blamed? Us. We were accused on running all our A/C, our oven, our washer, dryer, and every light socket at the same time and creating “load imbalance”. A flurry of emails ensued, and somehow I got cc’d on the chain just in time to see some moron from the Society threaten me with a complete power disconnection unless we “fixed the problem”. He then made the mistake of calling me on the house phone. Fool. You know the expression “tear him another one”? I tore him two.
I got a request from the Consulate housing office shortly thereafter not to contact the Society directly. Not that I did in the first place. I still don’t know who looped me in, but I am sure as Hell glad I got warning they were planning on cutting power to my flat on a Friday before a long weekend. Because I honestly don’t think that anyone else was paying attention to that. The multiple power cutoff issue went away during the cooler months before rearing its ugly head again last month. Again, it was our fault. The Guys Who Fix Shit came out. The Society guys came out. The electric company came out. Problem was finally discovered, parts switched out and fixed and guess what? It wasn’t us.
Then, for about six weeks beginning in April, the largest kitchen cabinet I had was kaput. The top shelf caved in and collapsed in on itself.
DiploDad tried to fix it. We put in a work order. Heard nothing. I asked one of the Guys Who Fixes Shit what was going on and he did some research. It was landlord Responsibility. It needed a contractor from the company that manufactured the cabinet. Then parts had to be ordered and the worker approved. Maybe the Consulate would then fix it. He didn’t know. And no one seemed to think that it was important to tell us anything about it. Let’s get real people; “It’s being worked on” is a bullshit answer.
In order to keep the pots off of the floor of my guest room,
I asked for a pot hanger to be hung. They told me no, they had to get permission to hang it from the landlord. It never came, and I seriously doubt that anyone asked. There was a reluctance to drill into the tile. Never mind that there already were holes from where someone else had drilled that could probably be used again. Again, my answer for this came from a Guy Who Fixes Shit. Whichever little squirrel they hired to input/output and track repairs and requests didn’t think it was important to speak with us.
About the same time that this was going on we had repairmen out to fix the leaking water heater in our master bath three or four times. Then, the water heater in DB1’s bathroom croaked. Leaked all over. It was “spoiled”. So for about six weeks, DB1 couldn’t use the bathtub or shower. He moved into our bathroom. Two weeks after DB1’s spoiled water heater, DB2’s gave up the ghost as well. He moved into our bathroom too.
I don’t know if you share one bathroom with your entire family or not, but I will tell you that it sucks. Especially when you are the last one to get a shower with a 15-gallon hot water heater and the other three people before you used all four towels and left the bathroom reeking of Old Spice “Wolfthorn”.
Frustratingly and predictably, The Guys and Girls Who Manage Shit didn’t really respond to direct emails about the cabinets and water heaters. It was a Guy Who Fixed Shit who kept me updated about the other repairs. I think I need to promote him to the King of Guys Who Fix Shit. He’s awesome.
Then, we discovered a water leak into the master bedroom closet.
Again, all Three Layers of Responsibility were called out and investigated the leak. A guy from the Society came by because it had been determined that this repair was the Society’s Responsibility. He came. He left. DiploDad and I were actually on the email chain discussing the visit.
XXXXYYY@state.gov: A plumber from the Society is coming to your residence to look at the leak in the master bathroom closet between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Please keep your housekeeper informed.
DiploDad@state.gov: Will do. (cc’s me, looping me in)
DiploMom@XXXX.com Actually, he’s here and he’s looking at the leak and plumbing currently!
Two Hours Later . . . .
DiploDad@state.gov: Did the plumber do anything about the leak?
DiploMom@XXXX.com: He looked at it.
DiploDad@state.gov: Oh, yeah. So he’s got those magic kind of eyes that automatically repair everything he looks at, right?
DiploMom@XXXX.com: Tell me you hit “reply all” with that response. Please.
When the second light fixture in the ceiling started flashing off and on after switch-off, I was about to lose my ever-loving MIND. I’m in a million-dollar flat in a grand metropolis and everything kept getting broken. From normal use, not from the DB’s taking a sledgehammer to anything or trying to flush a wombat down the toilet. Normal use. I wasn’t so mad things were breaking (OK, so that’s a BIG FAT LIE), but I was really, really, angry that stuff kept breaking and nothing really was getting repaired, and it was all piling up.
I was also a little pissed that in the time I’d been dealing with this, I’d purchased a new microwave, oven, and dishwasher for my own tenant back in the U.S. But I am getting off track.
I’m really not a princess. No, I’m not. I’d like hot water, working plumbing and electricity, and A/C in the middle of the night when’s it’s hotter than Hades, thank you. If you’re reading this, chances are YOU have all that, so don’t look down your nose and throw a #firstworldproblems out at me. If you’re an expat overseas and you are thinking I’m spoiled because the Mission fixes everything, you’re wrong too – I have no control over who comes to repair, when they come, and what they do and how they do it. Zero. I wait a minimum of 48 hours for anything to be fixed. It can be a good thing or a bad thing.
Finally, last Wednesday, Rocky arrived. Rocky is the contractor who came to install the DB’s water heaters.
Rocky, in case you live in Mumbai and are allowed to hire your own repairmen (trust me, I’m beginning to think it’s a luxury), works for Interior Solutions in Bandra West. Initially, I was suspicious. I was still recovering from my Tile Boy experience, which was the last time I’d had a contractor in our quarters longer than an hour or so. When Rocky and company arrived on Thursday to do the work, I retained my skepticism. By the end of the day it was gone.
Rocky and his guys removed the water heaters, and in the meantime found massive leakage all over the DBs’ planter access areas outside their bathroom windows. This would explain the Great Mosquito Infestation of 2015. They helped V clean it up.
They tidied up after themselves. They initially told me 2 days per bathroom, but did them both in half the time, so they were gone in two days. After the end of the first day, I’d made them honorary Guys Who Fix Shit. I think that’s the best compliment I can give any repairman or woman. I baked cookies for them.
Then, at no extra charge (honestly, I tried to pay them extra out of my pocket and they refused it), they fixed my cabinet.
And hung my pot rack.
My lights still flashed and my closet still had a leak in it, but four things had been repaired in two days. I was hopeful. I was happy. T
hen at 11 p.m. on an otherwise peaceful Sunday night, literally five minutes before I was planning to get into bed . . . POP! The sound of falling rain pulled me out of my fiction-induced Kindle haze and into action grabbing buckets, swearing, and calling for DiploDad.
I’m betting it takes the Guys and Girls Who Manage Shit another six weeks to get this sorted. In the meantime, I’ll take solace in the fact that I get to see Rocky again. I wonder if he has an electrician on staff that can fix the lights.