Friday, August 25, 2006

Water, water everywhere

Water, water everywhere, but not in my house.

How is it I live on an island 20 minutes away from a fantastic little beach on the Indian Ocean, (by bumpy dirt road with maniacal motorcycle riders racing hither and thither) in a tropical, wet environment with rice paddies all around, yet I can not seem to conjure the water to come out of the well in the front yard, through the pipes, and into my sinks, through the washing machine, on my floors, or down my toilets?

When I first entered the country and took a peak at the bathrooms I thought to myself, “you have got to be kidding.” The Indonesian, or mandi style, bathroom consists of a ‘footprint style’ toilet (thanks, Dan Cassidy!) without a flusher – it is basically a butt print piece of plastic or porcelain, depending on how fancy you want to get – with one corner of the bathroom encased in a three foot tall square tiled basin full of water, most of the time dripping continually out of the faucet,(if you are lucky enough to have a water pump in your well that works!) which is directly over the basin. There is a drain in the floor. There is no sink. There is no showerhead. There is a little plastic one handled bucket, or scoop, or ‘cup of life’ (thanks bapak Goreng!).

This scoop is used for getting the water to wash all 2000 of your body parts. It is used for flushing. It is used to get the floor wet in order to wash it. It is used to carry water to every other part of your large, airy house because you can’t get water to come out of any of the faucets in your house. If you are in the country for any length of time, you will understand the necessity of the large basin of water, and even better, come to appreciate that cup of life. You even get used to every time you are in the bathroom, checking for dead, floating mosquitoes, scooping them out and then pouring a stream of bleach into the basin of water to kill any cute little mosquito eggs that might have been laid.

If the bathroom is ‘westernized’ perhaps there is a toilet with a flusher. Perhaps the toilet is attached to something so the flusher actually flushes.

A westernized bathroom will also include a showerhead. Sometimes, the more up the food chain in the NGO (non government organization) you are, you even have a hot water heater attached to that showerhead.

Once in a while, you may even have a bathtub in the bathroom. Once in an even greater while, you may have a hot water heater attached to the showerhead that is looming over your bathtub. But I doubt it.

The biggest anomaly is the sink. There is no sink in the bathroom. If the sink is included at all, usually to appease us irritating western people, it is an afterthought and included outside the door of the bathroom in the hallway or the middle of whatever room happens to be there. For example, the local fast food chain, A&W (or ah-way as it is pronounced here) has two sinks in the dining area of the restaurant.)

Some of us (Jared, my 9 year old) have come to embrace the cup of life shower. Jared can do the ‘cup of life shower’ in about three scoops. I have long hair. Just to shampoo it requires at least five. If I want to actually wash the soapy residue out of my hair, maybe seven. If I dream of getting a comb through it I need to squirt in conditioner, which will require another five scoops to rinse. And I haven’t even shaved a leg yet. The cup of life showers don’t work well for me.

Then, there is the scream factor. I feel mother’s remorse enough dragging four kids to a foreign country, away from friends and little league ball. It hurts to hear the shrieks of Zach and Kyle when daddy dowses them with the cold water from the cup of life while taking a ‘shower.’

I read in my Everyday Indonesia phrase book that it is customary to take a shower twice a day. I don’t think I have the stamina for it.

This whole scoop shower wouldn’t even be an issue if the darned water would just flow through the spigot when I crank the handle of the faucet. But no, it isn’t that simple here.

Our friend Chris came up from Meulaboh (an even smaller town, 10 hours down the windy dirt road, or one hour by UN aircraft) to visit us over the weekend. While he was here, our no water situation, and my crankiness about it, came to a head. After the third day at the beach with seven salty swimmers and the towels and bathing suits to match (and remember, this is sharia law country –they’d rather I swim in a business suit than a bathing suit, which is all the more laundry to do!), and NO WATER, I throw a bit of a tantrum. I have four kids; I know how.

So, Chris crept out into the night to find a shop that sold a ‘switch’ and some sort of other electrical stuff (I’m a geographer by trade, not an engineer).

He came back an hour later with a switch, volt meter and some other odds and ends. Of course, Rob and Chris being engineers got distracted and decided to test the volt meter on the new mosquito zapper, outlets and ungrounded water cooler before getting down to business. All I could think of the whole time watching this was ‘Darwin Award!’ and ‘Please don’t let the children seeing you do this!’

Once their curiosity was satisfied and some nice, dark clouds were in the sky promising rain, they tackled the electrical pump in the backyard.

Now, I think the water problem is because of the whole, darned set up. There is a well in our front yard that if a certain pump is turned on, a faucet in the backyard pours water onto a cement holding tank with a heap of sand. Then gravity pulls the water through the sand, ‘filtering’ it (as in, yes, we have no geckos in the main water supply to the house, but not the micro filter necessary to strain out certain strains of e coli and the like,..) into a large holding tank. There lies our ‘fresh’ water. Then, you turn on a switch that looks a lot like a doorbell lying in the middle of the grass which starts this little pump you can see whirring in another pipe, and it somehow sends water into the house.

We thought perhaps the doorbell switch was not functioning Perhaps the fact that you had to jiggle it on and off and place a rock and a brick on it to keep it in the ‘on’ position gave that away.

Chris and Rob replaced that switch, breaking the new switch in the process, but in the ‘on’ position, so who cares?

Now, this entire time, they think they are getting water to move somewhere. They turn on the showerhead. Water gurgles in the pipes; you can hear it; it really wants to get out! Out comes a trickle. Then a stronger trickle; enough to turn the hot water heater light switch to on, making you think ‘,yes there is enough water pressure to turn on the hot water heater, so TODAY is the day I get to have hot water for my shower!’

Each time this happens, Rob yells ‘We got water!” which sends me running into the room, stripping discretely (we have Chris, an over curious 6 year old and many male guards wandering around) and standing in full anticipation under the showerhead. However, still no water. I do this three times before calling it a night and going to bed with a salt crusted head of hair. I just wasn’t desperate enough to endure the cup of life shower and I was cranky.

It wasn’t until Tuesday, when STILL no water, I took the housecleaner, my four kids, a towel and a bottle of baby shampoo, telling the guard “Water BAD! Mandi Ruma EB!” (I think I said “We are bathing at EB’s house”), then stomped off down the road. When I came back, the guard tells me ‘Ibu (mother), strong water now!” And, yes, magically, there was water!

We still don’t know how, and I have to say, I cringe every time I turn on the water, expecting something other than that to come out the faucet.

Monday, August 21, 2006

What's A Little Dengue Among Friends?

I don’t know what was more alarming; that the lady we met was friends with Rob’s ex girlfriend from college, or that the entire family was just recovering from dengue fever. Or while we were visiting their little family of four we experienced a 5.2 earthquake (definitely looking for the one story house now). Or the call from the expat phone tree requesting anyone with O positive blood please depart on the five o’clock plane to Medan to take part in a blood transfusion. It seems someone from an International Red Cross agency was loosing her fight with dengue (latest phone reports say she is doing better).

It seems dengue fever is transmitted by daytime mosquitoes (great! I was busy worrying about the night time ones, you know, the ones that carry malaria!) It is an illness that starts with a high temperature (this lady’s husband had a temperature of 105) and has flu like symptoms. While it is not usually a problem, it can be for older people or those with compromised immune system. There is no cure. There is also no vaccine. All that is available is just a good smattering of insect repellent to keep the striped, daytime mosquitoes at bay.

The mosquito isn’t actually the bad guy – they are simply the unassuming host of a bad bug received when sucking the blood of an infected person. A person can transmit dengue for six days after their first symptoms.

So, as I sat sipping water on the back porch watching this nice lady’s 18 month girl scratch a fresh bite into a bloody heap, I tried desperately not to run screaming from the house to bathe my children in a vat of DEET.

While it was nice to find other bules, or foreigners as we are called, it certainly is a mixed bag.

It is always interesting to find other expats in a foreign country. One thing that amazes me is for the most part, other expats could really care less about the new western faces in town. I am always amazed we ignore each other as we do. It’s a weird sort of dance; in fact it seems we go out of our way to pretend the other doesn’t exist.

Being the new person in town, I tend to wait and see how the other person responds. Unless, of course, I am totally desperate which is most of the time. I’m a social person. Then I find myself tackling anyone who looks remotely interesting, such as they have children, look like they come from a western country, or are breathing.

Which is how I found this nice family, dengue fever and all.