Do you live the itinerant expat life? Do you safari from country to country? Then you will understand how interesting it often is to move into a house or apartment in a new foreign country.
While sojourning in Palestine, we had a gorgeous apartment in Ramallah — roomy, modern, with a fabulous kitchen and a spacious master bathroom. It had a huge balcony that I planned to transform into a Garden of Eden with lots of potted palms and flowering plants, just like you see in fancy gardening magazines. Perched high up on a hill, the apartment offered magnificent views of the town and every evening I was treated to a glorious sunset while chopping onions and smashing garlic. You can feel it coming, can’t you? Too many adjectives. You’re right, it wasn’t all great and wonderful. So, here’s the rest of the story:
LIFE IN MAISON RAMALLAH
I love my heavenly Ramallah apartment. However, it has a few drawbacks. This may be hard to believe, but really, you can’t have it all, not even in the land of milk and honey. To tell you the truth, the pink carpeting is a bit, well, boudoir-ish. I’m not a boudoir-ish type of gal. More importantly, we have no telephone and no hope in either hell or heaven of getting one. (No, not even that way.) And my Garden of Eden plan for our balcony is a dream gone with the wind. This because the desert winds come tearing across with such power that even chairs and tables are blown from one end to the other. My first and only potted plant lay ravished in a corner within a few hours of its arrival.
When the wind blows, which is almost always, the assorted paraphernalia on the flat roof make an unbelievable racket. Television antennas, water tanks, electrical wires, solar heat panels, and other mysterious thingamajigs creak, clatter, groan and screech in the wind, a concert not easy on the ears. At night it sometimes keeps me awake. When that does not keep me from slumber, it’s a wedding celebration in the park in town, which will be accompanied by loud music for all to enjoy. It’s very cheery really, and you’d want to dance to it, but not at one o’clock in the morning. If there is no wedding and no wind, the various mosques in the surrounding area still wake me up at four or five as the muezzins chant their call to prayer over scratchy loudspeakers, competing with each other.
But hey, that’s only at night. In the day time we struggle with a grouchy water heater and temperamental plumbing.
There are a lot of problems in the Holy Land, I’m sure you know, but the one you don’t hear about is the plumbing. In many public places with old plumbing in both Israel proper and the West Bank, you are instructed, implored, to not put toilet paper in the toilet. Please, pretty please, put it in the wastebasket. Signs in Hebrew, Arabic, English, German, French . . . . even cartoons for the illiterate.
Toilet paper, mind you, in the wastebasket. Otherwise the pipes get plugged. The pipes must be the size of garden hoses, I imagine. Unfortunately these instructions go for private residences as well, and we were told about it by our charming landlady. Do not put paper down the toilet she said in perfect English. I did not believe it, of course. I had nice soft dissolvable paper and there was no way I was going to not flush it.
Let me assure you it was a wrong decision. Which is not to say that it didn’t work for a while. It did. Then it didn’t anymore. It was a moment of truth.
The plumber came and tried to unplug the system. And tried. Then tried some more. Disaster followed in the form of an explosion, which rendered the pink bathroom no longer pink.
The rest of the story does not lend itself to telling. Just use your imagination. Suffice it to say that for days I smelled of disinfectant in which I had bathed lengthily after cleaning up (also with disinfectant). The plumber? I don’t remember. I blocked it out.
Okay, no more about the plumbing. Or the racket on the roof. Or the nocturnal music in the park. Or the muezzins waking us up at unfriendly hours of the morning. Except let me just say this:
If you want things the way they are at home in your own country, then stay home. Otherwise shut up. And I will.
NOTE: I trust most of you globetrotters have experienced similar expat housing disasters, and probably worse ones. Do share them!