Expat Housing: Foreign Plumbing and Other Fun

by missfootloose on June 4, 2011 · 24 comments

in expat housing, Humor, Palestine

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.  Having recently moved to Moldova, I  found my visitor’s  bathroom/WC fitted out not only with a toilet, but with a bidet and a urinal as well (see photo on my previous post).  This made me think of the fun we had with our dwelling place in Palestine, especially the bathroom.  I wrote about this previously, but I’m sure you didn’t read it because it was a while ago and you probably had better things to do at the time.

View of Ramallah from our living room and kitchen

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 have heard of similar don’t-put-toilet-paper-in-the-toilet stories here in Moldova.  Fortunately this is not a problem in my house.

* * *

I trust most of you expats and globetrotters have experienced similar expat housing disasters, and probably worse ones.  Entertain me!

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

edj June 4, 2011 at 6:05 am

My husband spent a couple of weeks in Russia several years ago. He reported the toilets there had a mysterious kink in their pipes, which pretty much rendered them ineffectual for anything thicker than urine. Yep, anything. What was the point of them? Sigh…

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Boonie June 4, 2011 at 11:06 am

Another very entertaining post. Thanks for this.

All the best, Boonie

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Nancy June 4, 2011 at 5:38 pm

As we entertain the life of an expat – I am paying attention!

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guyana gyal June 4, 2011 at 7:51 pm

This sentence is so very true: If you want things the way they are at home in your own country, then stay home. I’ve met people who’ve travelled to these parts, and they whinge and WHINGE. Hahaha, now, even Guyanese who travelled overseas whinge about here 🙂

I like the way you settle in and enjoy!

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missfootloose June 9, 2011 at 10:49 am

I have to admit I do my share of whining /whinging, but try not to be a bore about it. My big mistake this time was spending a few years in the US before going to another poor country. I am thoroughly spoiled now and have to adjust again to things not being so convenient and easy and available. C’est la vie, ici.

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Rosa June 4, 2011 at 9:27 pm

I love your accounts of life the way it is. I’m laughing although I’m sure you didn’t! In Athens, by the way, you can’t put paper in the toilet either, at least in the private house my daughter was a guest in.

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missfootloose June 9, 2011 at 10:51 am

You’re right, it was no fun while it happened, but in retrospect it is possible to apply a bit of humor and make a fun story out of it. And I just can’t imagine why the plumbing is so bad in so many places.

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La Sombra Sofisticada June 4, 2011 at 9:33 pm

I’ve just found your blog, I’m looking forward to read it through.

All the best from a Swede in Tallinn!

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naomi June 5, 2011 at 3:58 am

what a great post. I’m especially loving this :

“If you want things the way they are at home in your own country, then stay home. Otherwise shut up. And I will.”

And I 100% agree, except that in writing and sharing, you are giving a glimpse and advice to others … and as long as one isn’t WHINING about it, but simply sharing, I think don’t shut up …

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missfootloose June 9, 2011 at 10:53 am

I’m doing my real whining in private., behind closed doors, with my face in a pillow while I scream . . .

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Walter Knight June 5, 2011 at 11:55 am

At least you had toilet paper.

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missfootloose June 9, 2011 at 10:53 am

There is always a bright side if you look for it!

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CB June 6, 2011 at 9:17 am

When I lived in Central America we couldn’t flush the toilet paper either. When I got back I was sitting there with the used paper in my hand, looking for the basket before I realized it wasn’t there. For weeks. That is to say, you get used to it…

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missfootloose June 9, 2011 at 10:56 am

Yes, you do get used to depositing toilet paper in a basket next to the john. It was a daily task to take the load of paper and deposit it in the trash without ado. Being a hausfrau in alien parts teaches you many new skills!

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MaryWitzl June 6, 2011 at 11:10 am

“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.” I love that sentence!

The same thing is true in a lot of houses and apartments in Japan: you are only allowed to flush small amounts of toilet paper, not Kleenex. Some people refuse to believe there could be a difference; they too find out the hard way. (My father was one of them. I told him about a dozen times not to flush Kleenex, but did he listen?)

I remember those winds well! I too had plants on my balcony, and they were regularly ravaged. I quickly learned what did and didn’t work, botanically. Basically, whatever our Cypriot/Turkish neighbors had planted would almost always worked. What I grew pretty much ended up being lashed into pieces by the wind, or feeding a multitude of flying insects.

Whining about expatriate irritations is perfectly permissible, as long as it’s done with intelligence and self-deprecating humor — something you always manage to pull off perfectly.

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MaryWitzl June 6, 2011 at 11:13 am

Urk — typo! “…would almost always work…”, not “…would almost always worked…” I blame my students. They make me forget that you can’t use past forms with past modals or auxiliaries.

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missfootloose June 9, 2011 at 10:59 am

I read right over that typo, no worries.

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MissNeriss June 7, 2011 at 11:52 am

My imagination just exploded all over the inside of my head. Actually, I just watched Hall Pass last night and there is a scene that might be quite reminiscent of what happened to your bathroom….

Sadly I don’t have any housing disasters that come even close to this one, only moments of stupidity. Like not being able to reset the power on the fuse box because it was so foreign (and having to call my FIL as the husband was equally clueless and he’s a native!).

Love the post, thanks for the laugh. I’m going to share it around for all my friends to laugh at too…

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missfootloose June 9, 2011 at 11:03 am

Thanks for the nice words and glad I gave you a laugh; I love to entertain 😉 I regularly feel like an idiot when learning to figure out how to use things in a new environment. Just two days ago I had someone demonstrate how to turn on the gas burners (on my stove) properly so they wouldn’t just go dead as soon as I released the knob.

(You have to push down REALLY hard, and release REALLY slowly.)

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missfootloose June 9, 2011 at 11:05 am

MissNeriss, feel free to share away! The more the merrier. Thanks!

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nicolien June 8, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Oh, I’d share my story, if it weren’t exactly the same as yours! Except in our house in Beirut it didn’t explode in the bathroom, but all over our rooftop terrace (next to the bathroom). Needless to say, we cleaned up really, really well before we put our sun-chairs outside again…

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Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot June 9, 2011 at 3:31 am

Oh dear, I only had to read the title to get a laugh out of this. So much truth here. And what about when the don’t have flush toilets or even any toilets at all. The only plumbing is pigs! Yes, I’ve seen it and experienced it. Now I understand why some people don’t eat pork:)

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Ballerina Girl June 9, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Great post…and makes me laugh. I’ve grown so accustomed to my bidet from having one for the past 4 years, that I am thinking of putting one in my new bedroom/bath addition we are doing!

BG

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bettyl June 11, 2011 at 7:11 am

Great post, as usual! I think the ‘that’s life’ attitude is a must when travelling abroad.

I haven’t had any plumbing problems since I moved to NZ, but the other ‘little’ things (like only one brand of toilet paper that doesn’t irritate ALL of my nether parts) take a lot of getting used to.

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