Wednesday, September 30, 2009

“The wind must have blown that toilet over there” and other frustrations

(DISCLAIMER: This entry is just one big long rant.)

My house is STILL a work in progress and it’s starting to really, really irritate me. I wanted to be patient at first and not appear to be a needy American who needs everything done immediately. I also wanted to show my respect for Ramadan by not demanding that all these work projects be done during the month of fasting. But this situation is getting ridiculous. I arrived in Gorontalo nearly one month ago and here is a list of problems I still have with the house:

1. The work on the front gate has been abandoned. This means I have an unfinished gate, lots of garbage littering the front of the house, and now my neighbors think it’s OK to park and WASH their cars in my open driveway. This is not OK. Especially when I’m going to get charged for their water usage. Today I finally confronted the owner of a black jeep which had been the leading culprit. Turns out it belongs to my next-door neighbor, who is a POLICEMAN. You’d think he would know better. Anyway, he seemed nice enough. He lives with his wife, son and kitchen help and I’m tempted to make a deal with him; he can park his car in my driveway whenever he wants IF I can come eat a hot meal at his house whenever I want.

2. The toilet in my bedroom bathroom was replaced with a flush toilet soon after I arrived, but the old one is STILL sitting outside my door. You’d think that part of the toilet replacement project would be to remove the old toilet. But apparently the workmen think my front door is a more appropriate place to keep it.

3. When I complained about said garbage (including the abandoned toilet) to the guy whose brother or whatever owns the house and was responsible for organizing the workmen, the response was that the wind must have blown everything over there and that I should hire a cleaning service to get it removed. Really? The wind? The wind blew that toilet over by my front door? The wind blew over six upright half empty bottles of Fanta and Coke right next to my door on top of a neat piles of abandoned tiles? The wind left that bag of cement next to the toilet? Come on, people!

4. My sink still leaks. If any water goes down the left side of the sink it immediately forms a small pond at my feet. This is very annoying. For small things I can get away with just using the right side of the sink, but anytime I want to wash something larger than a plate, water inevitably does down the left drain and onto my foot.

5. Small animals of some sort have figured out how to get up into the crawl space above my ceiling and scurry around all the time. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear them at some point. It is especially annoying when I’m lying in bed trying to relax at the end of another draining day. I’m not sure what they are. At first I thought rats, but then I thought cats because there have been some ugly, scary, diseased looking cats loitering around my house and sometimes the noises above sound like cats chasing each other.

6. My washing machine STILL hasn’t been installed. This means I have to bring my laundry to the local laundry place where they wash, dry, iron and perfume my clothes for a ridiculously cheap price. The downside is that I have to wait 3-4 days for my clothes to be ready for pick-up. This is a problem because I have very few clothes. After getting back from Bali, I had to wash my underwear in the kitchen sink (not bathroom sink, mind you, because I don’t have one of those).

7. I also don’t have a water dispenser yet. Since the tap water isn’t safe to drink or cook with, everyone is supposed to use bottled water. Everyone uses what I would call the standard “office water cooler” at home. They are really great because they give you instant hot water as well as room temperature water. This is especially useful for making tea and instant noodles instead of boiling up a pot of water on the camping stove (forget having a microwave). Part of the reason I don’t have a dispenser yet is I’m not sure if I’m supposed to pay for one out of pocket or if that’s something my host university is supposed to provide me with.

8. I’m supposed to have a generator to help me weather the frequent power outages here, but my counterpart STILL hasn’t taken me shopping for one yet and this is hardly the sort of thing I would try to look for on my own.

9. The house is basically unfurnished except for my bedroom where I have a bed, two night tables, a wardrobe and a vanity all in reasonably good condition. I also have a formal sitting area by my front door with uncomfortable plastic chairs that I never use. So let’s not count that part. Between the living room and the kitchen I have two tables and a collection of old, broken and ripped office chairs. I also have a TV that sits on top of a very dusty cabinet of sorts with sliding glass doors, one of which is missing and one of which is broken. And finally, I have two guest bedrooms that are completely devoid of furniture.

10. I still need to go shopping for other essentials like a reading lamp for the bedroom and a clothes rack to dry my clothes on once the washing machine finally gets installed.

The main reason that all of the above is not getting done is because I am COMPLETELY dependent on other people since the language barrier is so huge. I need locals to arrange to have things done for me and to take me shopping, which leads me to another problem; I’m not really sure who is supposed to help me. Is it my official university counterpart? Is it the head of the English department? Is it the guy in charge of the International Cooperation and Partnerships Office? Is it my co-teacher who was in charge of the International Cooperation and Partnerships Office last year? Is it another lecturer in the department who wants to practice their English with me? Is it the guy whose brother or whatever owns the house? All is know is that whenever I speak to one of them about a problem their response is inevitably that someone else was supposed to be doing that for me, but not to worry, they will contact them and something will be done “this week”. Well, “this week” has proved to be a very vague term. And I have the sneaking suspicion that all of this responsibility avoidance has something to do with the concept of saving face. No one wants to be put on the spot for not having done their job, so they shift the blame to someone else. It is very, very frustrating and I am very, very close to contacting the RELO office in Jakarta and having George’s amazingly efficient and tactful assistant Dian get on this case.

Between the power outages, the gas stove, the wildlife running around upstairs, the lack of drinking water and the laundry washing in the sink, I feel that I could almost be camping. My housing situation is probably just one level up from camping and I don’t think that’s how it should be. In Bali I was even the runner-up for the “worstie” award for having the worst housing situation out of all of the Indonesia ELFs.

The most annoying part about this whole housing situation is that I end up spending more time worrying, complaining, talking and writing about these problems than I do on my job. As my friend and fellow ELF Sarah reminds me, I’m an experienced teacher with a master’s degree. I am the expert my host university hired to help with all sorts of professional English Language Teaching activities. They are supposed to supply me with acceptable, comfortable housing so I can get my job done. But right now I’m way too busy worrying about the possible rats above my head to even start thinking about my professional projects.


  1. Breathe.

    I had problems with this too, until I finally broke down and just asked the nearest person I knew to please please please help me. Being forceful is a lot more ok in Indo than in the States. The important thing is just breathe and get centered. It'll work out.

  2. Indonesia in the news again with earthquake. Wondering how close that is to you.

    Cousin Lisa

  3. The deadly earthquake in Padang was hundreds and hundreds of miles away from me. We didn't feel anything in Sulawesi, thank goodness!

  4. I know things are frustrating now, but've only been there for about 2 months. You won't probably feel "settled" until about 6.

    Also, I didn't even HAVE a house when I showed up, so your situation is better than mine was. ;) Having said that however, it is NOT easy living in G-town. Believe me, I know. :) When you need help, ask Arzal and Ibu Nonny. Arzal is your main point of contact, and if he's not doing his job, then you need to tell George about it. Arzal is there to assist you in ANY way, so never feel like you're burdening him. That's his JOB. Nonny will also help you.

    I hope things get better soon.

  5. Isn't it so frustrating when you have to rely on others to take care of your crap for you! That's exactly how it was for me in Japan! But, as time passes, you will pick up the language and start to have more independence and feel that you are in control. Good luck with all the annoyances! If all else fails, just go scuba diving :-)

  6. I say that you just ask absolutely everyone you listed as possible people to ask. I remember in an earlier post when you started crying in front of that teacher and she helped you right away. Try that route! :)