Thursday, September 18, 2008

Water(melon) woes

It seems like our water has been turned off just about every other day this week. I’m always a little disappointed when I go to turn on the tap and nothing comes out, but I can deal with it. Usually. The water outages are pretty consistent—the water turns off around 9 AM and then comes back on around 5 or 6 PM (or later). Rachel and I have taken to doing full-day outings in order to avoid being home.

Being home is depressing; we’re constantly reminded, by the lack of dripping water, that we have no water. I never thought that I’d be happy about having a leaky faucet, but since it does leak and I know that it leaks I’ve come to accept the constant drip as a comfort of sorts. If it’s dripping we have water, and that makes me happy.

Yesterday (Wednesday) was one of those non-water days. Rachel and I woke up around 9 in the morning and went into the bathroom. No water. Again.

I texted Andrew to complain…er, inform him…about the situation, “Ma fii maya…again.”

He called back a few minutes later and suggested I go out and see if I could find the gardener.

“Just say, ‘Ma feesh maya fii shu’utna.’” He coached me.

Our gardener is acting as our bowab for now since we don’t have one. More on that later.

I got Rachel dressed while I practiced saying ‘Ma feesh maya fii shu’utna,’ aloud. I always get flustered when I try to actually speak Arabic to anyone so I find it helpful to practice scenarios before I encounter them. Unfortunately I had no idea what I would say to the gardener if he happened to respond. I couldn’t even think of how he would respond, so instead of thinking about what I would say next I just mumbled ‘Ma feesh maya fii shu’utna’ to Rachel.

When I found myself saying “Ma feesh shu’utna fii maya,” I began to feel a bit like Tom Hanks in the movie “The Terminal.” I knew that, even though I knew the phrase “There’s no water in our apartment” forwards and back, I’d end up walking up to the gardener and telling him “Our apartment is not in the water.”

Unfortunately we didn’t find the gardener outside, so I was left to wonder what to do next instead of what to say next. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I decided to ask our next-door neighbours if they had water. Big mistake.

We try to avoid our neighbours at all cost. They are an older couple; the woman is Polish and the man is English. We first met the woman, Anna, while her husband was out of town. She was completely intoxicated (she could hardly stand up) and had come to ask for some matches. She took Andrew into her apartment, gave him a tour (and one of her paintings).

“I am…eccentric, crazy lady. I paint. I listen loud music. I drink.”

That’s what she told him. All we can do is believe her. We thought perhaps her husband would be a proper English gentleman (I have no idea why we would think this, given her state), but he’s not. He reminds me much more of the thugs on 101 Dalmatians, if anything else. They both kind of scare me.

But I didn’t think of that until I rang the doorbell. And then it was everlastingly too late. I could already hear Anna coming. I suppose I could have run and hid, but I didn’t.

“Kheellloooo, my sweeetiesssh!” she spat at us. The smell of liquor on her breath was almost too much to bear. And it was only 9 o’clock in the morning.

“I was just wondering,” I stammered (I’m not used to working with drunken people), “We don’t have water…do you have water…?”

“Ahhh, da! Ze water ish bik problem. Bik, bik, problem. I maybe khelpju!”

She thrust some water bottles into my arms and turned around, shaking her derrière.

“You khan wasssh her…” she told me, indicating her rear end, “Babiessh always messhing zher.”

Again, the pointing and shaking of her backside.

“Khom innnn!” she sang, grabbing my arm and pulling me inside.

“Actually, I have company coming soon and I need to clean up my…”

“I don’t sink so!” she interrupted. But no matter what she thought, it was true. My visiting teachers were due at 11 o’clock and I did have to clean up my…apartment.

“You will have tea!” she commanded.

“Oh, I don’t drink tea,” I said. Always a touchy subject with Russians and Arabs, apparently beverages are a touchy subject with Poles as well. I suppose that can be expected since Poland was part of the USSR—their cultures are sure to have assimilated a little.

“No tea?” she asked, gravely offended.

“Uh, no. Spasiba. We don’t drink tea in my religion, but thanks.”

“Coffee then!”

“Uh, no, I don’t drink that either. Eto nilzya v moem tzirkye.” I tried Russian, hoping that she spoke it, again banking on the fact that she was already a grown woman when the USSR was alive and well. Besides, Polish is similar to Russian, so surely she’d understand part of it.

She sighed, slurred something in Russian. And after offering me both coffee and tea several other times, showing me her extensive collection of teas, and even offering me some liquor, we settled on a glass of water.

Anna was still not satisfied, however, and wanted to give me more. She brought out some watermelon, precut, from her kitchen. Rachel dug in. Juice was flying all over the place, drenching Rachel’s shirt and dying it pink, falling on the carpet, spilling on the couch, dripping on the tile.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “Rachel, do be careful…”

“It’s alright!” Anna sang, now thoroughly mixing Russian and English, “You will have some.”

She thrust the bowl in my face. I took a piece and ate it, noticing an obtusely odd flavor that screamed, “I’ve been sitting out all night! Don’t eat me!” After that I tried to discourage Rachel from eating anymore, but with Anna and her husband “Uncle” encouraging Rachel, it was a losing battle. Rachel ate about half the bowl of watermelon.

And then they brought out the chocolates.

“IshSwissh shocolate! Cannot buy in shtore!” Anna informed me. “Have, have!”

“I, uh, don’t eat chocolate either,” I told her, “I’m allergic…”

She studied my face for a moment and then pulled one arm in front of her face while contorting the other arm behind her back. “I know!” she exclaimed, “You yoga!?”

“Yes,” I said tentatively, “I do yoga…”

Not that I’ve actually done it much here. I need to get back into it, but that involves figuring out how to work the portable DVD player and I don’t have a mat to put on the wood floor and doing yoga on a wood floor just sounds ouchy.

“Me, too!” said Anna. She ran over to her (rather extensive) DVD collection and brought me an armful of yoga DVDs, “See?”

Yes, indeed I did see.

“Yoga means no tea, no coffee, no drinks, no candy. That’s why we’re healthy!” she slurred.


Rachel was sifting through the pile of imported Swiss chocolates on the table.

“Eat, eat!” Anna urged.

I helped Rachel sift through the chocolates, avoiding all cappuccino flavored ones, until we found a nice, plain milk chocolate. After Rachel had stuffed herself full of chocolate and claimed a little stuffed Eyore as her own (“Take, take! She likes it, take!”), and laden down with bottles of water, we left Anna’s apartment. Finally. I had 6 minutes until my visiting teachers arrived.

At least we found out from Anna’s husband (Uncle, we’re to call him) that there’s a pump broken somewhere between the Nile and Road 84 or something, and they turn it off and reroute the water so that they can work on it. It should be fixed soon (insha’allah). That’s about all he said to us before he disappeared somewhere in the house. He was about as drunk as Anna. Almost, but not quite.

Rachel was bouncing off the walls while my visiting teachers, Sister Lindsey and Sister Hall, were here. I suppose she had too much watermelon and chocolate. As soon as they left I fed Rachel lunch and put her down for a nap. She, uncharacteristically, calmed down immediately and fell asleep within five minutes of being put down.

I ate some breakfast, finally, and started cleaning up a bit. Then I read, took a nap, read some more, cleaned some more…and Rachel still hadn’t stirred. I went in to wake her up. She was very groggy and clingy and wanted to nurse right away.

I tried to make her stand up while I got ready to nurse, but she fell over and started crying and writhing on the floor. I picked her back up and she nursed for about two minutes. Then she looked at me and started gagging.

“What’s wrong, baby?” I asked. “Are you choking on something? Let me see in your…oh…gross…”

Rachel threw up all over me. I had a big puddle of throw up on my lap, which was quickly running down my leg and onto the floor. Rachel started gagging again. I didn’t want to be her throw up bowl again, so I quickly put her on the floor to finish throwing up while I tried to think about what to do.

She was holding my hands and shaking, puking her guts out every few minutes. We were both covered in throw up, and still the half-digested watermelon just kept on coming. Finally, Rachel let go of my hands, sat down (yes, in the throw up), and sighed a big sigh.

“Feel better?” I asked. She nodded and then, believe it or not, asked if she could keep nursing.

She threw a fit when I told her she’d have to wait while I cleaned up a bit, but there was no way I was nursing her in this condition. I peeled off her stinky, wet clothes, and then took off my own throw-up covered clothes, and we ran into the bathroom. I put her in the sink and turned on the tap. Nothing. Came. Out.

I had totally forgotten that we had no running water. Luckily we believe in baby wipes. Rachel and I got a baby wipe sponge bath, which was sufficient, but not perfect. I threw a towel over her throw up and sopped it up the best I could. We put some clothes on and then we sat down to nurse until Andrew got home.

“I feel so gross!” I told him, “But the water won’t turn on for a few hours!”. I still had bits of watermelon between my toes and Rachel smelled sour—I’m sure I did, too.

He called the Lewises who said we could come over and use their shower (bless them), which we did, and then they fed us dinner (bless them again). It felt so nice to be clean and de-throw-up-ified, surrounded by happy people who’d had water all day long, and full of, you guessed it, hamburgers (this time from Maadi House)!


  1. Welcome to parenthood. Reminds me of one of your older siblings. Only she was trying to eat between her up-chucks. That was a few years before you were thought of. I know that this isn't your first experience nor is it going to be your last. At least you had the wipes and you will always learn to travel with extra clothes (for you and not the kids) and buckets or something that you can use as a bucket. Also, blankets can be used as emergency portable changing rooms on the side of roads that have no place to change. Your Grandma Layton found out one road trip. Emptying guts are just one of the facts of growing up and parents are the targets. Just to help out and it kinda gross (but not as gross as sitting in barf all day) you could take the top off the toilet and use the water from there to wash up. It is clean water although I wouldn't want to drink it until it is boiled. Or you can buy a bucket with a lid and keep it full of water for the times of need. I do feel for you and laugh at the same time because "Been there - Got the T-shirt" and now you can say the same.

    Love ya Dad L.

  2. I dry-heaved just reading this. Oh, Nancy, I feel for you.

    We've also experienced the "I can refuse this rotten food for myself but I just know my kid is going to dig into it" problem. Let me know if you find a way around it.

  3. What an awful experience! I think Dad has a good idea--maybe you can buy a drywall size bucket to fill with water for emergency cleaning sessions.

  4. I was thinking that perhaps the water melon was also alcohol infused... when reading about how long she slept and how woozy she was when she woke up!

    Poor Nanny... at least you were given water bottles :)

    I think Dad has an excellent idea too. You should try and find a couple of good sized buckets.

  5. I laughed out loud. How fun! Now, what ever gave you the idea of a proper English gentleman? Having just come back from England, I can tell you a little secret... Englishmen DRINK. D. R. I. N. K. A lot. A really really lot. So yeah... I think you've just discovered what English gentlemen are really like! hee hee.

  6. Gross! I have a few puke stories that I could share...kudos to dad for not telling which child was the one who...(wasn't me)...

    I find in a pinch boiling some vanilla water or using a spray helps with odors that linger.

    The bucket of water idea sounds really good.

  7. Wow what a story!