Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Money Pit

The Money Pit
So I have moved out of my host family’s house and in with my site-mate, Kate. We have rented a house that is in the middle of town, right next to her work and where I play soccer. It is the perfect area of the town to live in for us, and the cost seemed too good to be true. We each pay 50 AZN/month, where most volunteers pay 100-120 AZN/month. We have our own rooms and a guest room, and INDOOR toilet that is like any in the United States, and an indoor shower. Our neighbors are Kate’s host family, so if we need anything, they are a shout across the balcony away.

At this point, if you have seen the “Money Pit” with Tom Hanks and Shelly Long, you know where I am going with the story. If you haven’t seen the movie, shame on you, but let me elaborate. Tom and Shelly are a couple who are offered this BEAUTIFUL mansion from a nice old lady. They are pressured into a quick purchase of the house, and upon moving in, they discover that this house is the fixer-upper of all fixer-uppers. Kate and I decided to take the apartment knowing we didn’t have a refrigerator or a stove. The landlady said she would give us a fridge for the summer and Kate’s host family gave us a little burner that would hook up to the gas line in the kitchen. One of my friends asked a funny question when he heard about the place: “What is in that room to make it a kitchen?!” Well, therein lays our money pit. Nothing in the “kitchen” actually resembles a kitchen. The table had mice gnaw-marks on it, the sink was broken and that was all that was in that room.

But Kate and I were willing to do a little beauty work on the house since we were saving so much money, so the first thing we did was clean the place down and paint. The apartment looks 100% better now, but the painting process was interesting. The walls are made of a material I don’t even know, and the paint sunk into certain spots on the wall, so that the color isn’t exactly even. Also, we had little choice over color, so most of the house is a bright blue, while my room is baby blue and Kate’s is baby pink and the living room is lemon yellow. Our house looks like Punky Brewster’s sock drawer. Anyways, after the painting, we had to scramble around to fill our house with things we needed to live. This is actually my favorite part of moving out, because while it was difficult, people were amazing aboiut giving us things to use. We got utensils, pans and plastic lawn chairs from Kate’s host family, pots from my host family, pillows from my language tutor, and curtains, a mirror and table cloths from Kate’s language tutor. Every time I guest, I get something to bring back to my house (like fresh vegetables, Azeri jam, or compote, all Azeri specialties) and everyone in the neighborhood always make sure Kate and I are okay.

After finding things to live with, we moved into the apartment. This is when things went south. We had to call the repairman to come in and fix all our problems. We had no working faucet in the “kitchen”, no light in the shower or toilet room, no hallway light, the gas didn’t work in the kitchen, our hot water heater needed a new pipe so the carbon monoxide wouldn’t leak out of it, my room didn’t have electricity, and we needed a mirror hung. We had THREE, count ‘em THREE repairmen come into our home and not return. I guess our house scared them away. The word for repairman in Azeri is “usta”, which literally means “fixer”. Now, in my vocabulary, fixers are the people who help foreigners get where they need to go (i.e. CIA agents or reporters, etc.) but our fixers didn’t help the foreigners at all. The fourth time was a charm, and the usta fixed everything in two days except for our hot water. We told him to come back in the next few days, and he hasn’t come back. We do not have hot water yet, and in the month that we have been living here, we have showered at Kate’s host family’s house and taken bucket baths.

The neighbors are great, but there’s a catch. Kate’s host family can climb over the balconies and enter our house. There is not lock on the door, so it is like a mixture of Sam from Clarissa Explains it All climbing through her window and Kimmy Gibbler from Full House, who always seems to be there criticizing the happenings within the household. Most of the time, we welcome her host sister and kids into the house, but when the boys hide in the dark rooms and scare the crap out of us and her host sister comes in and tells us our house is dirty when we JUST cleaned it, it’s trying on our nerves. Also, people want to know EVERYTHING about our lives, including what we make for dinner, who the boy was who came to visit (our brother) and why we use toilet paper. Here’s a quote from the “Money Pit” that pretty much sums it up:

Walter: [on the phone trying to locate a plumber] Hi! We're having a little trouble with our pipes, and I was - uh, Fielding, Walter Fielding... Well, there's no reason why should have heard of me... no, that's not a Jewish name... how much do I make a year? Well, how much do you make a year? Really!... Yale, I went to Yale... [gets angry]
Walter: Look, get out of my life, would ya! [slams the phone down]

Our landlady showed up yesterday and looked at all the repairs, and told us that we are going to have to pay 150AZN instead of our 100AZN. This should not be that big of a deal, since we have enough money to cover that out of our housing budget, but the house we live in does not warrant 150AZN and the principle of her changing our rent has made us pretty frustrated. We also found a dead rat on our balcony and the birds from the birds nest above our door pooped on my shoes.

So, after washing my clothes yesterday in freezing cold water by hand, cleaning up a dead rat, and finding out about our rent, I was a frustrated volunteer. However, I was sitting in the living room last night and heard some laughter outside. Our complex is four buildings with a turf mini soccer field in the middle of it. There are a lot of kids who hang out within the area, and it’s nice to look out and see kids hanging out outside instead of on the computer or watching TV makes me feel like I am back in the 50’s and makes me really happy. Anyways I went out to the balcony and looked down to see Kate tossing the ball around with the neighborhood kids with our brand new softball equipment acquired from the states. I went down to hang out and it really felt like we were a part of this small community. The women and their husbands were watching and laughing while Kate and I taught these kids (boys AND girls) how to play a game of catch, and for that moment, the money pit is worth it.

Here are the top 10 questions I asked myself and Kate while we were moving in:
10. How does one wash dishes in the dark?
9. How will we heat this place in the winter?
8. How does a ceiling get so dirty?
7. Will the cracked window break in the wind even though we’ve secured it with our signature pink duct tape?
6. How many times do we have to clean the floor to make it actually clean? (We cleaned it four times before moving in!)
5. What happens if our clothes fall off the line? (They fall onto the roof of the house below and then we have to go on a hilarious rescue mission)
4. How cold can a cold shower really be? (Pretty damned cold.)
3. How does one tactfully tell a very nice woman that you do not want her chicken coop table that has chicken poop all over it and you are afraid of getting tetanus AND bird flu at the same time?
2. How does one cook with one burner that only provides the settings of “torch” or “bonfire”? No slow cooking in this household!
1. What kind of rat makes a hole that big?


  1. Rats? Are you sure being on your own is worth it? You might try negotiating with the landlord. Tell her you'll be happy to pay more once you have hot water. Be sweet, you're irresistible when your sweet. XOXO mom

  2. Wow. Sounds like you got yourself into a good ol' fashioned hornswaggling. You should show this Azeri broad what America is all about and sue her ass. Well not really. I just like being dramatic. Is it working?

    Here are my top ten answers to your moving in questions:
    10. Very Carefully.
    9. Burning Sticks.
    8. By attracting ceiling dirt.
    7. Only if you experience winds in excess of sixty five miles per hour or in your case, 105 kilometers per hour.
    6. Ones floor is never truly clean. It is only as clean as you perceive it.
    5. It sounds as if they will fall onto the roof below in which case a hilarious rescue mission will ensue.
    4. Technically, depending on air pressure of course, it could be as cold as f***.
    3. Using tasteful eloquence.
    2. By cooking either creme brulee or Jiffy Pop.

    and finally, my number one answer to your number one question of "What kind of rat makes a hole that big?"

    1. A big rat!