Saturday, September 13, 2008

Plumbing Adventures in Brazil

Brazil’s sewer system cannot handle paper of any kind. I probably plugged it up the day we arrived at the airport as I didn’t know then what the practice is there. I carefully used one of those disposable covers that you carry in your purse and blissfully unaware of the “rules”, flushed it all away. I have no idea whether or not there were warning signs posted as to this observance, since they would have been written in Portuguese.

So I soon learned that after toilet use in Brazil, the (ahem) used toilet tissue is placed in a little covered container lined with a plastic grocery bag (what did the world do before the invention of the plastic grocery bag?). Notice that I did mention that this container is COVERED. Thankfully, the garbage was picked up three times a week.

Our apartment was quite comfortable, though like most homes and apartments in that country, we had no furnace nor hot water. Whenever we needed hot water, we heated it on the propane stove. We did have a device that was installed in the shower that heats the water, for which we were so grateful.

However, our shower did not work properly for us in the beginning of our sojourn in Brazil. It would take as long as 15 minutes before we could get the water pressure up to the point where it would activate the little device that heated the water. The Elders were our Guardian Angels in so many ways, so they tried their hand at making it work without success. They finally decided that they would have to follow President U’s advice and call a plumber.

They looked in the telephone directory and got hold of a plumber that night. Even though it was a Friday night, the “plumber” promised to come at 9AM the next morning. Arrangements were made for the Elders to be on hand when the plumber came, to translate and to make sure they didn’t take advantage of us.

The plumber and his helper (I think it was his son) came about 10AM. The Elders (there were three Elders in this particular companionship and from hereon I will refer to them as the three amigos) came downstairs from their apartment as we let the “plumbers” in. The “plumber” went into the bathroom and just stared at the shower then he started a very long dialog with the three amigos in Portuguese. I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t just start fixing the problem.

After some discussion, Elder D. told us that the plumber was explaining that he would have to break into the ceramic-tiled cement walls and replace the whole piping system and that it would cost $R580 reais (pronounced hay-eyes). I told Elder D. to tell him that we couldn’t do that without getting permission from the owner of the building and the Mission President’s okay. When Elder D. started explaining that to him, he started talking some more and the translation was that he would look at it and probably fix it for “a little less” than what he had just quoted. So then he asked for a kitchen knife (to use as a screw driver). Elder D. got a one of our sharp knives and one of our little table knifes (the kitchen utensils are much smaller and flimsier than the American variety).

The (ahem) “plumber” attempted to remove the screw with the sharp knife and promptly abandoned it and turned to the little table knife. When he tried to turn the screw, the tip end of the table knife promptly broke. How's that for creating confidence in one's ability? He didn't even apologize for our broken knife. The “plumber” then went out to his car and brought in a couple of tools. I was wondering why he hadn’t brought them in with him from the beginning since he was a “plumber”, but I digress.

He finally was able to disassemble the problem faucet assembly with the appropriate tools. He then said he could fix it for $R150 reais. I was not impressed at all and after a little conversation in English, we ended up paying him $R10 reais for his trouble and Elder D. told him we would get back to him after we made a decision (read “don’t call us, we’ll call you”).

Elder D. had watched closely what Mr. Plumber was doing and figured that the three amigos could pick up the part themselves at a hardware store after they shopped for groceries, then they would fix it themselves. However, as fate would have it, the hardware store was closed when the three amigos arrived there. So we found out in one fell swoop that there is one thing worse than no hot water for a shower and that is no water at all.

At that point, my dear missionary husband and Elder D. (missionaries always go in twosomes, or occasionally a threesome) went after drinking water, as we were nearly out of that as well. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that we were advised not to drink the tap water in Brazil, as they don’t treat it at all. There are little businesses every few blocks that sell nothing but drinking water in big blue containers.

They paid for the water and arranged to have it delivered, then went over to the mission office to take care of some business. They ran into one of the Elders who used to live in this apartment before we arrived. He still happened to have part of the faucet assembly that they had replaced when it broke on them. The happy end of this saga is that the three amigos were able to reinstall the assembly and get the water turned back on. When we turned the shower faucet on, we instantly had wonderful, warm water. We gratefully enjoyed warm showers later that night.

Our joy was to be short lived, though. It soon became apparent to us that it still was not working properly. The water started coming out a little too hot or it wouldn’t heat at all. For a time, we got along by working the knob ever so carefully, and at last we would get it just right. My dear husband had a knack for it, and he would get it working, take his shower, then he’d leave it running for me and I’d hop in for my shower. However, it came to a point where we had two choices—cold or blistering hot. My dear husband preferred the cold, but I have always preferred a nice, steamy hot shower, but not quite that hot. I would stand to the side, lather up, and swiftly dance into and out of the water as fast as I could in order to rinse off. No small feat in that tiny shower stall.

The opportunity to get the shower fixed finally arrived unexpectedly. We were talking in the mission office during our weekly meeting, and I thought to bring up the subject of our fickle shower. President U. said that there was a plumber in the building at that moment and that he'd see if he would go over to our apartment and take a look at it. And that is what happened. They found the important working part was not fitting properly and was broken to boot. They replaced the part and voila! the shower worked perfectly. The cost: $R10 reais for the part.

How grateful we were for that tender mercy from the Lord.


1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Thank you for stopping by and commenting! I would love to know how you found me. Your blog is lovely and you have done so much in your "short time blogging" that I am quite jealous! I have enjoyed the stories that I have read so far and look forward to reading more.
I love you plumbing story. My father had a plumbing business when I was little and I grew up with lots of "fixture" in my garage...I was the only person that I knew who had toilets just sitting around! There is nothing more comforting than well running indoor plumbing! Praise God, Indeed!
God Bless, Elizabeth