Thursday, November 02, 2006

Like driving in the dark

Living in a foreign city, I'm suddenly hyper aware of certain, mundane, everyday situations. This is really curious for me. I suddenly have a good idea of what it's like to be illiterate. Most products in the grocery store come from one of three places: Germany, Russia, or Turkey. Which means that the most familiar looking words are in German -- a language I speak not at all. For products from the other countries, I can't even pronounce the text. If it's in Georgian (which it only sometimes is) I might be able to suss it out. But, essentially, boxes without clear pictures on them are out of my reach. A box with a picture of a scoop with a bunch of white powder could be salt, or sugar, or maybe baking powder, or flour (or cocaine. Hell, I don't know). A box with a happy looking kid sitting on a swing could be anything.

And outside the grocery store, even the smallest task, if I haven't done it before, is incredibly daunting. I'm thinking I need to get my hair cut soon. There's a barber shop around the corner, and I've seen men there. But figuring out how to tell a barber what I want my hair to look like in English is hard enough. In Georgian? I'm toying with the idea of just letting it grow until I get home, just to avoid the hassle.

So. This morning the upstairs toilet backed up, and then started leaking. Instead of good PVC piping out the back, there's an accordion-style plastic tube. One end is cemented into the floor. The water level in the bowl wasn't sinking, and a small amount of sewage was leaking from the back somewhere, and the whole apartment started to stink. We needed bleach and a plunger. Bleach and a plunger! I found myself wishing that wal-mart had taken over here. Where do you even go for that? In the six weeks we've been here we haven't even been able to find nail clippers. There's a huge outdoor builder's market about half an hour north of town, but we can't go that far, and I don't think they're even open until the weekend.

K. and I ventured out, and began poking around various shopfronts. Eventually we found this little makeshift closet-sized store in one of the many underground passageways that join various sides of impassably traffic-heavy streets around here. It was a hardware shop. We'd looked up the word for plunger before we left, but K didn't have the piece of paper where we'd written it. So I said "toilet" and began making plunger motions until the very kind gentleman produced the correct product. Then we poked around other shops until we got to one that seemed to sell laundry detergent. I couldn't find the word for bleach in my dictionary, but said "liquid whitens" a couple times, and the guy behind the counter pointed to a small bottle near the detergent. It had no pictures, but looked vaguely bleach like. We bought it, and opened it. Success!

Back at the house, Karen remembered seeing a can of polyurethane foam in one of the closets. Thankfully, it had directions in English on the back. We found the leak (a crack in the concrete!) and cleaned, and foamed it up. Hooray! Problem mostly solved! But it was like making our way in the dark. Now we know where to go if the plumbing acts up again, but what if the vacuum breaks?

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