Last week we ran out of water. It was, as always, on laundry day. We have four 500 liter water tanks in our utility space/room/closet/area and so theoretically we shouldn't run out of water. Dushanbe usually has a pretty decent water supply (until they turn it off to work on pipes and then tell everyone on Tajik television but nobody bothers to tell us) that doesn't go out for days at a time and so we should be fine. But it turns out that a household of eight people and all their showers, hand washing, toilet flushing, laundry washing, dish washing, and milk pasteurizing takes a lot of water.
I never know that we have run out of water until I turn on a faucet and nothing comes out. It would be nice if we had some sort of low-water alarm or I even bothered to check the tanks on a frequent basis so I could know that we were getting low and institute water-saving measures. But we don't and I don't so this means that I don't know we're out of water until it's... out.
The first few (ten or fifteen) times this happened, I would go and check the tanks and realize that it wasn't entirely out, just coming in at a very slow dribble that would never fill up all four of those tanks in any kind of speed that would let me finish washing my laundry before next week. I just figured that the local water pressure had gotten low and waited around until it filled back up.
After this happened a few times, I got savvy, ordered another garden hose, and just stretched all three of my hoses (real hoses, with threads and everything. I think I'm the only person in the entire country with a threaded garden hose, and only because I jury-rigged my Tajik hose so that I could put a real hose on it) through the yard, up the front stairs, through the front door, across my living room, through my storage/coat room, and into the mysterious concrete space where all four of my water tanks hide. Then I just filled the tanks up from our yard water supply that was working just fine. And then I was okay until the water got low again on laundry day.
Then the water meter on the outside water tap broke and we had no outside water for five months.
So I had to call Facilities Maintenance to come and fix my problem.
One of the great things about living in embassy-provided housing is that you never have to fix your own problems. Lightbulbs need replacing? Put in a work order! Need to hang pictures? Work order! Washing machine broken? Put in that work order and they'll bring a new(ish) one the next day. Your four year-old colored on all the walls with a Sharpie? That's what work orders are for!
But one of the downsides about living in embassy-provided housing is that you can't fix your own problems. We have had power issues since we moved into our house over two and a half years ago, and they still haven't been fixed. One of our kitchen lights started smoking while we were eating dinner. I put in a work order, the FM guy came when I was out, and insisted to Kathleen that there was no problem. See? No smoking lights right now!
So when the water is out, I have no choice but to call FM to come and fix it. And until they come and fix it I don't have any water. After this had happened for the thirtieth or fortieth time, Brandon made me sit and watch the entire process. "Look," he told me, "it can't be that complicated. They come, they do something, and ten minutes later you have water again. Just watch and see what they do. Then you can do it instead."
So I watched. I watched as they fiddled with one part of the elaborate filter system that was installed last year and then updated a few months ago. I kept watching as they fiddled with another part, removing things and washing the cake of dirt that had built up inside, and then watched as they backwashed the sand filter. As the FM guy finished up, he turned to me. "See," he shook his finger at me, "it is very difficult. Very hard to do." I nodded. Sometimes it's easier to nod then argue.
Last Tuesday it happened again. I came downstairs from school to find a trickle of water and not clean clothes where clean clothes should have been. As always, the water coming into the tanks had slowed to a trickle. I considered calling FM. Then I considered pulling all of the hoses through the house and just filling it up and getting on with my day. And then I put on my big girl pants and pulled out my wrench.
First stop was the incoming water pipe. I turned off the water supply (very important!), wrenched open a side valve, and cleaned out the screen that had filled with miscellaneous gunk. Then I put it all back together. Next I moved on to the first filter bolted to the wall. I managed to wrench the plastic wring holding a clear plastic cup assembly up to the water supply, but was stymied when the cup itself would not come off. I wriggled and pulled, but it would not budge. I had visions of pulling everything off the wall and THEN having to call FM and explained how I had ruined their elaborate set up. I backwashed the sand filter to release the water pressure, but it still stuck fast. As a last attempt, I got a butter knife (a very useful tool) and managed to break the seal. The whole thing came off. I washed out the screen in the yard, scrubbing as much silt as possible off.
I came back inside, put everything back together, and turned the water on. Still a trickle. So I moved to the next filter assembly, two large blue cylinders further on in the system. Once again I wrenched and wrestled but this one would not come off. I wrenched some more to visions of ruining the system again and it still wouldn't budge. One more time I attacked it and finally, with a flood of muddy water, it came off. And was empty.
Some time ago, I had noticed what looked like a big roll of paper towels next to the tall blue filter cylinders. After a long while I realized it was a filter core. Then after another while, I noticed a second filter core. Evidently last time the water stopped, somebody got the bright idea of just yanking the core instead of replacing it. It's just a little silt after all, right?
So I moved on to the next filter, yanking this one off a little more easily, and found a filter core inside plugged up with mud. It turns out that water in Dushanbe is really silty. The mud in this filter had made it through two other filters before being stuck in this one. I looked at the back-up core, looked up at the muddy one, decided that the back-up one looked cleaner, and plopped it in. Then everything got screwed together, the water turned on, and the system charged. I waited a minute or two and then, miracle of miracles, water came gushing into my big, white, plastic water tanks.
Then I did a happy dance and told myself how awesome I was. I had fixed a problem entirely on my own without anybody helping me. I told the children how awesome I was and they were kind of impressed, but not really. After all, mom's job is to fix problems, right? So I called Brandon and told him what an amazing wife he has. He said that yes, I truly am amazing, and thanks for fixing the problem. I hung up and gave myself a few high-fives and watched the water run into the tanks at a breathtaking speed. I felt the sense of accomplishment that comes from overcoming impossible odds. I did another dance and told the children (again) that their mom is pretty cool while listening to my imaginary theme song playing to crowds cheering. I did a few fist pumps.
And then, I went back to doing laundry.