The former Soviet Union is not an area of the world known for its high construction standards. It wasn't great when the Soviets were in charge and it hasn't gotten much better in the decades following. At one point, all of the embassy residences got inspected for earthquake safety, and not a single house passed the inspection. Our house, new in late 2014, has numerous large cracks in the walls and a set of balcony doors doesn't close quite right because the walls have settled and the doorway has gone out of square. It's a major miracle that most of the bridges up in the mountains haven't collapsed, and I'm pretty sure that a building inspector hasn't set foot in most of the villages either.
So, stuff breaks here. A lot. We have personally broken five toilet seats during our three years here. One broke while Eleanor was using it, and she came to me sobbing, trying to explain that she hadn't done anything to break it - she was just sitting on it! A few years ago our outside water meter broke when it got below freezing and it took five months to get it replaced. About a quarter of the tiles in our downstairs bathrooms have popped off and had to be re-stuck. I don't know how many times the shower head hoses in the bathrooms have had to be replaced; they probably should be put on a six-month replacement schedule. About a third of the lights in the house don't work because the wiring just broke. Every time someone comes to replace the bulbs (they're difficult to change), they dutifully put new bulbs in the broken lights and then figure they've done the job.
Usually something breaks every couple of weeks and I save them up for a monthly or bi-monthly work order party when everything gets done at once. So it's not like everything is happening at once, but it is a definite slow, annoying trickle.
That is, until last week.
It all started with the power. The power in our house is terrible and has been terrible since the day we moved in. We have put in untold work orders and the landlord has tried myriad fixes, but nothing has ever worked quite right. We usually have enough power to get our normal day work done. But if it's a cold day and I'm trying to cook dinner, microwave food, and dry clothes at the same time, the load is too much for the power supply and the generator turns on, which turns everything off. Then it turns off because suddenly the load is fine because nothing is running. This is something that I will definitely not miss when we leave.
Recently it has been getting worse and randomly turning on, turning off, turning on, turning off, turning on, and turning off for fifteen or twenty cycles. Every time the generator turns on, everything in the house turns off and when the generator turns off, once again we have a few seconds of darkness. One day it took ten minutes to microwave my lunch because of this. Finally, after a few weeks, I called facilities maintenance (FM) and told them to come take a look. They came, took a look, turned on our generator, and left.
Now, a whole house generator is very nice but it is also very, very noisy, especially when it's in a high-walled concrete courtyard. After awhile it gets on your nerves, but we had no idea when it would be turned off again. One rule that we were impressed with: never ever touch the generator. It has power going through it, very dangerous.
I figured, however, that while the generator was running, I would take advantage of a reliable power supply and warm the house up. This all happened after it snowed and got down into the teens for several nights in a row and so our house had gotten cold. The radiators in our house keep it quite comfy when it is between forty and fifty-five degrees outside, anything below gets increasingly chilly and anything above gets too hot. I long for the day when I will have central heat.
In addition to our radiators, we also have split-pack heat pumps that work as AC units and heaters. But because of our bad power, we haven't been able to run them as heaters. So I turned one on in my room (sixty-six degrees!), the study (sixty-three degrees), and two on the third floor where I was teaching school (sixty-two degrees). I should have stopped when one of the circuit breakers flipped and the generator let out an ominous cough of black smoke, but I didn't. I just reset the circuit and went back to turning my house into somewhere that didn't need a wool cardigan and a down jacket to keep warm in.
A few minutes later, everything went dead. The generator stopped and there was no power coming in from the city line. So, I called FM (their number is on speed dial) and they assured me someone would be coming.
When I went outside to let them in, I noticed water spraying from our outside water meter. The face of the water meter is glass (why they don't use plastic I can't figure out), and it had cracked during the below-freezing temperatures of the previous few days. So, while they were fixing the generator, they turned off our outside water. Again.
Later that day I noticed ceramic shards around our outside sink. The same freezing temperatures that had done in our water meter had also taken out the sink. Oh goody.
When Brandon came home from work the next day, he informed me that the 'check engine' light was on in the car. He took it in and the mechanic told him that we needed new oxygen sensors.
The same day I noticed that our distiller had stopped working and called my FM buddies, for the fifth time that week.
We have to pay our internet monthly, in cash, and this month it ran out eight days early. When we finally reached the glorious day when we would have a whole new sixty gigs to consume the outside world with, nothing happened. Brandon talked to someone at work who talked to the internet company who then (amazingly) fixed the problem. I also daydream about things like Google Fiber.
Thursday morning, while I was teaching school, Kathleen started complaining of dizziness. I told her to go and get a drink of water and something to eat. She did, came back up, and started feeling dizzy again. A minute or two later I started feeling dizzy and Edwin did too. We all beat a hasty retreat down from the third floor and I called FM for the tenth time that week. They came, turned off the generator - which had been running for over two days - and tested the air to make sure everything was okay. It was.
And then, to wrap up the week, we had an earthquake. It wasn't much of an earthquake - 6.1 a few hundred miles away - and I didn't believe Joseph when he told me the table was shaking. But, it was a fitting end to a somewhat crazy week. Fingers crossed that this week will be better.