you just never can know about these things…

The water guy showed up at 7:30 in the morning — on the day he said he would.  To say this was a rarity would be a tremendous understatement.  I hadn’t expected him for at least another week, and I never would have dreamed he’d hodi at my gate before 8 am.  If he’d never shown at all, I would not have thought it odd.  But there he was, grumpy and irritable, though still willing to help me ascertain why our house had been without water now for 9 weeks.  First, however, he wanted to ensure that my own plumbing was done properly and that  none of the pipes in my yard were plugged.  I assured him that I’d already checked all of that, but he insisted we look anyway.

So I took him to the water meter, and we disassembled the pipes coming into it.  After he was satisfied with the work on my end — the inside of the pipes were bone dry and obviously hadn’t seen water in weeks — we started walking the neighborhood.  He would occasionally ask passersby where the water passed en route to “that house” (said while motioning).  There were lots of disagreements and discussions, but we finally ended up on one particular street corner.

Then we dug.  We were looking for the “main” pipe that brought water to my house — or rather, didn’t bring water to my house.  But no one was certain where this main was located, or whether it even might be on that corner.  After much digging to one side and the other (about 36 sq. ft. total, and in someone’s front yard), we found a pipe.  Proud of our recent accomplishment, we disassembled the pipe (water going everywhere), and assembled it again.  “See,” he said, “the water is working fine.”  I was amazed.

[I should explain that when the water is functioning “properly,” we get water  at our house for 2-4 hours, 2 days a week.  So you can understand why I was amazed that water was flowing through this pipe at that very moment.  At any given time, there’s about a 3% chance that water is flowing through pipes in our neighborhood.  (You can also see why it’s difficult to problem-solve plumbing troubles here.)  I later discovered, though, that this was indeed why the guy from the water department had shown up at my house on that day, and at that time — he knew the water was running at that very moment.]

So we looked elsewhere, following the same pattern of walking, asking around, and digging until we found pipes.  Finally, we ended up just on the other side of my backyard.  He started digging and, this time, found the pipe quickly — by digging through it.  Water was beginning to puddle, but not at nearly the rate of pipes past.  But again I heard, “See, the water is working fine.”  This time, though, he added, “It must be a problem with the pipes in your yard.”

“Yeah, but now it’s a problem with these pipes not in my yard,” I thought.

I wasn’t excited about insulting this man, my elder by at least 20 years.  So, I worded my comments as an unknowing question (I often play the role of dumb white guy here), “But I don’t understand; I thought we checked all the pipes on my side?  Maybe there just isn’t enough water pressure to push the water up into my pipes from here?”

“No, I think a pipe must be plugged in your yard; we better check them all again,” he gruffly suggested, as if this were all my fault.  No, not as if this were all my fault — but as if this were all my fault because I’d purposely filled my pipes with hair pomade, rubber cement, and Starburst candies.

I asked him what we would do about the pipe “we” busted while digging.  His answer:  “We’ll wrap some rubber around, so it won’t leak anymore.”

While (once again) disassembling pipes in my backyard, I suggested that I go and buy another pipe to replace the one that was busted during digging.  He acted as if it wasn’t needed, but agreed all the same.  It was about this time that he turned his attention to my larger water system.  He wanted to disassemble the pipes that came after the water meter.  Not wanting to be rude to this older gentleman, I again carefully asked, “But I don’t understand — if water is not reaching the meter, then how can the problem (and the plugged pipe) be after the meter?”

He said you can never know about these things.  My patience was beginning to wear thin.  I wanted to scream, “But you CAN know about these things!  And I DO know about these things.  It’s simple science.  No, it’s just plain common sense!”  But I refrained.  Instead, I politely asked him not to disassemble more of the water system, as I went into town to get the pipe.

When I returned, he had disassembled more of the water system.  And he was just about to cut into one of the pipes (that came after the water meter).  When I asked him both to wait and to explain what he was doing, he offered that my water problem was because this one flexible pipe was too long.  And that if we removed about a foot of the excess, everything should work fine.

I didn’t even pretend to be dumb.  I just told him we were NOT going to cut that pipe.  And that he was wrong.  “There is no water going into that pipe, so that pipe CANNOT be the problem.”  I didn’t even begin to explain why the length of a pipe can’t itself be the problem.

So, we still don’t have water.  But I do have a new pipe in my backyard.  I believe the problem is one of pressure, and the water department guy believes one of my pipes is either plugged or too long.  You just never can know about these things.


This post is meant to be coupled with its own devotional thought: the knowledge of the glory of the Lord… and water.  I originally wrote the two together, but the post was just too long.
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14 Comments

Filed under living in africa, updates from geita

14 responses to “you just never can know about these things…

  1. Pingback: the knowledge of the glory of the Lord… and water « aliens and strangers

  2. Sean

    That is so frustrating, Brett. I will be praying you find the problem.

  3. Wow. That is all I have on this one. I can’t believe you remained patient that long. I sure hope that you do know about these things and soon!

    • well, i’ve been going to town and getting water in a 1000 liter tank in the back of carson’s truck when i need it. and i’ve had water delivered twice, paying someone else to do it. those things aren’t so bad except they take about a day per week to keep up with our minimal usage.

      hopefully with the coming of rainy season it’ll get better…

  4. mark

    That guy would excel in tech support for Verizon.

  5. Kim

    Yikes. That stuff is really really frustrating! Good job keeping your temper. I struggle with that.

    • well, to be honest, in the states i wouldn’t have acted quite as i did. it’s just that here in tanzania to lose one’s temper or to be visibly angry is a big no-no. it’s one of the easiest ways to get a bad reputation.

      also, the way we view things is quite different, so our/my overly analytical and logical approach is not at all the lens through which most people are looking.

      but thanks for congratulating me on keeping my cool.

  6. First of all, “pole” for not having water for 9 weeks. That must be extremely frustrating.

    Secondly, when I finished reading your post, all I could think was : that’s Tanzania for you! I am always telling people how logic as it’s understood in the rest of the world somehow doesn’t apply hear. Your post gives a perfect example. I will no longer try to explain it; I will simply direct people to your post. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing.

    • thanks, biche; it’s good to know i’m not the only one frustrated at times. i was in dar es salaam a couple of weeks ago, saw the “man about town” barber shop, and thought of your blog. and now you’ve visited mine. thanks for stopping by.

  7. This is a sad, sad thing.

    I don’t understand how someone like that could sleep at night, knowingly leaving a family without water. An even sadder statement would be that in general, most public services (restaurants, stores, public works, etc) have the exact same kind of attitude toward providing those services and it’s getting worse.

    I would agree with you 100%, if there isn’t any water on the city side of the meter, how can any piping on the house side of the meter be the problem?

    Hopefully you have some friendly neighbors that will help you with water supply until the problem is fixed. 🙂

    Thanks for the post.

    AllAces Plumbing

  8. Pingback: culture stress (or i don’t want to be a missionary anymore) | aliens and strangers

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