Places Where Flowers Bloomed: Temperatures Rising

November 2014

So there I stood in the entryway of our apartment manager’s home along with the apartment manager, her husband, our neighbor, and a roof repairman, and from the sound of it, things weren’t looking promising.

You see, it all started a few months prior, when Laura and I noticed a small leak in the roof of our balcony right after some heavy rain. We told the owner of our apartment, but nothing ever came of it. Then, naturally, she went to Russia for the winter. Before she left, she had told us that our neighbors would be in contact with us about having repairs done. (For the longest time we thought they or someone in their family did that kind of work, but later on we found out that in fact they were involved because they had leaks, too.) They never contacted us.

Several weeks and several rainy days later, we happened to see our neighbors entering their apartment and insisted that the work get done before it got too cold. Little did we know what we had just gotten ourselves into.

A few days later, our neighbors invited me over for tea and to discuss the needed roof repairs. The neighbors’ family consists of a woman perhaps in her fifties, her adult daughter, and the daughter’s little boy who can’t be much older than three. The woman’s parent’s moved to this country from a neighboring one in the 1940’s—if, that is, I understood her correctly. I can’t say for sure because in the country next to ours they speak a similar yet distinct language from the one they speak here; however, since that country also used to be part of the Soviet Union, just like ours, its citizens also speak Russian. So the woman and her daughter were trying to speak with me, an American, in a mixture of Russian and a language that was similar, but not quite the same, as the one I’m studying at language school. Seeing as how the topic at hand was roof repair, I found myself struggling to understand to say the least.

As things go here, the nice man who reads people’s gas meters came. (Never mind it was 6:30 in the evening.) So he, naturally, came in for tea. (Later the mother told me they work together.) He knew English—somewhat—and was able to smooth over some of the finer details. Kind of. What I was able to understand was that the apartment manager had agreed to pay for the cost of labor, but the neighbors, Laura, and I were responsible for paying for the cost of materials. However, at the moment, the neighbors didn’t have the money needed to buy their half of the materials; therefore, they asked if I would be able to pay for them and then they would repay us a few weeks later when they got the money. Not much I could do but agree, so agree I did.

I also understood that the following morning a man was coming at 8:00 to look at the damage, and maybe or maybe not I was supposed to go to the construction bazaar with him to buy the needed materials. Then, a few days later, I thought, he was supposed to come back and actually do the repairs. Which may take a few days. Perhaps. At least that’s what I understood.

Well, the next morning 8:00 AM, 8:30 AM, and then 9:00 AM came and went. No repairman. I decided I shouldn’t skip any more class, so I went into town. That afternoon, I couldn’t understand the neighbors’ response when I asked them why the repairman hadn’t come. Later that evening, Laura and I heard some voices from the first floor echoing up the stairwell. We went out and saw our neighbor ascending the stairs with two men. Ah-ha! Our repairmen. We were able to communicate well enough with one of the two to agree that when we had the money needed to pay for materials, we were to call him, and he’d come back and do the work.

“Ok. Great. No problem. We’ll give you a call,” we told him. Seemed like finally we were getting somewhere.

Well, a few days later on a Saturday morning Laura and I were awakened by the sound of our doorbell. A meeting had formed in the hallway outside our door consisting of our neighbors and what appeared to be a different repairman.

“Where’s the first guy?” I asked our neighbors.

“Oh, he’s a bad man. This guy is good,” our neighbor assured me.

Oh. Of course. Silly me, I thought.

So they had gone with a different contractor. OK, then. This guy was also from our neighbor’s native country. Can’t at least one person we have to interact with speak the language we’re studying? No. Of course not. That’d be too easy.

The new repairman was going to the bazaar to buy materials, and I told him I’d go with him, but first I needed to change out of my pajamas. Then off to the construction bazaar we went. We stopped at a couple of places, and he made some orders. I gave him the equivalent of just over $170, and he said he’d be back the next day, a Sunday, along with the materials to do the work.

And lo and behold, came he did, along with another man. And boy did they work—all that day and some the next. The fruit of their labor was a new tin roof sparkling in the sun. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to judge their success until the next time it rained, but from what we could tell, it was “mission accomplished.”

Then it came time to settle accounts. And that’s how I found myself standing in the entryway of our apartment manager’s home arguing in a mix of two Central Asian languages and Russian about who owned how much to whom and for what. Turns out our neighbors and the apartment manager hadn’t communicated as clearly as one might have hoped prior to the repairman spending two days fixing our roof. It might have been cold outside, but boy, was it getting hot inside!

To keep from crying, I kept trying to focus on how hilarious the situation really was. That’s where the apartment manager’s husband really shined. You see, the husband—a large, 60-some-year-old man in an A-shirt—began asking me questions about American politics. Naturally. He asked me what I thought of our president and who I voted for during the last elections. He asked about Hillary Clinton and George Bush. Then he asked if I knew how to play chess and insisted I should come over some time so we could play.

Meanwhile, things weren’t looking good between the apartment manager and the repairman. It turns out the repairman had done more work on the roof than the apartment manager had not agreed to pay for, and therefore our neighbors and Laura and I were responsible for paying for 100% of that particular part of the project. Around and around they went.

Eventually we moved into the kitchen and the apartment manager pealed some oranges and sliced an apple for us. Her husband poured us some type of juice. Naturally. I assured him, again, that I would return for chess. Somehow, nearly two hours after our arrival, the repairman and the apartment manager reached an agreement as to how much the apartment manager was responsible for paying. The remainder minus the amount we’d already paid for the materials was divided in two to be paid 50-50 between us and our neighbors. Our half came to the equivalent of about $60.

And that’s how you fix the leaky roof of an apartment building in Central Asia. The man must have known what he was doing because we’ve had no more leaks despite all the rain and snow we’ve had over the last few weeks. About a week after the showdown at the apartment manager’s, our neighbor knocked on our door and gave us the money she owed us for her half of the materials.

Even there, flowers bloomed. Watered by leaky roofs.

This post is part of a series we’re calling Places Where Flowers Bloom in which we recount tales from our first days in Central Asia in search of the flowers that bloomed, even after what sometimes felt like a long winter. Read more posts from this series here:

  1. Meeting the Landlady
  2. A Long Month
  3. Getting Evicted
  4. Where We Finally Landed
  5. Sheep Eyes, Bride-napping, and Fasting
  6. Our Debt to the Poor
  7. Our Daily Routine

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