Thursday, October 2, 2008


That's the key to living abroad I think, being resourceful. Practical, handy, calm and collected probably also help too, as does knowing more than a smattering of the local language. I really do feel so helpless. I don't know how long it will be before I can string a whole sentence (with a verb) together, let alone understand the response I get. So I have to ask for help. (from the 4 people I know well enough to ask) It's good for the Western independent spirit I guess. I feel so utterly dependent on others here. Personally I find it quite humiliating at times, but that's probably just my perspective. Perhaps humbling would be a more positive turn of phrase.

The other thing you need is LOTS of equipment, like our landlord having a whole spare car battery, a pump run off the cigarette lighter to pump up tyres, and every tool and gadget under the sun, because basically you need to fix everything yourself. I'm not sure why this is, we're in a capital city. There just seem to be very few service industries. And workmen generally do an incredibly shoddy job (as we have found out, and Albanians have agreed). The other issue is a truism I have heard again and again, that it is very hard to find things out in Tirana, where to buy certain things, where to get a tyre pumped up, where to get a good hair cut, where to buy tickets etc. And believe me I have tried all of these and more.

The other problem is when you have been married for donkeys years, well 17, you do get used to your spouse doing certain things. Or you may never have even done them. I have never done the DIY, M has never done the cooking. I am resourceful in my areas of expertise, I can make curtains, mend clothes, dress-make, cook, decorate, cut my husband's and children's hair; but when it comes to mending bikes, radios, kitchen appliances, cars, using a power drill, then I'm not your woman. Clearly I need to become so though.

Since moving abroad, my husband has made it clear, that sorting any issue with the car, dealing with our U.K house or tenants back home, etc are all my babies now, and he doesn't even want to hear about them because it 's an added stress. Tell me about it.... So if I begin to talk about it he won't listen because he thinks I'm off-loading the problem onto him. Which I guess I am in a way. I'm a desperate woman, totally at sea, in a boat I can't sail.

I was though, feeling quite pleased with my progress and resourcefulness, but living here has a nasty habit of reminding me just how far I still have to go....

My list of acheivements so far:

  1. Removed old door lock from door, Went to electrical market (no English speakers) and bought new door lock. Fitted it. It worked! I had to do this becasue the landlord had still not done anything about it in 3 months.

  2. Broken fridge handle. Unscrewed it, and fitted it to freezer door which is used less often. Put good freezer handle on fridge. Small, but pleasing achievement because it made me realise I could be practical.

  3. Sorted sink U bend problem. Our bendy soft plastic U bend under the sink was too long. The plumber refused to change it saying it was fine. The problem was it draped down into the drawer below and so the drawer couldn't be opened. So I crawled under the sink on my back, 'car mechanic' style (except I didn't have one of those little wheelie boards), clutching a pair of my son's age 6 underpants, and a few safety pins. I cut them and slung them under the U bend, hammock-style, so the pipe was wearing a pair of mini support pants. A few safety pins and 'Bob's your uncle'. It has held the drooping tube in place so the drawer can be opened. That one is my favourite achievement I must admit. Resourceful, practical, thinking outside the box, even involved recycling.

  4. I mended my bike brakes. I have always been able to remove the wheel, mend a puncture, put a chain back on etc, but I know all that's child's play. Beyond a flat tyre is a world of unknown ball bearings, confusing componentry and an uncrossable sea of technical expertise. So was more than a little THRILLED to have mended my bike brakes. This was pre-car, when I had to ride 20 mins to go and fetch my daughter from nursery. Too far (for her) to walk. I was getting desperate and the only way I achieved it was to stare VERY hard at the functioning brake, and to keep comparing it with the other brake until I could see what had gone wrong. It took ages. But, reader, I fixed it.

  5. Changed & rewired numerous dodgy plugs. Ok really scraping the barrel now.

It's not a very long or impressive list is it

When it comes to the car though, I am not just way out of my depth, I'm treading water over the Mariana Trench, terrified at the thought of what lies beneath. I just about coped with the flat battery and flat tyre (clearly my expertise lies in one dimensional problems) but when 3 days ago at 7.30 a.m the clutch had no hydraulic pressure in it or whatever teh expression is I turned to my husband for help. who was just about to take daughter on his bike to nursery. He shrugged and said 'what can I do?' Not his finest hour, he later had the grace to admit. He told me he had a very full day (he's been away on business for nearly 3 wks) and that at least I had got the bonnet open which would help me when I had got someone to come out and look at it.

But that was the problem. In the UK I would make a phone call, maybe called out the AA. In Albania, how was I supposed to phone up a garage when no one speaks English, I dont speak Albanian, and anyway there's no Green Flag Recovery service? I wd just have to agree to pay enough to get someone to come to my house. Not easy to explain that over the phone when my communication skills rely on the odd Albanian word and a LOT of hand gestures.

In his favour M did agree he needed to take our son to school, (in the NGO's vehicle only he is allowed to drive) whilst I biked our daughter to nursery, solving the immediate crisis, but my normally calm, chilled husband was having another of his stress episodes (queue bad memories of overwork in Sri Lanka) he was not a happy bunny, he had had to cancel 2 meetings already. Still, even more in his favour he obviously relented enough to come back and consult the car manual with me, and then pour some Dot 3 clutch fluid into what we thought was the right receptacle in the engine. (I was, secretly, rather pleased, in a way to see he had no more idea than I had, though of cours ethat didn't help me out of my I/C car role )Rather ominously a bottle of clutch fluid was sitting handily in the driver's door when we bought the car. Coincidence? I think not.. This took nearly an hour. And the school round trip had already taken well over an hour.

Anyway it didn't work, so he called out a driver from his organisation and then went off to work. The driver pitched up with a translator, neither of whom had any idea, and, as it was raining heavily, were rather reluctant to do more than stand under the porch and ask me a few questions. They then said they had called a service place for me who were going to tow it away on Mon. I am relieved, but worried about how much this will cost as no one gets towed in this country. Except by a neighbour........

SO on Friday, determined to prove my resourcefulness, & shake off this paralysis of helplessness, I got in the car, fiddled about and yup, I FIXED THE CLUTCH. All by myself. Blonde Bimbo goes large. My Mariana trench had turned into my Everest. I had conquered the mountain.

I sat in the driver's seat, with my daughter beside me in the passenger seat, laughing and crying as I pumped the clutch. How my daughter has a hope of growing up normal with such an unhinged mother, I really don't know.

Ok, so confession time. My dear other half, had very practically, once he had calmed down that 1st night, emailed the owner of the vehicle, the kind missionary Dutch man (whom I was rapidly relabelling as 'cowboy missionary', should such a category exist) He replied instantly (so he remains the Kind Dutch Missionary. For now...), saying it had happened to him once before. evidently if there is a leak, (which there is, a small one), when the clutch fluid drops too low, air gets in the system and the hydraulic pressure is lost (clutch goes all loose and floppy).

Are you still with me? So what you do is pump on the clutch until traction comes back. It took 5 mins of pumping with alternate legs, but it flipping worked! Chuffed, I was ecstatic. I almost feel ready to change the brake pads and fix the petrol filter now.

Much as I would like to end this blog on a positive note, on our way out for tea with friends this afternoon, we discovered the battery was completely flat. Again. In fact it's our landlord's battery, still. So we now have two flat batteries. I wonder what chance he has a spare spare battery......?


Iota said...

I love the underpants and safety pins holidng the U bend in a sling. If Superman is ever stuck in a tricky situation, he could whip off his costume (which is really just underpants over the top of trousers, as any dress-up expert knows), and do a similar trick.

Wife in Hong Kong said...

Go girl! What a blonde! I love your survival stories. You always come through in such style.

GM said...

You need to get that full-time teaching job. Then you can get a student to do all the dirty work - although not much sense of satisfaction for you I suppose!

Wife in Hong Kong said...

I was thinking about what you wrote about pictures on the blog, particularly of children. I have been so naive about my blog which I thought I was writing just for friends and family back home - hence the pictures, the names etc etc. Finding that third parties are reading it has come as a total surprise and has left me feeling rather exposed. Do I therefore change the content, re-write or delete the early postings and photos? Or do I carry on and risk embarrassing myself and my family, or worse? Does one write for the intended audience or the actual one? New to blogging and so many unanswered questions. I could do with a dose of your resourcefulness!

Anonymous said...

i love this .i love that somebody else out there rates stuff like this as accomplishments. of course, of course they are. but faced with the steeliness of an empire-managing mate who dismissed my managing to secure enough water from the water authorities to fill my tanks so that we could all smell less like rodents WAS an acheievement. whatever she thought. Here's to resourcefulness x