Never Ever Ever Ever Give Up

By | March 13, 2013

You know what? I take that back. You can give up as many times as you want. But after you’ve regained your energy, try again. Then, if you need to, give up another time, regroup, and try once more. And if things still don’t work out, and the fight has gone out of you, go ahead and throw in the towel for a little while, but then dust yourself off and… TRY AGAIN! Why? Because eventually that thing you’re trying for may in fact happen! And when it does, you will be so grateful that you never actually gave up for good.

Let me tell you a story to illustrate my point.

I moved into my current apartment about a year ago. The first time I saw it, there were exposed wires coming out of the walls. My Peace Corps regional manager told my landlord to fix them before I moved in, for safety reasons. They solved the problem by covering everything with wallpaper and connecting face plates to the dangling wires. I talked about this before, in a previous blog entry. The wires were no longer exposed, but only one of my three outlets actually worked.

Electrical Outlet

Can we call this being fixed? I guess so... It doesn't really matter that it's not aesthetically pleasing, right? Or that it doesn't work?

Hump in the Wallpaper

What is that mysterious hump in the wallpaper? Don't worry about it! It's barely noticeable.

That was sort of okay, although somewhat annoying to only be able to plug in one thing at a time. I bought an electric oven and an extension cord, so I could use the oven in the kitchen. The extension cord had more outlets on it, so I could plug in more than one thing at a time. I also got an electric water heater installed in my bathroom so I could take warm showers. And I bought another light bulb so I could have all three of the light fixtures being used in my overhead chandelier.

Apartment Chandelier

This is the one light source in my living room. When I moved in, there was only one light bulb in it.

Let’s take stock. On any given day last summer, the absolute most electricity I could be using at one time would be:

  • Bathroom water heater during shower time
  • Bathroom light on
  • Computer plugged in
  • Living room light on (maybe)
  • Phone charging (maybe)

Please note: I don’t have a refrigerator, television, radio, air conditioner, or anything else that people plug in (I honestly can’t think of anything else right now!)

One day during the summer, my electricity went out. I thought it was neighborhood-wide, because that happens sometimes. But as dusk fell, I noticed other buildings on my street were becoming lit up, indicating that maybe it was just my building. I looked into my stairwell and noticed a light over my neighbor’s door, implying that I was the only one without power!

I decided to try talking to my neighbors about my problem, and opened my door just as the man of the apartment next door was opening his. In my mediocre Armenian, I said, “I’m sorry, but there is no light near me. Maybe two hours ago, it broke. Do you have light?”

This may have been the first time I actually said more than, “Hello, how are you?” to my neighbor.

He assured me that they had light, and had me prove that I didn’t, by trying to turn on my outside light. Of course it didn’t work. He then walked down to the landing where all of our electric meters are.

Electric Meters in Armenia

This is where my problems appear to have originated.

His friend came by, and I held a flashlight for them as, smoking a cigarette, my neighbor proceeded to pull wires from my meter, cut off the burned bits, strip them, and connect them back to the meter. Then he told me to try my light again, and lo and behold, this time it worked! He left with his friend, and I was invited in for coffee by his wife, who told me that her husband is an electrician. What luck! Maybe I could get my other two outlets fixed!

The weather got colder and I bought an electric heater. One day while running it full blast, my electricity went out again. I was cold, it was already dark, and I’d been having a bad day already. I went to my neighbor’s and told them that once again, there was “no light near me.”

The electrician once again disconnected, stripped the wires, and reconnected them. It was clear that this was going to be a temporary fix. I’m no expert at electricity, but even I could tell that something was making the wires hot, and they were burning until they no longer had a good connection, thereby rendering me electricity-less. I asked how I could prevent this happening, and was told to not run my water heater and space heater at the same time because my water heater was too strong for the electric circuit.

Three weeks later, my lights started flickering, and the next evening my electricity went out again. I almost punched through the wall in frustration. I suffered that night in the cold and the dark, unable to bring myself to go over and ask for help, again, for the exact same situation. The next day, I brought my problem to my counterparts at the college, and they called someone and told me to go wait at home for someone to come over and help. Who came over? My neighbor, the electrician.

Electricity “fixed,” I knew it was only a matter of time until the next blackout. I talked to a few people to figure out my options, and had my counterpart come with me to talk to my neighbor about completely re-wiring the apartment. This is an old Soviet apartment, and back in those days, they had gas heat and not a lot of need for strong electrical wiring. My wires simply couldn’t handle the load I was demanding of them. My counterpart came, we brought the electrician into my apartment and showed him my non-working outlets, and asked about getting everything fixed. He promised to get it done, but said he had to order a new electric meter, and that would take awhile. When I saw him the next time, I asked about his progress and he said he was still waiting for the part. I didn’t hear from him after that, and I felt weird about nagging him, not sure how work is done in this country.

One night, my lights started flickering. I turned off my heater. The lights stopped flickering. I turned on the light in my hallway. It flickered. I opened the door and went down to the landing. I could hear and see my wires sparking at my electric meter. I went back inside and turned off all my lights and unplugged my computer and turned my heater on a low setting. I went to bed early. I spent the next evening at Laura’s, charging my computer and staying warm until bedtime, when I went back home and straight to bed.

The next day, I said, “Screw it!” and knocked on my neighbor’s door, hoping for preventative measures. I told them that my electricity is very weak and my lights… I didn’t know the word for flicker, so I demonstrated with my hand, opening and closing my fist. I said that I was afraid that my electricity was going to go out. I had them talk on the phone to our Peace Corps Safety and Security Officer, who I had called and explained the problem to. He told my neighbor what he could do to fix the problem.

The next day, my lights no longer flickered.

I still had only one working outlet.

And this is turning into a really long story!

One day, sometime later, our Safety and Security Officer came to our town to introduce us to the chief of police, so I asked if he could come take a look at my electric meter. He did, and explained something about incompatible metals. He offered to talk to my neighbor about what could be done about it, but the electrician wasn’t home. He spoke to the wife, who agreed to relay the message.

The next two times my electricity went out, my neighbor seemed really surprised. One time, he simply looked at the electric meter, and my lights started working again. The second time, he tightened a screw, and everything was fine. That second time was the last straw for me, though. I talked to a few people, and told them all that I just wanted things to work normally, and I would pay to have my apartment re-wired. I was told that my landlord had to request the work done, and was also told that I didn’t want to pay for something like that, since it wasn’t my place; I was just a tenant. I insisted I wanted it done, wanted to pay for it, and didn’t want to involve my landlord. That seemed completely unnecessary, and from other issues I’ve brought to her, I knew that nothing would get done if I had to go through her. The woman next door said she’d talk to her husband. He tightened the screw, and that was the last of it.

Several weeks later, I noticed a buzzing sound coming from my one working outlet. I turned off my heater and the buzzing stopped. The next day, I noticed that one of the external wires leading into my outlet was turning black. I unplugged my extension cord and saw a brown spot and a crack on the face plate. NOT a good sign. It was hot to the touch.

Burnt Outlet

This is my one "good" outlet. You can see where it has started to burn and crack. The red tape is where there is black exposed wiring.

This was last week. I gave a deep sigh. I gathered up my fighting strength over the weekend, and on Monday, when our Safety and Security Officer came to our town for a meeting, I told him my situation. He looked at my outlet and tightened a couple screws to make a better connection, and told me that was the problem with that one. He then looked at my other two outlets and said there was nothing he could do to fix them, but would ask my neighbor the electrician if he could do the work. I would pay for it, naturally. Once again, the electrician wasn’t home, but the wife was. She was brought into my apartment, saw what I wanted, and promised to pass the message along.

The stars aligned for me that day.

An hour later, there was a knock at my door. It was my electrician, parts in hand, come to look at my outlets! Two hours later, after tearing apart wallpaper, chipping chunks out of my walls, and then fixing everything back up, all nice and pretty, I had two additional working outlets in my apartment!!!

Words cannot begin to describe how ecstatic I was! It cost me a grand total of $12.00.

New Living Room Outlet

In my living room, they tore off the wallpaper, inserted an outlet housing, fixed the wiring, and cemented the whole thing into place. And now it works!

Kitchen Outlet

Remember the weird wiring lump under the kitchen wallpaper? Well, that wire has been removed. They tore the wallpaper to get at it, and then taped it back together when they were done. Now a wire runs externally, straight up the wall.

I’ll be here for another 5 months, and believe me, I WILL USE THOSE OUTLETS! I’m using two of them right now!

After writing this, I look back in awe at my perseverance. But the truth is, I completely and utterly gave up time and time again. I washed my hands of the mess and said, “That’s it. I’m done. I’ll just freeze. I’ll spend all my time at Laura’s. I’ll find another electrician in town. But I am NOT going to my neighbor’s AGAIN, to get my electricity fixed.” Then, somewhere I would find reserves, and I would talk to him.

And now? Now I can plug in my computer and my electric oven and my phone and my blender and my heater all at the same time!!!! Oh, wait, I only have 3 outlets. Next month, or the one after that, I’ll try to get a couple more. 😉

What’s my real message from all of this?

“If at first you don’t succeed, give up. Then try again.”

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