After what might have been a dangerous level of caffeine intake yesterday I suddenly* had the energy to organize and clean out my peace corps apartment. I generally like to follow the Marie Kondo style of organizing (one home for all of a type of thing). And as I was cleaning and trying to do right by Ms. Kondo I noticed I as accumulating a rather large number of bits and bobs that related to home improvement. I found a spare sink filter/drain in my cabinet, A faucet axle on the washing machine, and an extra shower hose behind the hamper. Each one of these finds are a physical reminder of a repair that I have had to make to my apartment. When did I become this handy?
Living in a Peace Corps apartment is not always an easy thing, even in Albania. Some of us end up in lovely homes that have bathtubs (I don’t like to dwell on this) and fully outfitted kitchens, AND then there’s the rest of us who live in communist-era apartment buildings. These structures were not planned out for comfort or warmth, but rather to create a semi-livable dwelling for families in the quickest, most efficient way possible. And don’t get me wrong, many Albanian’s have improved their apartments and have made them cozy, attractive places to live. However, in the smaller towns people don’t often have the money, materials, or the inclination to fix up a rental property. Add on the stipulation that Peace Corps was looking for host families in my permanent site, and I was given an apartment that was just a little rough round the edges.
Having a fixer-upper of an apartment wasn’t a shock to me but, figuring out how to fix it up was. First I didn’t have a good number for my landlord; his phone was always off whenever I needed to contact him. Second, I didn’t speak the language well at all when I first moved here (still working on it of course), and especially not when it came to repairs for my house. It’s a lot harder to call your landlord in the dark about how your electricity went out in your apartment and the light bulb blew up in the bathroom leaving the metal twisty bit still in the socket (honestly, what is that parts official name in english?). And lastly, the hardware shops are extremely compact and have many hidden treasures which can be overwhelming to a newly arrived, language challenged, American women.
So I digress, Once things began to break, fall apart, or otherwise need fixing in my apartment (which would happen in any apartment), I looked into, translated, and began asking my community for help. So often in the States I would be nervous to fix something myself without consulting someone else. There’s such a culture of ‘let the professional handle it’ that it has crept into my subconscious. Even with what I have learned from my dad growing up, I would still always verify that I was doing the right thing as I was doing it. After the adventure of replacing my washing machines broken rubber seal I learned that aside from procuring the part, I could pretty much do the repairs. In Albania the professional is often busy, out of town, or has their phone disconnected. It’s also 6 hours time difference from my family and I can’t wait until 12pm to fix a leaky faucet, replace a broken drain, or trouble shoot a faucet that no longer properly turns. In Albania the training wheels are gone; you are your own best resource; and that has given me a lot of confidence.
As I look at this assortment of hardware I realize how much I’ve been able to accomplish for myself, by myself. I have become my own advocate. I’ve learned not to accept whats given to me if it’s not appropriate. Armed with and swiss army knife, a weatherman multi-tool, and a budding friendship with the hardware store guy I have been able to tackle 90% of my apartment problems on my own (i couldn’t fashion a new washing machine part by myself sadly). From replacing a faucet where I had to take out the mirror (It was really heavy, and I was certain I was gonna shatter it into a million sparkly pieces) and unscrew several hardware pieces to address the problem, to simply resorting force flushing a lackadaisical toilet, I’ve learned to handle the inconveniences that life throws at me with thoughtful action. When my landlord’s phone is off I take it as a sign that I am in charge and contact someone who might have the parts I need to fix the issue. Often in Albania if you want something done quickly, you are going to be the one who does it. To my landlords credit he seems perfectly happy with this set up and when I give him the rundown of the numbers for what I have fixed and replaced he’s more than happy to subtract that from the rent. When you take away the mental block that someone else must be in charge, life becomes much simpler. I have Peace Corps and my rag-tag apartment to thank for my new-found confidence in home repair.
P.S. I now have a spare shower hose which I feel like might become a health prop for a lesson but I’m not sure what that lesson is yet. It’s too cool and weird to get rid of!
And I’ve learned that you can borrow an adjustable wrench from the hardware store and that its called a Çelës Anglisht (English key) in Albania or Çelës Frëgjisht (French key) in Greece if you wanna start a fight in the store.
*With the amount of caffeine I’d ingested I was just happy I hadn’t given myself a heart condition (The instant coffee fell all at once into my already made hot chocolate…it was a tough decision but I took the risk).