Sunday, March 25, 2012

A day without water

It wasn't the first time that no water came out when I turned on the tap. So I wasn't too worried when it happened again one night. Probably someone, working on something, turned off the lever at the meter, in front of the house, and forgot to turn it on again. I'd get by until morning when I would be able to flip it back on, and check to see the dial spin and the numbers tick over on the display.

But the lever at the street wasn't shut off, and the dial didn't turn when I opened and closed it a few more times.

It was tinaco time.

When something's wrong with the water the usual thing is to climb up on the roof and check the water tank, or tinaco. Everybody has one. The city water is pressure-fed to the tinaco, and from there it is gravity-fed into the house. That's one reason why the water pressure from taps in Mexico isn't always so great, unless it gets a boost from a pressurized system and pump.

Of course I didn't think about the tinaco too much before now.

Dragged the ladder out of the closet, leaned it up against the roof, climbed up, dragged the ladder onto the roof, carried it over and leaned it against the tinaco, which at our house, is on a concrete stand 1.5 meters high. That's so water will flow with sufficient pressure into our nearby solar water heater. At the top of the ladder you twist off the lid of the tinaco and yes, there's nothing in there you'd want to come out of your taps. There's a lot of sediment in the couple of inches of water on the bottom, and a dead gecko. Good thing we don't actually drink this stuff.

Several helpful people will go through the same exercise through the day, and all of them know more about tinacos than me. They'll check the float valve that controls the shut-off when it's full, and the pvc pipes that lead from meter to tinaco. A few theories will emerge: float valve might need replacement; sarro buildup in the pipes,  the seasonal reduction in water pressure as heat, and consumption, rises. The municipal water company sends four workers to check it out, and they tell me the tinaco has to be lowered from its perch, or else I will need a second tinaco, or a cistern, and a pump to get the water up into the main one. At least I'm pretty sure that's the gist of it.

At the end of the day I still have no water. I am dirty and tired from climbing ladders and standing in the sun. I'm in a strange kind of limbo, a little uncertain about who to call to deal with a problem that is surprisingly difficult to conclusively pinpoint. I put out a couple of requests, and wait, and feel increasingly sorry for myself.

Times like this can be terribly discouraging, when you've been thinking you can get along okay in another country and another language, putting down roots and making a home for our eventual dotage. It feels like punishment for all my bravado; a big cosmic kick in the ass.

Tomorrow will be better. I thought of a way to get water from the street-front tap into the tinaco by hooking them up with the garden hose, after a cleaning, of course. So if it works, we'll have water, even if we don't have a solution yet.

Update: Overnight, the tank quietly refilled. In the end it looks like someone might have forgotten to turn off the hose while watering the plants the day before. I fished out the dead gecko. There hasn't been any further problem but we'll see about getting that cistern and pump at some point in the future.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Exorcising ghosts

The microwave light flickers on and off. The plate turns, the motor hums, but the food doesn't heat. Unplug and move the appliance off its shelf, and discover a small pile of dried ant corpses underneath. Although they are no longer climbing the walls in great numbers, clearly our ant invasion continues.

Time to stop dilly-dallying. Call a nice-sounding extermination company found on the internet, Ecologia y Plagas. (Well, the ecologia part sounds nice. Plagas sounds pretty scary, but we try to ignore that.)

I feel great pride at arranging the appointment on the phone in Spanish, including questions about the type of chemicals used, and precautions that are needed. Phone calls in Spanish have been difficult in the past, so this must be progress. However when I call back to change the appointment time, a different employee on the line insists on switching to English. I guess some people have a lower tolerance for gibberish.

At exactly the appointed time, Javier the exterminator arrives. Everything in the house that can fit in a plastic bag or bin, or in the fridge (even empty containers) is bagged or stashed. Javier is a lovely young guy. I forgot to ask about taking his picture. It would have been nicer than more pictures of bugs. He starts with a plunger tool that is bigger than a syringe but smaller than a caulking gun, and dabs a bit of clear liquid near the electrical outlets where the ants come and go. Soon the ants are crowded around it like guests around the pulled pork spread at a Nebraska wedding.

Javier explains that the ants will eat the liquid and take it back to their nest, and within four days, they'll all be dead. This is when I show him the three different kinds of ant bait I brought from Canada, which are all supposed to work the same way. One of them was popular with the ants, but clearly didn't deliver the knockout.

Javier checks the contents on each one and points to the illustrations on the package. This one, he says, pointing to the sugary one, is for black ants. Another is for fire ants (yes they have them here in Merida, he says.) The third one, I don't quite get the name of the ants, but they aren't my ants. My ants are hormigas fantasmas. Ghost ants.

I was weirdly delighted to hear this because La Princesa is far too interested in those ridiculous Ghost Hunter type shows, even though she claims not to believe a bit of it. I am thrilled any time I can tell her anything about Merida she might find even remotely interesting, although perhaps this will be a stretch.

Anyway, I'm fascinated, and I have learned many other Merida-dwellers also find ants to be a compelling topic of writing and reading. It's like talking about the rain where I come from.

Javier explains, as he dabs around more outlets, that the ants attack the wiring because they're drawn to the sound of the electricity, and they will completely destroy appliances such as the stove, the fridge, and the microwave. As returning readers might know, they already wrecked the nearly-new fan in our kitchen.

After all the dabbing is done and the ants are gathered around the delicious poison, Javier gets out his spraying apparatus and starts soaking the walls and windows and corners with another chemical. This is where I get out of the house and stare blankly at my 501 Spanish Verbs book for a little while. It's hot out there, but there is shade, and the symphony players who live in the house behind us are practicing, so it is like a private concert, just for me. I am thinking we need to get some outdoor furniture and start spending time out there.

Soon the spraying is done and there are ant bodies everywhere on the floor, below the spots where they had been enjoying Javier's treat. When I come back from my endless errands after about an hour, more ants have come out of the walls to begin dining again at Javier's dabs on the wall. So I guess they're the ones who will poison the nest. What drama!

The treatment is done, I pay, and if we repeat it in a month, there's a six-month guarantee that we won't have ants. For those of you who care as deeply as I do, I will keep you posted.