Monday, September 15, 2008

Are you disponible?

I am a forgetful person. Which tends to haunt me in a variety of refreshing ways as I find myself in different locations around the world. In America, I've often forgotten to turn my car lights off. In India, I occasionally forgot to boil my water. In Russia, I forgot to get a legal visa. In Finland, I forgot my coat. In Korea, I forgot to bring my face mask a couple times during the yellow dust. And in Argentina, I keep forgetting the wise words of Alejandro.
Our apartment is owned by a French man named Kristoffe, but since he is in France, he has hired a local manager named Alejandro. Alejandro is a gay manicurist who upholds the Argentinian rules of hospitality to a tee. A simple phone call may easily take 10 minutes because 90% of it consists of polite words like...

Ale: So, I'm sorry about the electricity (that story later).
Me: No problem at all.
Ale: It was really unfortunate.
Me: It's okay, it wasn't that big of a deal.
Ale: Still, I apologize for it profusely.
Me: Don't worry about it.
Ale: If there's anything else I can do for you, just call me.
Me: Okay, I will.
Ale: If that ever happens again, just let me know and I'll take care of it.
Me: Okey dokey.
Ale: I mean, I'm really sorry about it.
Me: That's okay, it wasn't your fault.
Ale: But still, it was an inconvenience for you, and for that, I apologize.
Me: It's okay.
Ale: Whatever problems you have, just call me.
Me: I'll do that.
Ale: Are there any problems now?
Me: Nope, I think everything's fine.
Ale: Well, if there are, just call me.
Me: Will do.
Ale: And again, sorry about what happened...

And so on. There's a great spanish word to describe people like Alejandro, and in fact one that he uses often. Disponible. "Dis" means not. "Poner" means to put or place. For someone to say "Estoy disponible" literally means that they are not fixed anywhere, or in other words, that they are always flexible enough to be able to change their schedule to help you with anything you need. Alejandro is disponible.

And back to the electrical problem... we woke up a couple days ago and had just turned the lights and computer on and it all went out. I threw the breaker in our apartment, but to no avail. I then called disponible Alejandro and he told me to talk with the Upstairs Lady. The Upstairs Lady is quite scary. She's the type that always answers the door with her hair all in curlers and a look in her eyes that immediately transfers you back to nightmares of whatever elementary teacher happened to scold you the most. I don't have a picture of Upstairs Lady in here because frankly, I'm too scared to take one. And I don't know her name because I'm too scared to ask.

So, I cautiously crept upstairs and swallowed a few times before ringing the doorbell. She opened up and had about 100 Spanish words in the air before the door was even fully open. After trying to catch even a tenth of what she was saying, I just decided to give up and explain our situation. I think I effectively communicated it, but that didn't really help as I understood very little of her advice that followed. I hesitated and then repeated back what I thought she might have said. Wrong. So she unleashed the advice a second time, this time faster and longer. Unwilling to venture another guess, I just said, "Okay. Si, si, si. Comprendo."
I called Alejandro again, who was in the middle of a manicure, and he told me to call a certain repairman, but neglected to give me the exact number. When that turned out to be a dead end, I just went to a shop where the guys looked like they would know a number for an electrician. And they did. That's how I found Jose.

Jose was also the disponible type, even if he did charge money for his services. He worked on the breaker in our room and then asked me if I knew where the main service room was for the building. I did. He asked me if I knew someone with keys to the service room. I did. He asked me if I could get that person. I just looked at him for awhile and sipped my mate. For you see, the only person I knew who had keys was Upstairs Lady. And to make matters worse, I was pretty sure that getting Jose was NOT following the advice she had given me twice.

But I got her eventually, took a long scolding (hiring Jose had indeed been far from whatever she had told me to do), and Jose fixed it all up. Alejandro called afterwards which resulted in the long conversation you already read a small portion of. The best part about his call was that I understood 95% of his redundant Spanish which was quite therapeutic after my failure with Upstairs Lady.

Back to the original forgetfulness problem. Alejandro had told me to be sure to put the trash out between 7 and 8 every evening, or that I needed to wait until the next day. And that the trash didn't go on Saturdays. I forgot on Friday, couldn't put it out Saturday, and forgot on Sunday again, bringing us to a current total of four days. Now, I know what you're thinking. Four days trash... big deal... my trashman only collects once a week. But (assuming you are reading this from Korea, America, or Europe), there is one big difference. You have a decent plumbing system.

Do you see the basket I'm holding? Well, if you've been to Latin America, you can probably guess what it is, and if you haven't, just know that you're not allowed to flush toilet paper down the toilet. I've used this system often, but this is my first time ever actually being responsible for the changing of the basket. Point is, that responsibility should be executed daily. Enough said.

So, after some translation work to offset our apartment cost, Joo did some delicious cooking while I sipped my mate and tried to become more disponible...


  1. hehe, love the picture of "Upstairs Lady" :). Provided some good laughter at the end of my day.
    Like father like son...sounds like the Showalter men need the Showalter woman to remind them that its trash day...does Joo Yeon know that is a family tradition to remind the husband to take out the trash? I guess she will soon learn :). Love ya, sis

  2. putting the poo out in the trash, think you should get a metal trash can and have a little poo fire.

  3. Daniel, many homes in Albania also require a special trash can for used TP as their pipes are too small to handle anything other than...well, you know. There were even some homes that had a normal indoor toilet for number one (and no TP) and then an outdoor squatty for number 2 (only bonus is that you could toss TP in this). We made the cultural mistake of presuming that we couldn't flush the TP in our host home, so we were very faithfully putting it in the nearby trashcan, when our host needed to tell us, please flush it. How embarassing!

  4. oh no! That's why I guess it's best simply to adopt the Indian way and discard the need for paper altogether :)