Here, light! There, no light! Why? I don’t know.
Shortly after our adventure with plumbing, we had another issue with the electricity in our apartment, but this time it was self-inflicted. While Ben and I were at another visa meeting, Jessie decided to get some cleaning done. She moved from one room to the next, and when she got to our bedroom, she took the sheets off the bed, grabbed a new sheet to put on, and whipped it through the air in the hopes of landing it nicely on top of the mattress.
Well, above our bed, hanging rather precariously from bare wires, is a ceiling light which, as Jessie whipped the sheet through the air, was just barely tapped by the sheet. Suddenly the lights went out and a car alarm sounded outside.
Due to the fact that a car alarm went off at the same time, we weren’t sure if the loss of power was actually caused by the sheet touching the light fixture or if it was a bigger issue.
Since I was gone in a meeting, Jessie ran around the apartment and did a quick catalog of what was going on, which outlets worked and which didn’t, which lights worked and which didn’t, and sent me a text message letting me know what had happened.
When I got back, we looked all over for a breaker box, because it seemed like an issue with a circuit breaker just getting flipped when Jessie snapped the sheet over the mattress. The closest thing we found was in the hallway and securely locked closed. We tried all our keys, but none worked. Then I tried knocking on our neighbors’ doors, but no one was home. Finally, I grabbed a screwdriver and tried prying the door open, but that only succeeded in bending the metal frame. Not so successful.
With no way to get at the breaker box, we decided to go to the mall to buy some extension chords, and then in the morning, I would call either our landlord, who speaks no English and was currently on vacation in Bulgaria so would probably be very little help, or I would call one of our friends we’ve met in the city. This problem was proving too big for us.
Alright, so I headed to the mall for extension chords and, outside our apartment, sitting on a bench with the other old ladies who know everything about everyone in our building, was Adela, my favorite neighbor who has rescued us time and time again from the idiosyncrasies of living in Bucharest. She speaks no English, and our Romanian is terrible, but she’s very patient and she seems to enjoy helping us poor foreigners out.
So I walked to Adela and began probably the most awkward conversation of her life. Here is the translated version:
Me: “Adela, I have a question.”
Me: “In our apartment, we don’t have light.”
Me: “Is everything building no light?”
Adela: quizzical look
Me: “Every apartment no light?”
Me: “Our apartment no light.”
Me: “Some.” And this is where I started motioning wildly. “Here, light! There, no light! Why? I don’t know.”
Adela: “I don’t understand.”
Me, repeating, this time with even more exaggerated hand motions, “Here, light! There, no light! Why? I don’t know.” And then, to make sure I would enlist her help, I pitifully added, “And Marian [our landlord] in Bulgaria.”
Adela: “Marian in Bulgaria. Aaaah…” Then she made a weird wavy motion with her hand and asked, “[A word I don’t know] works?”
Me: “I don’t know [said word I don’t know].”
Adela, repeating the same weird wavy motion: “Works?”
At this time I took a chance and assumed she was asking if the outlets were working.
Me, making a similar wavy motion to represent the outlets, but slightly adjusting it for my tastes: “Here, it works. There, it doesn’t work.”
Adela: “I understand.” Then she asked something about “hours” that I didn’t understand
Me: “I don’t understand.”
Adela: “How many hours no light?”
Me: “From morning.”
Adela, with a slightly concerned look: “And mother and kids are at home?”
Adela, her face lighting up with a new mission: “OK. Five minutes.”
Then she disappeared and I waited outside by the old women. Five minutes later, she came back and said, “Come on, hurry! Go upstairs!”
Adela had found an English-speaking man in our building who came by and showed us where the breaker box was (not where we had thought). He flipped a breaker, we had electricity again, and we were once again grateful for old ladies willing to help us figure out life in Bucharest.
We did a lot of international student ministry in the States, and if I believed in Karma, I’d say that was a good thing, because being on the mission field, we’re now the international students. We’re the ones who don’t understand much, can’t get around without help, can’t communicate clearly, and keep doing and saying awkward things that don’t make much sense. Every day is an adventure.
I remember one student from Saudi Arabia who lived with us. His first day in America, he didn’t know anything about life in the United States and didn’t speak any English, so when the taxi dropped him off, he held a cell phone to my face: “You talk. Friend. Speak English you.” It was his friend from Chicago who spoke more English than he did. He introduced our new guest and we welcomed him into our home. We had to teach him about using the toilet properly, closing the shower curtain, riding the busses, staying away from the bad neighborhoods, everything.
Pretty similar for us here.