Sunday, May 3, 2009

stupid hysterical American learns to be thankful

I lost it in a big way on Friday. We had the day off so after my run, I planted myself in the kitchen to make baby food. I steamed prunes and cooked apples, carrots, and squash. I wanted to have a store of foods in the freezer so that this coming week would be just a little less hectic. I sliced and froze a ripe avocado. I was feeling productive. The carrots were just done when I grabbed the pan handle to set them on a hot mat. A shock vibrated up my arm and I yelped. It hurt.

This has been happening all year long. If I use both burners and the oven while preparing dinner, I can expect a mild shock from the pan handles. But on Friday, while I had only the two burners on medium, the shock was significant. So I figured I'd finish the baby food using only one burner. And then I got my second gigantic shock.

I had this vision of my dad playing with electrical wiring in our old house, when I was in high school. I sat on the couch reading and he was working in the downstairs spare room which was, at different times, a catch all room, my mom's sewing room, my bedroom, and my little sisters' nursery. Suddenly there was a terrific pop and a flash of blue light. I remember telling him he had babies to take care of and he'd better call a real electrician before Mom got home.

Justin talked with Carmen. He returned to report that Carmen thought I'd done something wrong. Because, you know, there are so many incorrect ways to turn on an electric oven. And I wasn't even using it in the bathtub either. Friday was Labor Day here so no one was working. Except the cement mixer on the property next door. Carmen promised to call someone tomorrow.

And I just lost it. I marched over to Carmen and Pablo's and rang the bell long. Pablo answered, smiling. I said I needed to know that the wiring was not garbage, that I wasn't going to be killed while making baby food, and that I'd appreciate them calling someone because, clearly - I pointed wildly to his daughter's condo project rattling and churning away - it isn't a holiday for everyone. He got out his cell phone and called Javier, the guard on the construction site. Javier dabbles in electrical work. He walked back to the apartment to get shocked by the stove which didn't shock him at all. He attributed this to the fact that he was wearing shoes. Maybe I should wear rubber soled shoes while I cooked too?

I started yelling. I yelled about the noise I've listened to all year. I yelled about the leaking roof ruining the plaster by our front door. I yelled about just not wanting to die while I simmered carrots for my baby. I yelled that I didn't have the Spanish to explain anything. I yelled my own halting Spanish to show that I was not happy, in case Javier - now standing in my kitchen looking a little resigned, as if he knew it would come to this someday, a stupid hysterical American yelling nonsense - had not gathered that I was unhappy. I was very dramatic. Very, embarrassingly dramatic because I didn't stop yelling when I returned to Carmen and Pablo's front door, by which time Carmita and her family had arrived for a holiday lunch.

Pablo put a hand on my arm and told me I was very nervous and that I should go lay down. I thought of nervous conditions, I thought of pioneer women who snapped during prairie winters when a horizon could not be distinguished in the day. If only it was just that: nervous.

"No," I said, "I am angry."

And off I went. Again. Repeating that I didn't care if the apartment was old. Because I don't. I just want the wiring and the appliances to be safe. But North American and South American ideas of safe can be different. I'm not dead, am I?

I paused, taking gasping breaths. Pablo, Carmita, Javier, and Justin stared at me, waiting.

"You are very nervous," Pablo said again, "Very nervous." Maybe he meant that I was making him very nervous.

"I am so sorry for all the noise," Carmita said, "We live in Pance and the rains - the rains cause power outages and I am so sorry for the noise. It is my work though. I have to build these homes."

I took a ragged breath. Javier turned to escape and I offered an apology. " Tranquila," he replied. In the middle of it, I could see how hysterical I was being - the noise of the year, and the new baby, and the job search, and and and all crushing until one thing, a shock from the stove zipping up my arm, undid me. And in the middle of it, I couldn't stop yelling. And now that my head was clearing, my breath returning to normal, I could see just how foolish I was. Carmita called one of her electricians who came to check the wiring and the stove. The wiring, surprisingly, is fine but the stove, albeit new as of last August, is a different voltage and not grounded and that is why I get shocked. They're sending a manufacturer's electrician on Tuesday to replace the burners accordingly. I have little faith that this will really do anything.

Until then, I'll be wearing rubber soled shoes while cooking in the kitchen.

We spent Friday afternoon buying wood for a project. When we returned I went to visit Carmen and Pablo again, apologizing for my frustration and hysteria. They are good to us, really. They are kind toward Claire and toward us and they weren't angry at me. Having lived in Philadelphia for twenty years when they were younger, they understand some of the differences, particularly in expectations, of North and South Americans. And, since a couple of weeks ago a storm knocked out their security system and electrica front gate, they also understand how things build up and build up until you just cry. "I cried all last week, honey," Carmen admitted, tallying a list of repairs and bills and call backs to companies.

"We love you, honey," Carmen told me. She gave me a big hug.

And Pablo reminded me, "The Lord says to be thankful. You have so much. You have a little baby to love. You be thankful. You do not worry about tomorrow."

I walked around the house to our little apartment, humbled and much more thankful.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

i love your honesty, and your hysteria (you aren't going to get that way here, are you?!), and your embarrassment, and your apologies, and your humility, and your thankfulness, and your landlords! i love you! mom
p.s. where do you suppose you get that tendancy, anyway?

DC Running Mama said...

Well, you are not alone in having a meltdown....as my husband can attest, I have had a fair share in my lifetime that have affected unwarranted victims when life just piles up. Plus, living in another culture is really difficult. I have a friens whose husband works for the State department and she got so fed up with a country that they were living in that she packed up and left three months early. For the record, I don't think you are asking too much to not be shocked while cooking on your own d@mn stove.

jsmarslender said...

Well, I do know where I get my hysteria (thanks, Mom!) and I don't think it's too much to ask to have working appliances, but I did realize that there is much more to know/ enjoy/ concern myself with than a stove. And that when I start simmering, I'd better make sure I don't boil over on someone else. Sort of a reality check. And I worry too much. Pablo was right that I shouldn't worry so much.

DC Running Mama said...

Lets just say that there is a certain dry cleaners that I can never bring my clothes to again....I lost it there one day when they lost a brand new suit that I was getting cleaned for the first time and they accused me of lying about bringing it there. It wasn't pretty and they ended up finding my suit. I had some other stuff going on at the time that I was stressed about and I think I took it out on them. It happens to the best of us.

Angela and David Kidd said...

Ahh, the meltdown. I think it's something you have to have in order to stay sane. My meltdown was triggered when my in-laws were here and I asked David to get rid of the empty boxes taking up all of our storage space (none of his family will throw away anything) and when I came home nothing had been done (even though he insisted he threw stuff away). I lost it. I know I was irrational but I felt so much better after it was over and can laugh about it now.

But I do agree, you should be able to use the stove without having to wear rubber soled shoes. And I don't know how you've put up with the construction as long as you have.