Saturday, June 13, 2009

Desert Notes: Tarzan and the Carpet People

After living in a one-bedroomed apartment for nearly 5 months the Cosser family was pretty desperate to move into our villa (townhouse). Much to my dismay the villa had been left in a bit of state and required far more work than we had originally envisioned. Some of the work was beyond our capabilities, and thus began our introduction to the artisans of Abu Dhabi.

The nature of my husband’s contract meant we had very little choice in terms of which supplier we used to get our house sorted. Everything, from furniture to carpets and white goods were ordered from one company, who then sourced the appropriate sub-contractors for us. We had a similar situation in terms of maintenance-related jobs such as plumbing, electricity and the air conditioning – we had to use whoever the landlord sent over.

The first to arrive was Tarzan. Seriously. The contractor for the carpets and curtains name was Tarzan. While his team were definitely not apes, they certainly were worthy of their own slapstick routine. First they measured for the carpets. The previous tenant had left an old couch behind, and instead of moving the couch, they simply lifted the tape over it and carried on measuring. When my husband pointed out that this was likely to be less than accurate, they seemed a tad puzzled. So he moved the couch and asked them to remeasure. They were simply astounded that the measurement could be so different.

Next they measured for the curtains. They were extremely surprised to hear that we didn’t actually want the curtains to hang from the ceiling to the floor. We assured them that from just above the window was fine, thank you. Our lounge is symmetrical, with a central alcove for a wall unit, and a window on either side. This too provided amazement when it was discovered that the measurements on either side of the alcove were exactly the same. They measured three times just to be sure.

And came back twice anyway to check the measurements.

The curtains are lovely, and were done beautifully. I cannot say the same about the carpets. There appears to be no such thing as underfelt here, and the carpets are glued to the floor. Needless to say there are glue spots all over the carpet. The carpet had to be cut to fit some rooms. The chap used his foot to hold it down as he cut, and managed to cut the shape around his shoe too. Instead of straightening it, he simply cut the other piece to match. So now we have a shoe-shaped line in the kids’ bedroom carpet.

Next came the electrician. He was to replace the light fittings that had been removed, and to check some plug points as we had noticed scorch marks around the sockets. My husband nearly collapsed when, instead of using one of those multi-meter jobbies to check whether there was power, he simply stuck a screwdriver into the socket. Fortunately he did not electrocute himself, because the electrician happens to also be the plumber.

He is a far better plumber than he is an electrician. He did a sterling job of replacing the geyser. The electrician slash plumber also replaced a lock on the balcony door. His locksmith’s skills are pretty much on par with his electrical ones, as the air conditioning technician managed to break it almost immediately afterwards.

I avoid dealing with the electrician/plumber/locksmith as much as possible. Because although he this short, rather rotund gentleman is very pleasant, I cannot understand a word he says. He does apparently talk English, but his subcontinent accent is simply too much for me. My husband has to translate. I go hide upstairs when he arrives just in case.

The air conditioning technician on the other hand speaks English even I can understand. I know his name and his mobile number. He is remarkably efficient, and knows exactly what to do. He always arrives within the hour if you call. The only problem is that he never does the job immediately. He examines the problem and makes arrangements to come back the following day. At inshallah 9 or 10 am. Inshallah, by the way, means “god willing” and deserves an entire column of its own. When Nagim says inshallah 9 or 10 am, we have learnt to actually expect him at around 5 pm. Or occasionally even the next day.

Gradually our furniture started to arrive. First to arrive were the white goods. The supplier phoned us to tell us to expect the subcontractor to deliver the appliances at around 11am. They were indeed prompt, but much to my surprise, the company did not deliver all the goods at once. Instead, each appliance was delivered and installed directly by the manufacturer. This while great from a technical perspective, made for rather a chaotic morning.

First to arrive was the stove, or cooker as it is known here. While the technician was wiring it up, the washing machine arrived. As the washing machine fellows finished up, in traipsed the dishwasher and tumble drier people. Then came the fridge man, who informed me that the vacuum cleaner and TV would arrive the following day. I was about to breathe a sigh of relief when the cooker man informed me that there was an electrical wiring fault and I needed to call the electrician. I shuddered.

Our furniture arrived the following day. Or at least most of it. I couldn’t wait to move out of the apartment, and we moved our goodies ASAP, as we had enough furniture to live with in the interim.

The following day, the electrician/plumber came and rewired the stove. I was happily about to cook my first meal when there was a massive bang and all the lights when out. It was absolutely terrifying – I have never heard such a loud explosion. The electrician/plumber returned, and reset the lights, but informed my husband that he would have to now call the master electrician, because he had no idea what the problem was. The master electrician would be there inshallah 9 or 10 the following morning.

The next day, while waiting for the master electrician to arrive, I noticed a funny smell. I looked around and to my absolute horror the socket in which my tumble dryer was plugged was melting. It was actually the start of a small electrical fire. Needless to say, when the doorbell rang at 5pm I was delighted – here I was finally going to see a master electrician.

However, much to my amazement, the master electrician just happened to be Nagim, the air conditioning dude. I was about to faint in disbelief. But fortunately Nagim is indeed a master electrician, who happens to own an air conditioning maintenance place. He checked out the stove and the wiring and discovered that it had been wired incorrectly. He rewired it. It still didn’t work, and told us that the stove cable was not the correct size to handle the voltage. Then I showed him the burnt out socket, and he said it was because it was a Japanese socket and an English plug. Or something like that. He said the other electrician could probably change it. My husband did it himself.

The stove people came and took the stove away, replaced the cable, and hey presto, it still didn’t work. By this time my husband had had just about enough, and started to examine the wiring himself. Lo and behold he discovered the real problem – a rat had chewed right through the cabling, exposing the wires and causing a short. Nagim was phoned again, and finally, finally, the next day I had a fully working stove.

We have done pretty much the rest of the jobs ourselves. I simply don’t think I could cope with anymore handymen.

I swear I will never ever criticise South African workmanship ever again. I promise. And if anything else blows up in this house, I think I’ll explode too.

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