When All Else Fails, Switch Labels
Day 011 – August 2, 2011
Those of you with good memories may well remember that back on Day 001 of our adventure in Peru, a mere ten days ago, I noted that the hot water was not working for our children’s bathrooms. For the past week and a half, we have indeed been using a lone shower for the five of us (not all at the same time, mind you).
Today was the day for our salvation as a gentleman hired by our landlord would be coming by to remedy the situation.
Manuel arrives at 10:00am exactly as he said he would and I take him around to our water heater. I explain to him, as best I can in my halting flailing Spanish that el agua caliente no trabaja (which I found out later is not how to say the hot water is not working). He dutifully inspects the object by touching the pipes, muttering to himself, and scratching his chin almost like a rabbinical student musing over some Talmudic metaphor. He then asks me where the other water heater is.
I explain helpfully that, Hay no otra cosa (“There is no other thing”). Not believing me, Manuel walks around the breadth of our home looking for the obvious 2nd water heater. A house this size, he thinks, must have another water heater.
But, it is not to be found as it truly does not exist.
I take him into the house and into our boys’ bathroom to show him how the water is cold when it comes out of the shower head. I turn on the right hand tap labelled “H” and prove to him that the water is and will always be cold as we wait while only arctic liquid issues forth.
Manuel next does something that you just cringe whenever a handyman does it. He giggles. Manuel turns off the “H” tap and explains, as best as I can understand him, that in Peru, the hot water tap is on the left hand side.
I counter in this Bathroom Debate that the other tap is “C” which means cold in English and frio in Spanish.
Manuel wins the Debate by turning on the “C” tap, waiting five minutes, and then showing me that, indeed, the water that is now coming out of the spray nozzles is tepid and then hot.
Again, I explained, as best I could using broken Spanish, pantomimes, doodles, and even a few puppets, that in the United States, the “hot” tap is also on the left-hand side.
Without a true command of the language, it is extremely difficult to convince a true speaker of the tongue that you are not a lunatic. With only simple nouns and verbs at my disposal, there simply was no way to tell Manuel that we had indeed tried his solution of using the left-hand tap. However, I did what I could to press my point that I was not a dullard when it came to simple bathroom taps.
Manuel did listen patiently and when I came to the point where I stated in italics that “H” meant “hot” and “C” meant “cold”, I knew he understood that, because he quickly, quietly, and efficiently simply pried loose the “H” and “C” labels from their taps and switched them.
There, he seemed to say, Welcome to Peru.
Epilogue: We should have been happy, but this would not be the end of our hot water issues. That is a tale that is on tap for another post.