June 23, 2010 Home Remodeling – The Russian Way

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

As I have written before, mother’s apartment in Premalka has no water during the summer. The main water tower fell down in a storm years ago, leaving very little pressure in the lines. Even on good days, the water pressure is pathetic.

During the summer, everyone waters their gardens all day and there is NO water left to get the second floor of this apartment building – or much of anywhere else in the village.

The government is aware of the problem and is sympathetic. In fact, the federal government sent money for a new tower several years ago. There is still no new tower, but the mayor was able to afford several expensive trips to France to watch soccer games.

A workman that we hired recently works for the water department. Dimitri says that the remaining tower is in such bad shape that you can stick a finger through it. He and the other workers spend a lot of their time patching it up.

He says that the republic (equivalent to a state) gave them money last year to replace the tower. He says that he is still fixing the old one, has not seen the new one, but has noticed that the manager of the water district is making good progress on building his new house.

There is a little water in the middle of the night if you go to the basement, but there is too little pressure to get it up the stairs, so mother and my wife have been trudging down the stairs with buckets and bottles to fill up with water at night.

Showers here are whores baths. (For those of you who have not heard the phrase, it refers to the fact that there were no showers in fancy French brothels so the girls stood in a tub of water to bathe between customers), and clothes washing is a hand powered affair.

A few days ago, I was wandering through the bazaar and saw that there were several places selling water pumps for homes that use well water. With a little encouragement, Larisa’s mother phoned a man who works for the water department and found out that I was certainly not the first person to have the idea of using one in Premalka. In fact, the man in the apartment below us had a water pump installed in his bedroom.

I asked why we didn’t’ call one of the professional plumbers in the phone book. They pointed out that there was NO phone book. No Yellow pages; just a small white pages that no one had ever looked at, and don’t even ask about the newspaper ads. No one in his/her right mind would hire some stranger to work on their house.

Larisa also said that every plumber in town who know anything worked for the water department. I gave up.

Dimitri came over the next day and did it the Russian Way,

He looked at the problem and said that he knew how to fix it. He gave us an estimate of 11,000 rubles – about 8,000 for the parts and 3,000 for his labor. To get the perspective, the dollar is about 30 rubles, so he was talking about $250 for the parts and another $100 for him and his assistant. Frankly, that was a lot of labor for $100, but Dimitri works full time for the water department for about 6000 rubles a month – less than $200, and he makes, he says, about 20,000 more doing part time work.

As soon as I agreed to the price, we were off and running. It was 3:30 in the afternoon, late to do business in Prochlodney as the bazaar closes a little after 1:00. Not to worry, Dimitri knew where everyone lived.

Our first stop was at a home down a dirt road (most of the roads in Premalka are dirt) where we were met by a man who had pump waiting on his front porch and two more visible beyond his open front door. Dimitri said that the man had a store, but that he kept all the “good stuff” at home. The pump was about a grand more than we estimated and I assumed (wrongly) that Dimitri and his friend split the extra later.

Then back in the car and down another dirt road. The next man was a plumber with a Russian Work Truck in his driveway. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a Russian work truck is an old Lada (like a 1972 Fiat) with a rusty roof rack on the top and thirty or so 20 foot lengths of plastic pipe drooped over the roof rack and tied to both front and back bumpers. There were boxes in every inch of space, passenger seat, trunk, back seats, and tied to the roof rack. From the many boxes, parts began to appear and be laid out on the driveway as Dimitri and his friend laid out the job like the medieval masons who worked by making full size drawings on the floor and cutting around the lines.

T-joints, elbows, slip joints, valves and pipes came together. At one point Dimitri’s friend held up a part and asked me what they call it in English. It was a slip joint with one metal end that screwed into the pump and a second end that was plastic and was the receptacle for the plastic pipe. When I told him, he laughed and said “Russian call it an ‘American’”. Male humor changes nowhere.

I paid him another grand. I figured that the parts were worth 700 rubles and that I got 300 ruble “American discount”, but it was still under thirty bucks and cheaper than Home Depot.

The third stop surprised me. It was a brand new and well stocked electrical store with a variety of fuse boxes and fittings. What it didn’t have was a sign. It was a brand new modern store on a major road with no way to know what was inside. To install the pump, we also needed a new fuse box as the old one was a communist era two line 5 amp box. Dimitri asked for a minimum sized box smaller than any I have ever seen before, and I upgraded it to larger box for about 30 dollars more.

The last store was a regular hardware store for wire, plugs, staples, and so on. Larisa says that when we came in, the clerk in the back saw Dimitri and said something on the order of “Here comes the smart ass again” I guess that I should mention that Dimitri does not ever stop talking. I think that he has learned to speak even when he is inhaling.

Back to the apartment about 5:30 and Dimitri got to work. None of this “I’ll schedule it and call you later” stuff. By 8:30 the pump was plumbed in and working on a temporary electrical line. Dimitri couldn’t install the new electrical panel until the electric company came out to remove the official seals on the old one.

He came back the next day and installed the new electrical panel. He does nice work for a man who never stops talking.

Two Days Later –

Well, the pump is in. We spent $410 and got wonderful water until the rains stopped. When it rains, no one waters their crops and there is water left on this end of the line. When the rain stopped, we got wonderful water from 2:00 am to 5:00 am, and a dry pump the rest of the time.

It turns out that the problem is the feed pipe. There is a water pipe along the bottom of the basement that has water almost all of the time. This is the pipe that Larisa ’s mother was getting water from. The pipe that normally feeds this apartment runs across the top of the wall and rarely has water.

Dimitri, the plumber, was over today and offered to move the feed pipe to the better water pipe. Mother threw a fit. She said that the neighbors would sue her if she tapped into the common pipe.

Dimitri reassured her that it would not make any difference to her neighbors; they would have as much water as usual. Mother was adamant, almost screaming No NADA (No way.) We finally got the truth out of her. She is terrified that the neighbors will be jealous and hate her if she has water and they don’t.

Larisa said to her, “Anton’s mother” (a neighbor in the identical building next door) “has a pump. Does everyone hate her?”

“Yes, everyone hates her! I hate her. She has water and we don’t!”

At least we have water from 2:00 to 5:00 am and on days when it rains. And it runs real strong when it runs. *** Update July 2, 2010. While working on a sewer problem in the yard, a workman discovered today that the water in this building was partially turned off a couple of years ago. There was an accident in a parking lot about 75 yards from the building and the fire department turned off the water to here while they fought the resulting fire. When they left, they only turned in back on part way. In all these years, no one ever bothered to check it. He opened the valve all the way and while the water pressure is still very low, we have water most of the time now. You can’t beat the Russian government workman – but you often want to.


One Response to "June 23, 2010 Home Remodeling – The Russian Way"

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