In my previous post, I spoke about how I was semi-homeless and apartment-hunting. Well, I have since found a place to stay and have settled in nicely. More or less. Through trial (so much trial) and error (good lord, the error), I have worked out the subtle details of living in my building. I suppose I could have asked my roommate how to handle the obstacles that I have faced over the past two weeks, but a.) he is a Chilean who doesn’t speak English, and b.) he left town the day I moved in, and is still not back.
My roommate’s name is Nathan, and he seems like a good guy. He’s friendly, accommodating, and soft spoken. He’s 32, and studying photography in Santiago. As I mentioned earlier, he’s been away pretty much since I moved in, so I haven’t spoken to him very much. I’m glad that I’ll be living with a Chilean, because he’ll help me to improve my Spanish. He already seems to think that I understand far more of the language than I really do (Or did, because I’m learning). When he first showed me around the building he explained a lot of things to me which I still don’t understand. I’d often ask him to repeat himself, but slowly, so that I could work out what he was saying. Or, if it seemed important, I’d whip out the translator on my phone to get clarity. He showed me the things for cleaning the floors (there are different types of cleaners for the different types of surfaces). He showed me the cutlery and crockery (I was welcome to make use of it all). He showed me the dish washing liquid (not sure if I’m allowed to use his, or if I should get my own. I’ve been using his anyway). He showed me the laundry room (something about a key. Not sure. I just nodded my head). He told me that he was going to visit his family up north for a few days (when is he leaving? How long will he be away?). He showed me his potatoes (I’m allowed to eat those, since he was going to be away for a few days. I think). He showed me where I can keep my groceries, and where he keeps his (I think he said I could eat some of his snacks if I wanted, but I won’t take that risk). There were quite a few things I didn’t understand, but I reckoned I’d figure it all out as I went along.
The apartment itself is beautiful. It’s relatively small, but it’s open and airy and it faces north to let in just the right amount of sunlight. I live on the 14th floor, and from the lounge I get to watch the sun rise and set, and if I lean out over the balcony I get an exquisite view of the Andes. In the distance I can see the statue of the Virgin Mary at the top of San Cristobal Hill. And further to the right I can see the Great Santiago Tower, which is the tallest building in Latin America, apparently.
The apartment has a charming living space, with a glass dining room table and a sofa that folds out into a bed. There’s a kitchen with all the pots, pans, and appliances that I need, and I also get my very own bathroom. The building has a small gym, and a garden area complete with swimming pool, jungle gym, and barbecue areas. The property is only a few meters away from a subway station, so getting around is a breeze.
All in all, I’m happy with the place. Of course, there was still a lot to learn once I’d moved in. The biggest test of my survival skills came when I had to do my laundry for the first time. I remembered when Nathan had shown me the laundry room. He’d walked me to the door marked “Lavenderia” on the ground floor, said something about money, and something about keys. I thought he’d said that the keys to the laundry room were back in the apartment, and did I want to go back and get them so that I could see the washing machines? I indicated that it wasn’t necessary, since we were on our way out anyway, and I didn’t want to go all the way back up 14 floors.
Cut to: last Tuesday. My roommate has been gone a while, and I’m on my second-to-last pair of clean socks. It’s starting to become critical that I clean my clothes. I had hoped that Nathan would have been back by now to explain the whole thing to me, but I could wait no longer.
Here’s the thing. Inside the bathroom that I have to myself, there is a washing machine. Nathan had never mentioned it, and when I’d asked about laundry, he’d taken me to the laundry room on the ground floor. I was almost certain that the machine in the bathroom was broken. It wasn’t even plugged in. But the more desperate I became to clean my clothes, and the more I stared at this dormant machine every time I went to the bathroom, the more convinced I became that it would work. Surely Nathan was showing me that the laundry room downstairs was an alternative, should I need it. Maybe the machines in the laundry room were better than his own. Maybe they came with dryers. In addition, out on the balcony of our apartment there is one of those wiry clothes horses used for hanging clothes on to dry. Surely the washing machine in the bathroom worked. I resolved to use it. I had just about run out of common sense at this point, but I had just enough left to remember to buy washing powder and to send Nathan a message asking him if I could use the machine. Message sent, I took a walk across the road to fairly large convenience store to buy the washing powder. By the time I’d purchased it and gotten back to the apartment, Nathan still hadn’t replied. In my mind I already knew what his answer would be, so I set about putting my clothes into the machine, plugging it back in, and applying my newly-purchased washing powder to the process. I pushed the buttons that seemed appropriate. Lights flashed on, and water began rushing into the big metal drum.
Great. Mission accomplished. Clean clothes en route.
Moments later, I heard my phone chime. Nathan had replied. I calmly read his message.
“No. It’s bad. You have to use the laundry room. Ask the concierge for the keys.”
I calmly put the phone down and went back into the bathroom. Apart from making a small humming noise, the machine had stopped doing things. I lifted the lid and looked at my clothes. They were now immersed in about 100 litres of soapy water. It was a sad sight; like looking at a corpse in a lake. A small puddle of water had formed on the floor.
“Maybe it’s between cycles.” I said to myself. “Perhaps if I leave it for a while, it will get going again.”
I made myself tea. Drank it. Ignored the ominous hum from the washing machine.
Tea finished, I went back to check progress. The puddle had become a pool. I retrieved the mop from the balcony, and cleared a passage to the machine. Things continued to not happen. Still the machine hummed its menace.
I was running out of time. I had to take action. I began to remove my sopping clothes from the machine and toss them splatteringly into the bathtub. I saw this as progress, but I still had a drum full of water that I had to deal with. Maybe I could just let it leak out over the floor? Let gravity do the work? Then I could just mop it all up?
Well, no. That was a silly idea. I didn’t want to stay up all night watching a floor un-dry. I had to face facts: I was going to have to scoop the water out myself. I wasn’t opposed to the labour, but I rebelled against the indignity of it. It would mean admitting defeat against a dumb broken machine. How humiliating, to have to bow to my metallic tormentor. I pulled the plug to stop its laughter. A small victory.
I used the small plastic bin next to the toilet to bail out most of the water, and then I used a polystyrene cup to scoop out the rest when the water level got low enough. I poured it out into the bath, next to my sad, sad pile of clothes.
Once I’d hung my partially-cleaned clothes on the laundry horse, I decided to call it a night. I still had clean clothes for the following day, and time in the morning to do things properly.
In contrast to the nightmare of the previous evening, doing my laundry the next morning was a breeze. I rehearsed my line to the concierge, (“Quiero los llaves para la sala de lavanderia, por favor”), gathered my still-damp clothes and washing powder, and headed downstairs. As I stepped out of the elevator, a janitor spotted my bag and washing powder, and asked if I wanted to use the laundry. He then pulled out some keys, and I followed him to the laundry room.
“Quiero los llaves para la sala de lavanderia, por favor,” I whispered as he lead the way.
As he rounded the corner he stopped, mumbled something, and then shrugged his shoulders. I got there and discovered that the laundry room was already open.
The laundry room itself was like a sterile laboratory. The coin-operated machines were neatly ordered, and there were tumble dryers in the back. After the mess I’d gone through the night before, this place looked like a five star hotel. I put my clothes in to be washed, and listened to what a working tumble dryer was supposed to sound like. What a pleasant sound. I returned after half an hour and moved my clothes to the dryer. An hour later and they were done. I tried not to think about all the time I’d wasted the previous night. All I’d learn was that the washing machine in the bathroom definitely didn’t work.
So, dear reader, I’m learning. Sometimes I’ve had to learn the hard way. Other times, I just make life unnecessarily harder for myself by not speaking to my roommate first. But I’ll get there. By gum, I’ll get there.