My “Super,” Kavthick. One Day at a Time Redux.
Does anybody remember that 70s’ show One Day at a Time? Remember the maintenance man (the “Super”) who was always there sometimes behaving a little less than professionally, shall we say? Remember his name? I didn’t either. I had to google it. Schneider! That was it! Kavthick is my Schneider. He’s just always there, kinda lingering, nay loitering. When we began house hunting, we looked at a few enormous villas. The idea of spending precious weekends cleaning and/or gardening just no longer appealed to me; neither did purchasing major appliances nor overseeing major repairs. I thought it would be so nice living in an apartment again. When something breaks, you don’t worry about it. You just call maintenance—that sounds so easy, right? Not in Abu Dhabi. For starters, we have these incomprehensible appliances. Case in point: our washing machine/dryer. You don’t see a very simple: REGULAR, DELICATE, SUPER, et al. Have a look:
Teka Washer and Dryer Combination. The combined tasks is mysterious enough!
This one did not come with an instruction manual and, even if it did, the instructions here generally leave you more confused than when you started. You move in, and you are left with appliances with no words, just pictures. This I understand. In a place where just about everyone is from some random part of the world, you would think pictures would universally explain how to use something. You would be wrong! In this case, a picture is worth thousands of garbled words in a language you cannot read. So, needless to say, I am having a little trouble operating my major appliances. I assumed at first that they were all just broken, because I really do not want to think myself so obtuse that I cannot figure out how to use a dishwasher. But I think I might be. Last weekend, we officially moved in. I went to clean all the dishes which were dusty from the move. Couldn’t get the dishwasher to work. I tried everything: pressed every button, turned every dial, reset it at the switch, gave it a good kick. Nothing. Nada. It was broken. So I consulted our security guard as to how to get some help. When something goes wrong you call Aldar, the property managers for many developments here in Abu Dhabi. They notify MAB who is surprisingly prompt by Abu Dhabi standards. MAB, in turn, dispatches several people out to fix your problem. You get a mixed lot of so called “engineers.”
Teka Dishwasher Dial is not as cryptic as the Washer/Dryer.
Since day one, I keep getting “Schneider” (real name Kavthick). He is a very young, Hindu kid—looks maybe 19 or 20. He is pleasant enough and speaks just enough English to not be absurdly confusing. He was dispatched to fix my dishwasher. He asked, “What wrong with your washer, madam?” I have been learning how to parse my words which is not an easy task for me. I am verbose to a fault. I relish flowery words and long clauses: here I use just simple nouns and action verbs. I said, “It does not work. It does not wash.” He looked at it quizzically and then me the same way. “Did you try to turn on?” Hmmm, this is how this is going to go. “Yes, I did try to turn it on, but it did not turn on.” He asked if he could try. He pushed the door in, pressed the power button. Just like that! It begins washing. “You see. It wash.” Well didn’t I look stupid?! “Yes. I see. It does now wash. Thank you very much. I don’t know what I did wrong.” He quickly replied with complete certainty, “You not turn on wash.” Yeah, yeah, I get it. You think I’m stupid. I didn’t even try to turn it on. Right. Stop belaboring the point. I signed his work order, thanked him and showed him back to the door. He waited there for a moment staring at me intently as though there was something unsaid, undone. I had no idea why or what. I said thank you again, goodbye and, this time, he left.
Check out this incomprehensible dial!!
Same day, new appliance woes to be had. I then tried to wash my first load of laundry. I stood back and attempted to decipher the hieroglyphics circling the dial. Nope, I didn’t understand them one bit! Those stupid little tee shirts meant to be so deceptively simple that even a child could work this made me want to pull my hair out! I could not even figure out how to turn the dial. This appliance, while probably not abysmally broken, was certainly not functioning normally, right? Something had to be wrong. I checked and triple-checked it. I reset it. Nothing worked! This time, it had to be the machine, right?! I tried to convince myself that this was, yet again, an appliance that warranted a MAB visit, and I called. A short and frustrating 20 minutes’ later, there again was the knock of my Super at the door. I opened it. “Hell-ooooo again, madam.” Kavthick said singingly and half smiling. “What is wrong with your clothes’ cleaner machine?,” he tried to say without snickering. Scratching my head, I stammered, “My clothes’ cleaner doesn’t work… I think?” with a bit less certainty this time and slight question-like lilt at the end. “Let me see this washer, ma’am. I fix.” Like a true Super, Kavthick darted to the appliance in peril. He knew right where it was. He squatted down and got to work. It took him a mere 5 seconds to assess the problem. It was, again, me. I just did not know how to use it. Another appliance, another humiliation… Kavthick turned the machine on, twirled the dial, and BOOM! Like that, it worked. Water was streaming in, clothes were circling, bubbles bubbling and all was, yet again, right in appliance land with the mere touch of his Super duper finger! This machine worked too–when he did it! I could see that he has done this before to other tenants by his extra-knowing smile. He turned his head up to me. “You see. It work. No problem, ma’am.” I put my foot down metaphorically. “No. It did not work for me. I tried to make it work, and it did not work.” He asked with eyes slit and his face all screwed up like he was trying very hard to figure out why I was such a dolt, “Have you used clothes’ wash machine before?”* He was not kidding. I replied, “Well, of course, I have used a clothes’ washer before.” My frustration oozed out of my every pore. He said, “Madam, you not use this brand machine before, no?” he queried still stooped down. “No,” I shook my head “I have not used this brand machine. “This brand Teka is very good machine. Very good,” he said pointing to the clothes’ washer with absolute certainty that this machine was not broken. I shook my head and sighed because indeed I could see again that it worked. The problem was merely that I could not work it. He bobbled his head a bunch and explained to me how to turn the dial, how to make it wash, how to make it dry, even how to make it more energy efficient. I understood bits and pieces and he made it sound easy, but I doubted I could make it work after he left the apartment.
Call Kavtchick, if you need to know how to turn something on, or you have something to give him.
He stood up, gathered his things and I, again, signed his work order. I apologized for bothering him and calling him up to “fix” yet another fully functional appliance. He said, “no problem, madam. I fix for you.” He asked if we needed help hanging pictures or curtains. I said, “maybe. I am not sure yet.” I could see in his eyes that he really needed me to say yes, we do need help with all these things, and I said it. It really was not true. Rob had no problem doing these sorts of tasks, and I think he might even be looking forward to them since this was all that he had to do around the house these days. Kavthick smiled a great big smile and said “Good, madam. Here is my phone number. Please call when you need. I make little money with Aldar. I need more money.” I took his number, said I would call when we were ready and returned his smile. We headed to the door. I said thank you for coming and goodbye and such. He stood at the door holding his things, again, kind of blank staring at me, like he was waiting for something. Yet again, I had no idea what. He said “Madam, I have only an old phone. It has no camera” (He held an old flip phone up for me to my viewing pleasure, and he pointed at it very dejectedly.) “I’m sorry, Kavthick. I have an old phone too.” I stopped myself from holding up my ancient Iphone 4 realizing there really was no comparison and that he would welcome having my old phone over his any day. He pointed at all my boxes and said, “In all the boxes from America, do you have an old phone for me to have?” I said, “I don’t know. Maybe I do. Let me open some and next time you come, I will tell you if I found one.” That must have been somewhat acceptable to him. I did have A LOT of boxes, and I am sure there was no doubt in his mind this silly American would be calling soon not knowing how to turn something on.
Expected hospitality in the oven as we speak.
That night, we went to a birthday party for a co-worker’s one-year-old adorable daughter. A lady there who has lived here a while informed me that it was de rigeur to offer these maintenance men a cool drink or a biscuit (cookie in the US). Oh, that’s what these men were waiting for? I’m sure it is like not tipping a valet or waiter. They stand there a bit waiting, finally leave and then curse you and your mother the elevator down. Now, I knew what to do!! I would be sure to have water, juice boxes and cookies at the ready every time I tried, but could not turn something on to no avail.
Three days’ later, I had the opportunity to test out this new hypothesis. The dining room light mysteriously goes out about 3 minutes after you turn it on. We tried everything: new bulbs, pressing everything in every imaginable configuration on this very bizarre switch pad, which coincidentally is not extremely logical. The next day, I called Aldar. Knock, knock, there was Schneider again. He had a big grin on his face. “Hello, madam,” He came right in knowing that there was no appliance that he could not turn on for me! He was ready to save the day again, and he did. “What is the matter, ma’am?” he asked. I replied, pointing to the dining room light fixture, “The light. This light does not stay on. It turns off.” Hmmm, he stroked his chin. He moved toward the switch pad and turned the dining room light on, and what do you know! When Kavthick pressed it, it just miraculously stayed on. Either he has the Midas touch, or I am stupid. I am just now seriously pondering the latter option. We both stared at the fixture for over 5 minutes with hands on our hips: me for it to turn off as it always used to do, and he for it stay on as it would because he knew it would. I tired of waiting for it to turn off to justify his visit. Finally, I broke the silent stalemate, and I threw my hands up in the air resigned to be wrong—again—and said “It guess it works. Thank you, Kavthick. You fixed it.”
He smiled having had to endure that waiting period. He knew he hadn’t fixed anything at all, but did that did not stop him from taking credit. He was the master of taking credit where it was NOT due, but then he did have to put up with stupid expats everyday reporting non-working appliances that are fully functional. So, we were even steven. I thanked him and started to show him the door when I remembered the whole juice and cookie bit. I said, “Kavthick, can I offer you a cookie or a juice.” He said “No cookie. What juice?” (Man of few words.) I said, “I have only apple juice.” He shook his head, and he asked me for mango juice. I said, “I have no mango juice. I’m sorry. Would you like water?” He grumbled, “Okay” and took it. “Next time, I’ll have mango juice,” I offered. He said, “Okay, next time” which he undoubtedly knew would be very soon, and he headed for the door. Before he left he was sure to work in “Ma’am, did you find old phone….”
*A new friend here just yesterday explained to me that Kavthick was, of course, not being facetious in asking if I had ever used a clothes’ washer before even though I took it that way. Here, it would be totally possible for the madam of the house to never have operated an appliance in her life as everyone (else) has household helpers. Being an American and it being the exception rather than the rule to have full time household help, I took it the wrong way. Just thought I should clarify that!!