Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Am I Wrong to Complain?

I am spending today in Amman's airport waiting for my flight to Tel Aviv.  I am going to visit friends and new babies in Jerusalem and have a nice, relaxing break for a few days.  And even though I'm on vacation, I'm having a bit of a hard time calming down after events this week.

Sometimes I feel like all I do is complain about my house.  Maybe it's because I had such horrible luck with my Oakwood apartment.  I wasn't blogging much then, but I had my share of ridiculous issues.  There was no heat in the winter; they were working on the A/C (which means turning it off) during the summer.  At one point it was so hot in my seventh floor apartment that I seriously considered moving into the front lobby for a few days, dog and all.  They provided a portable A/C when I suggested that.  (And got State's PCS housing people involved, which helped a lot.)  The elevators were frequently broken or out of order, which meant frequent trips up and down the six flights of stairs (2-3 times a day) with a stair-phobic dog.  Then there was the time Hattie and I got stuck in the elevator for 35 minutes on a Sunday night.  Or the time a steel beam fell out of the ceiling and hit me in the head, knocking me to the ground.  Luckily it missed Hattie.  Or maybe the two (!) times I came home to find all of my UAB and HHE piles moved and disorganized so they could work on the HVAC systems.  And that's just what I remember off the top of my head; I know there was more.  So I'm a little sensitive about housing.

I've (mostly) gotten over the fact that my apartment here is small, has few kitchen cabinets, and the furniture is icky and dorm-like.  I can deal with that.  It's not ideal, but it's a place to live and I don't have to pay for it.  Bed bugs were something I couldn't overlook. Now that that's solved (it only took almost three months...), I am much more relaxed.

Except for this week.

I came home Saturday night to find my kitchen flooded.  The water cooler had started leaking.  Looking back, maybe the fact that I no longer could get super cold water out of it was the first sign.  But still.  Even though it was a GSO cooler, I got the compound guys to come over and unplug it (the plug was duct taped to the extension cord!) so I didn't have to walk into the flooded kitchen and risk electrocution.  They also very nicely mopped it up.  But no potable water for a couple days.  Lots of bottled water instead.  They're supposed to put the new one in today, so everything should work out.

Yesterday I came home, ready to pack and get to bed early.  As I walked into the stairwell, I was hit by an overwhelming odor.  Sort of like paint, but stronger and more toxic, like floor waxing polish or some industrial cleaner.  The floor was sticky and slippery.  So were the handrails and walls.  I made it upstairs to find my door coated as well.  I went inside hoping for relief,  but instead I walked into a literal cloud of toxic-smelling whatever.  I immediately had to throw up.  It was so bad.  I threw open windows and doors to air the place out.  I grabbed the cat I could find and took him into my bedroom, which was a bit better since I keep that door closed during the day.  I couldn't find the second cat.  I was terrified he jumped out a window when my back was turned or had passed out from the  lack of fresh air somewhere inaccessible.  After 15 minutes of frantic searching, I found him under the couch, wide eyed and terrified.  I've never seen him like that.  I managed to pry him out and get him into my room.  He ran under the bed and resumed frantic position.  I held the other cat up to the open window to let him breathe some fresh air.  He seemed to revive a bit (he'd been lethargic).  I called Maintenance.  They told me it was a fogging treatment for mosquitoes.  They seemed totally nonplussed when I explained that it was making me and my cats sick.  I rolled a towel and put it against the door to try to keep the pesticides out.  After about 10 minutes Callaghan finally came out from under the bed.  I let him breathe fresh air, and then he cuddled right up to me, obviously feeling better.  We stayed in my room for more than an hour while I let the rest of the place air out.  It was almost bearable when we emerged, and I kept the windows and screen door open all night.  This morning it was almost back to normal.  Almost.

So there you go.  I needed to get all my complaints out in one place.  And now I have to ask.  Am I wrong to complain?  Is this normal in the FS, particularly for leased housing?  Should I just bite my tongue and buck up?  I just can't imagine that there are this many serious problems everywhere.  I consider myself pretty patient and tolerant, but at this point, I've been losing my cool more and more easily.  I went to all those health/safety briefings at FSI, and my impression was that pests, pesticides, and floods in the home were pretty serious problems that would get solved in a timely manner.  Or prevented from happening.  Was that just a rosy picture of things?  I'd love to hear from some seasoned veterans about whether I'm being unreasonable.  If I am, I'll accept that.  I just have a hard time believing this is the norm.  Thanks for letting me vent.

13 comments: said...

Sounds like you lived in B Building @ Oakwood while we were there too. 7th floor was a nightmare, and no amount of bitching to management could have fixed it.

We faced the Eden Center, and as a result, south. Never turned on the heat in the winter, as our apartment was a toasty 90-100 degrees at all times. I sealed off the heating ducts, always kept the blinds closed, and kept the windows/sliders open at all times. Never could get the temperature to stabilize.

Elevator renovations sucked, climbing 7 flights with a kid/groceries/2 dogs/various permutations of the preceding items was miserable. Giving us no notice of the impending invasion of our apartment 3 separate times to do HVAC/sprinkler/windows sucked. Everything about Oakwood sucked.

Here in the Dominican, our house is nice, but it, too, has problems. Our landlord is a deadbeat, and the Embassy has been less-than-helpful in fixing some of our issues (i.e. either scalding or frigid water in the master bath, a water pump that makes so much noise and vibration that it shakes the house and scares the hell out of my son, dead generator batteries (x2), etc. It's not you, and it doesn't seem to be your post. It's just what happens when facilities needs to manage so many properties all at once with, I'm sure, little help from the landlords.

I'm hoping that our housing issues get resolved "ahora" (Dominican for sometime in the future), but better they be resolved "ahorita" (Dominican for in the next week). I'm not holding my breath....

Sadie said...

sad to hear it's not just here. oh well. I was in Building A for the entire lifespan of the renovation/upgrade project. good luck with your housing as well!

Sara said...

I was Dave and Joann's neighbor on the 7th floor in B building, and when John and I brought Simon home from the hospital two days after I gave birth, one elevator was being worked on, and one person was holding the other on their floor. I wasn't going to climb six flights of stairs two days after giving birth. Those elevator repairs were driving me crazy!

I didn't have the same heating issues Dave and Joann did though. My apartment was actually cold because of the super thin windows.

If it makes you feel any better, the apartments at the Falls Church location have been remodeled.

Becky said...

Wait, you had random mosquito toxin in your apartment? That is insane. I would have hit the roof. I realize that some countries aren't as careful about that but they should have at least told you that they were treating so you and the pets could have stayed away. Anytime they do pest control around our yard or house, we get lots of notice and keep the kids away. I don't think it is unreasonable at all to expect that. So glad you and the pets are all right.

Digger said...

I think problems can happen anywhere, but when I have had good GSOs, they have been dealt with pretty quickly. I hope it gets better!

ForeignObsession said...

So...which Oakwood location was the one with all the problems?

Connie said...

I'm sure all posts are different, but one thing that helped me with the crazy maintenance issues in Cairo (the FAC folks were sweet, but a lot of stuff broke... too often... and sometimes their 'fixes' were a bit too creative)... anyway, what helped me was having a maid. I needed her as a nanny anyway, but having her in my home, full time, had the added bonus of keeping me informed. Once, during some building-wide repairs, they came to my apartment and wanted to drill through the plaster wall... right next to all of our computer gear! My maid pitched a fit and stopped them, which allowed me to pitch a fit in the proper direction and arrange to have the workers come in AFTER we'd moved and covered the electronics. When both my kids were in school, she didn't have all that much work to do once the housework was done, but I liked having her there. If she got everything done, she'd read or watch tv.. I was 100% ok with that!

Becky said...

I think most local staff are very well meaning. They have been some of my favorite people on post. It gets hard to communicate as you have more people in the loop (GSO, local staff, landlord, us, etc.) but most stuff can be taken care of with time.

For me, inconvenience is inconvenience and not the end of the world. (Like we have gone without water and electricity before, broken appliances, stuff like that = no big deal.) I guess I reacted pretty violently to your post because it is a safety thing to me. Also because it would break my heart for you to lose one of those cats after all you've been through with losing Hattie.

Connie said...

Regarding what Becky said - I find that explaining my complaints in terms of human and/or animal safety, helps. It seems obvious, but it isn't always... I had to have latches installed on floor-level windows in an upper apartment once because my baby had no problems opening the damn things.. (WHO builds like that??!). Locally, mosquitos may be seen as more hazardous than the spray, and if a little spray is good, then a lot is even better... :p
Send them safety information on pets and the use of bug sprays, on paper or by email. What affects pets, affects kids (they don't care about adults, but kids will get them). They may still spray, but if they could keep the quantity sane, and give people advance warning so windows can be opened, etc... that would be a huge improvement.

Shannon said...

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It is found here:

If you would like the links to your site removed (or corrections are needed) please contact me. Thanks!

Shannon said...

You absolutely should complain. We should have safe places to live. Falling beams and insecticide application with out warning are not OK.

I have been told repeatedly that everyone's house here in Malawi is the same so I should just be quiet. My point is that NONE of us should have housing in this state of disrepair, just because it sucks for everyone doesn't make it right.

wellthatwasdifferent said...

YES these problems are pretty common in the third world which is where it sounds like you are. But YES you should complain. Endlessly, relentlessly, and loudly. Nothing will ever change if you don't. And, BTW, about the fogging in a house with pets with no advance notice--that is outside the box, IMO. Of course the locals aren't going to think of pets, but that's exactly why the GSO is supposed to be on top of them. Someone's not doing their job.

pillarofpeace said...

I'm at my 1st post in the DR and have been really laid back about most issues, which has served me well with the USAID maintenance folks (since we haven't consolidated yet) b/c they answer my requests rather quickly. I've only had to get on them about one thing and that was after my request for a swimming pool cover had been pending for over 180 days. According to our regs we're not supposed to have pools but the previous tenant had the cover removed. I don't want a pool and the constant dengue fever threat prevents my kids from being able to play outside plus my non-Embassy neighbors have loudly complained to us about the threat we're causing them with water collecting in the pool.
Sometimes I cut the maintenance guys a break when I know they have to work with the landlord to get stuff resolved, like when the molding around a light fixture in our bathroom just fell from the ceiling and the same thing happened in the living room. The humidity is so bad, it is really dangerous for us. I've decided to speak up more often about safety related issues and not worry so much about getting on people's nerves, which was my initial concern.