When you move houses in our region, you have to live through all four seasons in order to find all the new place’s quirks and needed repairs. We are in our first winter in our old stone house and the quirks and issues have certainly kept us busy. As I write this, our house’s conductor for national electricity has burnt up, leaving us without power all day. Hopefully that will be remedied before sundown! The following is a list of lessons I’ve been learning while living through our first winter in this old stone house in the bazaar.
Rats. Rats apparently live in the old underground pipes, and they want to come inside in the winter and they love dry dog food. Not long ago we realized they were getting into the bag of dog food under our sink. Since we plugged all the holes in the walls (we think) they must have come through the kitchen drain. Upon inspection, we found that they had chewed through thick plastic piping in order to get to their coveted doggy chow. Thankfully, they have the same live rat cage-traps here that they had in Melanesia. And dog food proved to be the perfect bait. We caught two monstrous Rattigans and proceeded to dispose of them by drowning them in a bucket. The covering for our drain is now metal, so hopefully that keeps them out going forward.
Mice. We also caught a very cute little mouse. Unfortunately when guests unexpectedly came over, we put the toddler-named “Gus-gus” out on the roof in the cage-trap which caught him. It was a winter rain storm at the time and the little guy didn’t make it because of the wet and the cold, much to my kids’ sadness (and perhaps my wife’s relief).
Drains. The winter rains also cause the drains to stink like soggy-rodent-meets-rotten-eggs. Still working on a permanent fix for this one. Perhaps S-trap piping under the sinks will work.
Natural Gas. We are going through a regional natural gas shortage, which is what locals and we use for cooking and heaters. I realized too late that our neighborhood doesn’t have a good gas bottle exchange system and that we were almost out. In most neighborhoods, gas trucks roam slowly while playing ice cream truck melodies. But these trucks are very rare right now, even in the other neighborhoods where they ply their trade. One of the only remedies is to show up at certain gas supply stores at 6 a.m. to wait with a huge crowd of other men to get one small tank exchanged. I’m no good at the Central Asian crowd shoving thing and I covet my quiet mornings so I haven’t gone to do this yet, but may have to grit my teeth and bear it if our supply runs out before the shortage ends.
Oak Wood, TP, and Silicone. We bought a small aluminum barrel stove for burning wood for $12 so that we could heat a room in the evenings and stretch the natural gas further. We have had big piles of wood in our yard from tree trimmings and other projects. But what the locals say is definitely true. The wood of our mountain scrub oaks burns hotter and way longer than other types of wood. Get yourself some oak wood for your fireplaces, it’s great stuff. Also, stuffing TP rolls with dryer lint makes for a great fire starter! Who knew? However, you can’t seal your village stove chimney pipes with normal silicone. If you do, the whole room will be filled with smoke from the melting silicone, as happened to us on Christmas morning.
Backups of Backups. As I’m reminded every winter, it’s very wise to have backups of backups – and perhaps backups of those. This is because the government cuts way back on electricity in the winter amid the cold and the load put on the system by electric heaters. When national electricity is on, we can run as much as we need to. When it’s off, our neighborhood generator (available 1pm – 1am) is our backup. We can run 16 amps on that. When both are off or broken we have a battery-inverter system for some lights and internet (up to 1 amp). Our gas heaters serve as our back up for heat, and now our wood stove is our backup for when there’s no gas. I’m currently chewing on a backup system for hot water as the electricity hasn’t been enough for hot water in the evenings. The goal is to have enough backup systems so that when things break (as they regularly do) you can schedule a repair, carry on with your work, and it doesn’t have to destroy your schedule or cause much stress.
Long Johns and Thermal Socks. Man, do these make a difference in a Central Asian house in winter! When I first moved to this country with 120 degree F (48 C) summers, I scoffed at the suggestions I got to bring this kind of winter gear. But I have since repented of my youthful folly. I recently had a team bring over some new thermal socks, and my feet are very grateful as they walk on the cold tile.
Well, there’s my list of current winter lessons I’m learning (or relearning). We don’t usually put stuff like this in our prayer letters. And yet depending on the season these kinds of life logistics can end up being a very big part of our lives. Talk with missionaries all over the world and you’ll hear similar stories. One trip to the market is an all-day affair. One simple repair project consumes multiple days. The quest for working systems at home can be all-consuming.
It’s not glorious, but it is one important part of maintaining access and presence among our focus people groups or cities. And though I’m not exactly sure how, even dealing with rodents and the fried electricity boxes will somehow count for all eternity.