Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunday, January 15, 2012 - No comments


Any die-hard Veggie Tales fan knows that “usta” is Polish for “lip.” But upon moving to Turkey, I learned that it is also Turkish for “a man who is an expert in his trade.” Around our house, we use the word more loosely to mean “workman.” And, around our house, “usta” is something of a dirty word.

In the four-and-a-half years we’ve lived in this house, I would venture to guess we’ve had around fifty “ustas” parade through our house. Maybe sixty. Roofers, painters, window guys, air-conditioning guys, electricians, oven repairmen, washer repairmen, solar-heater repairmen, and, more than anything, plumbers. With as much lime in the water as we have here, pipes, faucets, washer parts and toilet innards are constantly being eaten up or breaking, and no matter how much lime-preventer and chemicals we dump into them, the end result is still often that we have to get them replaced. During the first few months after we moved in, we called one plumber so many times that he actually brought us flowers to say thank you for being his best customers! (Incidentally, he also had a lazy eye, and we never could tell which one of us he was talking to!)

Usta Days are kind of write-offs in terms of getting anything really productive done cuz these guys require constant attention. Not only do you have to hang around to supervise and make sure they are actually doing what you ask, but they don’t always come with things like ladders and tools, so you often have to stick around in case they need anything. You have to prepare things for tea breaks and Nescafe breaks, and order them lunch if they are around all day. Valuables are hidden, and, depending on the job, furniture haphazardly shoved out of the way. And then there is the post-usta clean-up.....

On the flip-side, the beauty of an Usta Day is that since you can’t do anything you actually need to do (i.e. visiting neighbours, working on the computer, anything that requires concentration) you now have time to do all the weird little jobs that should be done “eventually” but aren’t worth your time on a normal day. The trick is to have enough to do so that you don’t look like you are hovering (or like you’re a wealthy North American who has nothing to do but twiddle her thumbs), but nothing so involved as to steal your ability to keep an eye on them and be available when needed. Polishing the copper coffee pots, reorganizing the spice drawer, changing cupboard liners and throwing out all the leftover containers that don’t have lids are all Usta Day-worthy activities.

The tricky thing about ustas is that you never know exactly when they’re going to come. “Tomorrow” is a very loose term. We’ve had many a week where our house stayed in a perpetual state of disaster for days because the window guy who was supposed to come in the morning didn’t show up til evening when we had plans to be out, and then couldn’t come again for four more days. This makes planning anything tricky cuz you have to be home, but you don’t know for how long. And it always seems to happen that the big jobs we save up for a time when the weather is right (or the power is on) end up getting delayed and delayed until right before we have a guest coming to stay, meaning a frenzy of activity and cleaning all crammed into a few hours in order to have the house ready for company. (This is how two of my very gracious best friends ending up arriving in the middle of a new window fiasco, just in time to scrub floors and wash curtains along with me just so they’d have a room to sleep in that night!)

This week, we’d called for someone to come install an air-conditioner/heater unit in my roommate’s room (which will hopefully remedy the persistent mold problem in there), and after us having rearranged our schedule several times as they waited for parts to come in, two guys showed up bright and early yesterday morning. They were young - one in his teens and one in his twenties - but they worked hard and knew what they were doing. In situations like this one, most of the interaction is left to my (twenty plus years my senior) roommate and I stick to making and serving the tea. You know, so they don’t arrive back the next week with their whole family to ask my hand in marriage.

Yesterday, the tea must have been particularly good, because when they returned after having taken our two AC units into the workshop for cleaning, they smelled like they’d both taken showers in cologne. And when, several hours later, my room still smelled like “boy-trying-to-impress-girl,” I thought to myself, “One more reason I need to get married off soon.”

I really hope he’s a handyman. :)