That means that she is going to take something else from the house.
Nearly 10 months ago, I moved into a beautiful, fully furnished home that needed a bit of love. It had potential but had clearly been in the hands of a Paraguayan male for the last six years. (No cruel stereotyping intended; women in my town make sure that their males never have to clean a thing.) I immediately got to work sweeping cobwebs from the ceilings and chairs, de-gunking the sinks, scrubbing the floors and so forth. Right when I got comfortable, the Mother of the owner decided she wanted to start visiting me. In doing so, she would critique my cleaning habits and carry things out of the house with her.
“There were two of those cloths, weren’t there? I’d like to take those with me.” She was taking the table cloth right off of the table. This is after deciding that she wanted a dresser, a coat rack, the electric oven and the wooden table it sat on, four chairs from the living room, four from the storage room, and three from the kitchen. I rented the house as fully furnished and she was beginning to un-furnish it.
Had the price of the house not been so amazing, I might have gotten angrier sooner. As inexpensive as it was, I didn’t mind her taking the dresser, electric oven, and four chairs from the storage room because I wasn’t using those, anyway; yet when it came to things that I was actually using I began to feel a bit touchy. She had me pour water out of jug so that she could take the jug with her!
I am an American. Not an Andrew Jackson-with-the-Cherokees American but a modern American: good price or not, an agreement is an agreement. When I made an agreement with her son to pay $200mil guarani for a fully furnished house that is exactly what I expected. If she would like to start un-furnishing the house, the price needs to decrease. It seems only fair, especially after I went out of my way (or out of my mind) and offered to pay the electricity bill, which her son had forgotten to charge me.
Anyhow, those are the sorts of cultural problems I run into here with a higher frequency than in the States. Agreements and contracts are like water here; they simple evaporate over time. Back home, broken contracts mean fees or lawsuits. I’ve only been out of the States ten months and my mindset hasn’t changed. I don’t like to change agreements without a fight, especially when I’m the one being placed at a disadvantage.
“Sabes qúe, weren’t there six chairs instead of five?”
There might have been six chairs six years ago. Who knows what your son did with the missing chair. “There were only five when I moved in,” I replied, the same smile plastered on my face that I’d been wearing since she arrived a half hour ago.
She left to pick some mandarins and my mind began to race. What is the nicest way to go about protecting my rights? I had to be nice but not a pushover. I had to be firm but not rude. When she returned, I was waiting with a notepad and pen. “I would like to make a list of the things that you’d like to take with you so that I don’t forget.” She rambled off the list, nearly a full page in my notepad. I continued, “If you would like to take these things, there is no problem. However, when I talked to your son we agreed on the price of the house furnished. I will have to talk to him again and change the price because now the terms have changed.”
She didn’t like this suggestion. We went back and revised the list, permitting me to keep the things that I used most. I understood her perspective: her mindless son rented out her house for a ridiculous price. She also needed to understand mine: I received a great deal on a house and now I am unwilling to change the terms.
We discussed it like grown women should. In the end, the price remains the same and I keep the items that I am using (she will borrow the chairs for 1 week in October for a church meeting and then return them). I felt much more at peace about the situation and, without my prompting, she said that she did, too. I walked away feeling like this lady was simply a businesswoman looking out for her own interest, yet not at the expense of my well being. I respect her.
This little lesson taught me two things:
1.) Never be afraid to stand up for myself in a way that is kind and dignified.
2.) Things don’t always turn out terribly.
I’ve gotten into the bad habit of imagining the worse case scenario for everything. I deceived myself into believing that I was only self-protecting and that if I imagine the worse then the reality won’t seem as bad. The truth, I was thinking in anti-faith, which is counterproductive.
Well, what can I say? I got my hopes up that the woman wasn’t a complete nutcase and that we’d have a functional relationship. How unfortunate.
Today, her son arrived to remove a ceiling fan from one of the rooms. Last week, they arrived with a truck and removed the outdoor bathroom. They took everything but the concrete foundation, carrying away the toilet, the shower, the sink, the light fixtures, the wooden walls, maybe even the dead spider that rested in the corner because he wasn’t there last time I looked.
They’re great about keeping their promises regarding what they want to take out of the house but miserable about keeping their promises regarding home improvements, such as mending the leaking roof. There are rain showers in the living room and a small stream in the kitchen.
“We will find someone to fix the roof,” said her son. “My dad or some neighbors can do it,” he assured me when I moved in.
That was months ago.
“We cannot change the entire roof, but we can patch the leaking parts. That will cost less,” the dueña said comfortingly.
That was seven months ago.
One month ago I was told nothing could be done because everything costs too much. Today I was told the real reason was because it would look ugly to have one part of the roof covered with new tiles and one part of the roof covered with old tiles.
“But the water damages everything,” I explained. “If you don’t fix the roof now, later, you’d not only have to fix the tiles, but replace the wooded beams and the floor because the water is destroying them.” I pointed to examples.
The son, who was at the house with an uncle to remove a ceiling fan, observed and nodded. Then, when a spineless, apologetic smile and a childish tilt of his head, he explained, “I don’t have the money to do anything. And right now, we only have money to change the windows.”
Oh yeah, the windows!
So the windows themselves aren’t bad. They’ve got great wrought iron bars, and are quite large and picturesque. They want the change the shutters, which are admittedly rotten and fallen apart.
Priorities, people? Instead of saving the money from the shutters to add to the funds of fixing a leaking roof that is slowing eroding the rest of the house…you just want to fix the shutters, which help nothing, prevent nothing, and add little aesthetic value to the house. Really? And what am I paying rent for, exactly? Why not use the rent money to fix the roof?
Oh yeah, the church’s anniversary.
Apparently, every year, la dueña has family and friends from all over the continent (really?) come to Paraguay to celebrate the anniversary of the Pentecostal church. Every year, then, she repaints her house and spruces it up. I suppose she is using the rent money to pimp out her house for this year’s celebration. Spending over 1.5milion guaranies for a three day event and letting your investment, a home, fall apart. Hmmm…
Am I just being culturally insensitive or does none of this make sense? The money used to replace the custom-made wooden shudders could be used for the materials to patch the roof. We wouldn’t need to pay for labor because the dad or the neighbors can do it, remember?
I wanted to stop this “I’m just being culturally insensitive,” sensation and went to neighbors for help. If they thought things were just as unreasonable, then I’d certainly feel better that the dueña was the only certifiably insane person in the situation.
Ña Juana cracked a peanut and popped it in her mouth. She had listened carefully as I explained the situation, and now I awaited her response. “You are right. If they wait, they will have to fix the roof, and the floors, and the humidity will possible damage the walls so they will need to fix those, too. I don’t know much about costs,” she ate another peanut and played absent mindedly with the shell, “but I know they could’ve fixed the roof with your rent money by now.”
I asked if they knew anywhere else I could rent. I admitted that I didn’t want to deal with this family anymore.
“Talk with Blanca,” she suggested. “Her mother-in-law has a house free. It’s her daughter’s house but her daughter is working in Spain. Maybe you can move there.”
I talked to Blanca during the initial months of my home search. Why didn’t she mention the house, then? I know for certain that her sister had been in Spain long before I got to town. I also asked Blanca if the dueño was a good guy and she co-signed that he was.
Whatever. “I will talk to Blanca,” I sighed. Then I tried to smile and add more energy to my voice. Ña Juana had tried to help me as I asked, and I was thankful for her insight. She confirmed that I was not a crazy American. La dueña’s logic did not make sense, and I was not being treated fairly and I had every right to feel uncomfortable with the family.