Sunday, October 18, 2009

Being "Belgium'd!"

So usually I blog about fun adventures we are indulging in abroad. And they are indeed amazing and glamorous and the stuff of dreams. Never once do I take it for granted. I pinch myself a lot to be sure it is real.

The difficult part to convey is that there is a flip side to living abroad. Not everything is hearts and roses, even to me - the eternal optimist. It takes a LOT of hard work to break through the cultural and language barriers here. Even an entire year later we struggle mightily. It has been especially challenging lately.
1) Recently we awoke and Kirk happened to glance out our apartment window and saw his car surrounded by police. We do not have a parking space and we live in the heart of downtown Brussels. We have to circle (often for up to 30 minutes) to find a spot - especially on weekends when the adjacent restaurants fill up. Anyway, this night we just happened to find a spot nearby and Kirk just happened to look out the window at his car when the police were there at 6:30 AM.
He threw on his clothes and hustled out into the cold to see what was up. It seems that someone threw a huge cobblestone from the street through the back passenger window in search of our GPS (which thankfully was not in the car). The police had Kirk go to the station and make a statement. And strangely enough they had caught the guy in our car! What a way to wake up.
2) Then this past week we had friends visiting and strangely when we turned on the stove or the washing machine the power shut off entirely. After half a dozen trips up and down from the cellar to flip the master switch we thought something must be up. We called our landlady to see who we could call to report our problem. Because she pays our electric bills, right?!? WRONG!! We have lived here for one year now and assumed the extra "charges" we pay covered gas, water, AND electric. But no. So we have come to find out that a year later we will be receiving the 12 months of past due electric bills (gulp). And if that weren't enough they have put a "limit" on our meter. When our meter starts spinning too quickly (meaning we are using too much power) the electricity shuts down altogether. Translation: no stove, no washing machine, no dish washer - only the bare minimum. We spent all day Thursday and Friday trying to muddle through the French and Dutch-speaking electric company phone trees and operators - without much success. We did manage to set a contract with the electric company for past and future bills, but as for taking the limit off our meter? Oh that will take several weeks they say. WHAT?!?!?! WEEKS?!?! I am trying to brace myself for weeks without a washing machine, microwave, dishwasher and stove but it does not settle well. Especially since Monday is P-Day (Potty Day!) --- we are planning to throw out the diapers. Oh me. I see many a trip to the laundromat in my future.

3) And then last night I was walking in from the car with a sleepy Connor in my arms after circling for 20 minutes looking for a parking place. I could not see directly in front of me with a sleeping child nuzzled up close. And then poof. I fell knee-deep into an uncovered mini-manhole. Boom. Both legs were injured and I struggled to cradle Connor as I fell to the ground. Thankfully I came away with bruised and cut shins and that's all. And Connor is fine. There happened to be a doctor passing by who ordered ice, elevation and lots of rest. But honestly - who in their right
mind leaves an uncovered random hole in the sidewalk, in the dark and unmarked. Grrrr!

This is the dark side of living abroad. Totally unnerving and foreign. And classic examples of things that can sour an expat experience. However, I am putting on my rosy glasses and looking at it this way:

1) Kirk's car - It is not a car we own. Kirk was able to drive it to work and the "Fleet Manager"
had the glass fixed good as new by noon on the same day. No cost to us. Plus some Good Samaritan was the one who called the police as the break in was happening resulting in the thief's capture. Wow.

2) Our electricity - My goodness, at least they only limited the electricity rather than shutting it down completely after a year of unpaid bills. We still have internet, lights, and heat. And the fridge still works. We will survive. Even with poop and pee-pee 'big girl pants' we will survive. And maybe, just maybe it won't take weeks to fix. Fingers crossed. I restart my crusade on Monday with the electric company.

3) Falling in a hole - I am so very lucky I didn't break any bones or sprain both my ankles. I am not sure how I came away with only scrapes and bruises. Truly a miracle because I fell hard and fast with both legs.

A fellow expat once called stuff like this "being Belgium'd!" because it happens to all of us. I guess now I have certainly been Belgium'd! But with only 5 months left to live here, I am going to try hard to keep concentrating on the sunny side - even in the midst of the cold Brussels winter rain.


Shannon, Tony, Grayson & Max said...

Oh that is funny (I'm sorry for you of course, but it brings back many memories of myself being Belgium'd!). We had a similar incident with a utility (may have been electricity I don't remember) and we got about 6 months' worth of bills at once because they hadn't been sending them!! Life can be CRAZY over there!

Joe said...

Ha yeah I was Belgium'd by all you can eat ribs....John, by the tiny street sides and pouring rain....and Tom by the Consulate parking spots (He got towed). BUT there is a silver lining. If you want to come over and do laundry during the day, I'm basically there all day. We move in tomorrow! Give me a call or something if you want to meet up.

047 463 45 82 (I still don't know how to type the numbers here, but I know that all of those are in it.)