Having moved to a remote village in the Himalayas, I’ve decided to dig in and stay as long as possible as I really love living here. However, although my little apartment is pretty good, it needed a bit of renovation. Since a lot can be accomplished for a few hundred dollars, I decided to upgrade a bit, especially since there wasn’t really a kitchen.

The storeroom has morphed into a kitchen, with a new tile floor and fresh paint on the walls; I got an upgraded Western-style toilet that you don’t have to flush with a bucket; I got a landline phone, and internet access is immanent (I hope). But none of it has been simple. And it has been incredibly piecemeal.

Nothing, but nothing, is accomplished in one go, which is a pain considering how difficult it is to get  skilled workers here. They are scarce in this part of the world, and they don’t want to bother with small jobs, or they want something extra. Most of them charge around $7-8 a day. Even with a bit extra, it’s not bad. However, even with my landlord on the case, it took three weeks before anyone came.

The painter was the first to show up. The concrete wall had once had a thin coat of whitewash on it, but from the results of two coats of paint, it was obvious that the wall had never seen a coat of primer. The paint was thin and splotchy. He was not up for doing a third coat, so I sighed and decided it would have to do.

Then the tile guy came in and took a whole day to put the tile in a 60sf space. But he didn’t put the grout in. The next day, he came and sprinkled some dry white cement around the edges and announced that it would set from the humidity within a day or so. Of course, it didn’t . . . never mind that the weather was really damp. So I ended up having to finish the job myself, sprinkling water around and smoothing it out with my finger.

Of course, in the process of putting in the tile, he completely messed up the paint job—not that it was much of a paint job, anyway. So I decided to get some paint and touch it up myself and ignore the splotchy walls. Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication with the paint supplier, I got the wrong paint, which I realized after I painted part of the wall. More discussion with the landlord put me on the right track, so I went back and got the right stuff. But by this time, it was obvious that I was going to have to repaint the whole room, as covering up the other paint resulted in a relatively even coat compared to the rest of the walls. So that meant two more trips to town for paint, as one more liter wasn’t enough.

While that was going on, the plumber finally showed up. He managed to get the toilet in correctly, which was the main goal. Of course, he made a mess of the wall where he ripped out some old fixtures (and didn’t patch the holes); and the floor now has white splotches all over it. That’s not so bad, though. I never expected the bathroom to turn out looking beautiful. The really annoying thing is that the hot and cold water taps are now two feet apart, so I can’t fill the bucket with both at the same time. I thought of trying for a single faucet, or even an actual shower, but I decided against it on the grounds that the likelihood of a plumber sufficiently experienced to accomplish such high-tech innovations here was pretty iffy. Most Indian plumbers get showers wrong. The main fault is that they tend to put it too high on the wall relative to the geyser, so that there isn’t sufficient water pressure to actually take a shower. Anyway, now he has to come back to redo that.

Meanwhile, the phone guy showed up and installed my landline. He didn’t have the little clips he needed to tack the cord to the wall, so I had to get out the duck tape to tape it to another cord. Most places in India, electrical and phone cords are not hidden in the wall, and this is no exception. He was supposed to bring the router for the Internet, but announced that it would come after a couple of days. OK. I can live with that. As soon as he left, I happily made my first call. But a little later, when I went to make a second call, no dial tone. However, if someone called, it would ring. But attempting to answer the ring was futile. It just kept ringing. So I had my landlord call him, and he said he would come back the next day to fix it—and he actually did. But still no Internet connection. Maybe next week.

The landlord feels that my tiled kitchen is very high-tech. Well, I suppose it is compared with his, which has a cowdung floor and mud-plastered walls. I quite like the cowdung floor, actually, but I could hardly ask him to put one in over the rough concrete. He wouldn’t have considered it. His wife and daughter-in-law cook on a wood fire in a fireplace, while I have a two-burner gas stove and a toaster oven, but I don’t think he was even thinking of that.

Now, anyone who has lived in India for a while is probably aware that foreigners are expected to hire out work like this rather than doing it themselves, especially if they happen to be women. In a place where there is some reasonable pool of skilled workers, that would certainly be the case. It’s a social obligation to help keep people employed if you can afford to hire help, and foreigners are inevitably thought to be affluent enough to do so. Anyway, here it seems to be OK. Of course, I have hired people for each of the jobs. It’s just that I’ve ended up doing some of the work myself—and I actually did more of the painting than the painter did.

The next part of the renovation involves the carpenter. Since I have absolutely zero carpentry skills, I expect that I won’t be doing any of the actual carpentry, though I have this feeling. . . .


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