Monday, December 13, 2010

When All Else Fails, Call in the Screaming Men

I woke up this morning to no water in the apartment. In fact no one had any water in our apartment building. It turns out that a big leak had sprung up in the building's water main, and the city had come by to shut off the water. Expecting them to return any minute to fix it, we waited.

When no returned for several hours we knew we were going to be in another finger pointing episode with the city and the Amidar over whose responsibility it was to fix it. The Amidar is like Israel's Section 8 Housing Authority. They own two of the apartments in our building; the rest are privately owned. So, when anything goes wrong in the building, the city says it's Amidar's responsibility to fix it and the Amidar says its the city's responsibility to fix it. That way it works out perfectly for everyone, except the aggrieved parties, because it's nobody's responsibility to fix it.

Only this time, it was going to be more complicated because it turns out that the leak was after the building's water meter, which meant it was the responsibility of the Amidar AND the apartment owners to repair, not the city. In any case, there ensued a round robin of finger pointing via the telephone between the Amidar, the city, and us over who was going to fix the broken pipe. Of course, we knew nothing about fixing the pipe or about getting a contractor (the dreaded "kablan", in Hebrew), which the Amidar insisted we do.

I hitch a ride to town in Gavriel's electric cart to confront the powers that be. (Imaginary music playing is the Wicked Witch of the East's theme from "The Wizard of Oz".)

Taking matters into our own hands three of us men - Gavriel, a Black Hebrew, the Old Russian Guy Upstairs, and me, the Amerikai - went storming over to City Hall (if you can call it that in Mitzpe Ramon) to deal mano-a-mano with the powers that be. We went into the Mayor's office where a secretary of obvious importance, and known to Gavriel, listened sympathetically to out tale.

So, she gets on the phone and calls Chava at Amidar, and the finger pointing starts again. Now a very well dressed woman in form-fitting blue jeans and designer leather jacket walks in and hears our tale of woe, which now includes how many children and babies live in the building, who will have no water. This really stirs the sympathies of all and with one phone call she orders the city water workers into action after saying they will work out the billing later, which is what we had been asking them to do all along.

The lady in the form-fitting jeans was the Mayor's assistant, as Gavriel told me latter, and she had cut the Gordian Knot of bureaucratic finger pointing with her phone call. This is called "protexia" in Israel, and is what you need to get anything done. The screaming doesn't help at all.

By the time we returned to the building, the water crew was already at work, giving the lie to the other bureaucratic commonplace, "It's too late in the day to find anyone to do the work." When the secretary told us this, the Old Russian Man just put his foot down and said, "We need water today," and refused to budge until assent was given. PROTEXIA!

The back hoe digs in delicately. (Click for full size.)

The leak is found at the coupling. All of this while the worst dust storm of the year was blowing, working in water with bare hands at freezing wind chill. Thank you!

Fixing the broken water main. A three man crew of Russians who knew all of the Russians in our apartment building did the work.

Let there be water! And there was water.
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  1. Robert Soran-SchwartzDecember 13, 2010 at 3:25 AM

    Protexia is etymologically fine, but in real Israeli life it's transliterated either "protectsia" or "protectzia".

    It sounds like the English word “protection” since Hebrew -tzia is the standard Israeli equivalent for English -tion.

    But the meaning of this word in Hebrew is based on the Greek táxi(s) = “arranging”, as in English taxidermy. So, the Israeli meaning of “protectzia” is “having (political,administrative, economical,social) pull, cover or influence due to direct or indirect connections in your social networks to people with power at their fingertips". Protectzia is still acknoweldged as necessary to get anything done in Israel.
    By contrast, the exact sound “protection”, as borrowed into Israeli Hebrew, means “a condom”.



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