Let’s Talk About Broken Things

by Elizabeth

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To quote the acclaimed African author Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart here.

Last month it was our internet. It was out for four days. The company finally answered our request for help and came and fixed the line outside our house. A few days later the internet stopped again, this time a broken modem — our second in this country. We bought a third.

Our electric piano broke shortly after returning from America. So did our DVD player. The piano isn’t fixed yet, but after a few weeks we found a DVD player that was relatively cheap. The label on the back says it plays all regions, same as our old one. It doesn’t. We can no longer play several beloved movies from America.

The drains are constantly overflowing. The toaster stopped working two years in, and we just never replaced it.

I’m on my fourth blender here. I had the same blender in America for 12 years. I used it for crushing ice and making frozen fruit smoothies, and it never broke. I’ve only ever used my Cambodian blenders to make hummus, but I don’t even dare to do that very much anymore. My current blender starts overheating after about 15 seconds of use.

Our fans routinely break, and currently one of the bathroom sinks is leaking. Badly. The kitchen sink was leaking badly too, but it took priority.

Last hot season the air conditioner in our bedroom broke. We had it “fixed” several times but still had to camp out in the guest bedroom most of the season.

The fluorescent light bulbs burn out, but it’s not just the light bulb that needs replacing: often it’s the entire fixture.

My laptop is on its third battery since we moved to a 230 voltage area. Third charger too. And it’s currently at the shop because it stopped charging last week. Again. The electricity here burns out appliances I guess.

I tried using our old computer to do emails, but it took 15 minutes to boot up and maybe kinda sorta shut down each time I tried to open an internet browser. Leading to another 15 minutes to reboot. . . a couple more times. I finally got that sorted out enough to open my blogging platform, as you now see.

Then today, the refrigerator/freezer went and broke on us. When we realized this — and only one day after I restocked the fridge with fresh dairy products — I leaned my head against the fridge and sighed.

Something is always broken here — usually, many things at once. And I haven’t even started in on all our van and moto problems. Like the hot season the van’s air conditioning broke. Or the rainy season we drove through standing water to get to church, but by the next week the brake rotors had rusted closed, paralyzing our poor van.

Or the radiator that leaked for over three years without a single mechanic being able to isolate the problem. Or the moto that still dies immediately after being started if it’s been, say, an hour since we last started it.

I don’t usually talk about this stuff, and I don’t say this to complain either, although it might be interpreted that way. I say this to explain why we’re sometimes so tired and why it sometimes takes us so long to fix one simple thing.

Each of these things takes time and energy in another language, culture, and infrastructure. The daily rhythm of ministry abroad is already tiring enough. Adding even one more thing to the mix is sometimes enough to topple us.

So things don’t get fixed right away. Sometimes that’s because we wait, and sometimes that’s because we have to wait on others. We’ve had a glut of broken things lately, and to be honest I’m kind of tired of it.

So here’s to the cooler that can hold our dairy products till tomorrow. Here’s to the electrician who might come fix the fridge tomorrow. Here’s to the knob in the bathroom that shuts off all the water till we can fix that faucet. And here’s to the momma who just might regain her sense of humor with Mad Libs and a movie night with her kids.

20 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Broken Things

  1. Oh yes. I remember those days well. I feel like having a sense of humor about it all was my best coping mechanism. And when you write it all out like that , it really does seem too crazy to be true. At least you can never complain about life being boring, right?;-) Still, I’m praying right now for those things to get fixed ASAP! Thanks for sharing all angles of life. It certainly gives a more complete picture to those not living overseas!

  2. So true! I think it’s become such a part of my life that I hardly notice it anymore. Right now for me it’s the television, the dining room light (more than just the lightbulb), and one of the toilets.
    The fridge though….the fridge is a major biggie. You have a HUGE amount of my sympathy for that one.

    • Yeah sometimes the other things you can live without for a while. The fridge was one of those things that we knew we had to at least hire an electrician right away! (Even if it takes a while to fix.)

  3. This is all so very painfully familiar – every day life just takes a lot more effort and problem solving. You can’t rely on your stuff to work right all the time. And even if it takes multiple visits (and the people fixing it not necessarily trained or certified to do it), at least it’s a lot cheaper to fix things in Cambodia than in America. Just one bright side 😉

    • Yeah today I woke up to a child with GI stuff on top of the broken fridge. Thankfully by the end of the day I now have a working fridge, a working computer, and my child is not as violently ill as this morning. 🙂 Plus the broken sink is fixed — and yes, thankfully labor is cheap!

  4. This is all so very painfully familiar – every day life just takes a lot more effort and problem solving. You can’t rely on your stuff to work right all the time. And even if it takes multiple visits (and the people fixing it not necessarily trained or certified to do it), at least it’s a lot cheaper to fix things in Cambodia than in America. Just one bright side😉

  5. I’ve been in that situation when we lived in Uganda 10 yrs ago. At one point we tried to find a lot of “old fashioned” tools that didn’t require electricity – hand drill, egg beater, etc. Good to know I should start making those lists now for our move next year. 🙃

    • Maybe so 🙂 I love the old-fashioned tools idea, although my hand-cranked can-openers still keep breaking (then again I do buy them here. . . ) Looking forward to seeing you again in person next year 🙂

  6. Your post caused me to walk the past in the two third world countries we lived in. The word flexible becomes such a reality and take on a depth one never gets to in a developed country. It hard to listened to stateside people complaining if the have to wait a minute for anything. They have lost the relationship aspect of waiting even when you stand in line for something. Everyone is is too busy on their cell phones. We have people tell us all the time, you guys are great conversationalist. I am thankful for ever hard place and every easy place, each one is designed to be used to draw us to Him. good post.

  7. PREACH. Good gracious here too, friend. No electricity for three days, then water that’s muddy flowing from the faucets because the line broke somewhere, then the sink pipe that burst, then the lightbulb that spontaneously fell out of the fixture, then the chunk of our ceiling that is falling off bit by bit, then the fan that *might* start whirring after about 5-10 minutes of being turned on, then the windows that won’t open or close all the way… and let’s not talk about cars. That’s a whole-nother-level of insanity. I feel your pain. Also, #whoisreadyforfurlough? 😉

  8. yeah – I’m on my fourth blender … brought one from home last summer that I am hoping might “hold up”!! …. and this weekend I borrowed a light from another room because I just didn’t have the energy to go into town to buy a light to replace the one in my bedroom that burned out!
    This so perfectly describes life in Africa!

    • “This weekend I borrowed a light from another room because I just didn’t have the energy to go into town to buy a light to replace the one in my bedroom that burned out.” You’re cracking me up here! We have so totally done that!

    • My kids are certainly enjoying Canada this week, (we’ve been here three days and they are revelling in the simple facts that they aren’t sweating, the internet works and the roads don’t have potholes!) So glad that you have put my feelings and frustrations into such good words, if you didn’t say Cambodia I would have thought you were in my backyard in Niger! Nevertheless, we love the people and the ministry we are privileged to know and share in.

  9. missionaries will be self-identifying in heaven…..they will be the ones who are not so much amazed that the streets are made of gold but are rather excited about the fact that they are smooth and even (or just exist!) They will applaud and notice a particular sub-set of details that will bring such delight!

    I think the list of what makes one an “Overcomer” can get interesting…..”She filled an entire landfill with burnt out appliances and still remained!!!!” A Tiara is coming your way to cast at the feet of Jesus 🙂

    • They will be “rather excited about the fact that they are smooth and even (or just exist!).” Ha! Yes I long for better roads — and in fact have another blog post sketched out about Cambodian roads but haven’t been able to finish it yet. Thanks for dropping by!

  10. Pingback: Why we tell stories…. | Bowers Family

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