Just days into our new life in Paris, my roommate James and I faced what I can only describe as a minor crisis. We awoke on what would have been an otherwise average Tuesday morning to find water running into our apartment. The source: a small pipe located at the back of our toilet that for one reason or another, had decided to give up.
In a panic, we threw the entirety of our small flat’s towel collection onto the already soaking floor, and placed a bowl under the leaking pipe to collect water, which required us to shuttle it to the sink about every 5 minutes so that it could be emptied.
James, the heroic one, called a French plumbing service that we found on Google. He didn’t know the French translation for “our toilet is leaking” and they didn’t know what “our toilet is leaking” meant in English. Somehow it was figured out, and we arranged for a plumber to come to the apartment at 6 pm.
At 9:30 pm the plumber arrived. He didn’t have any tools, just a caulk gun. He looked at the toilet and in broken English said, “this is not good.” From there we began speaking using the Google translate app on his phone. He quoted us 690 euro. We said that wasn’t possible. We watched his response being typed out in English as he spoke into the translator. “If I do not fix this, and I leave, this will turn into a disaster.”
Searching for a way out of this, we called our program advisor Baligh, who I now view with the kind of reverence that one is supposed to reserve for God. Baligh talked to him on the phone, and was able to talk him down to 250 euro, and the young plumber proceeded to fix the toilet. We were saved.
This was my first experience in Paris where I truly felt the weight of being abroad. Of being in a situation that had to be solved, despite the language barrier, and despite the challenges that come with being so far from home. What lessons did I glean? To speak clear, slow English, to remain confident and optimistic, and to call Baligh.