Our water bills have been a huge frustration to us since we moved into this house in the Azores.
Firstly, we didn't get a water bill for the first nine months. This didn't strike us as odd because we were in another country. We had no idea what bills you were supposed to get, and therefore just assumed water was either rolled into the other utility bill we were paying or wasn't something people paid for.
But then, all of a sudden, nine months into our life on this island, our landlord sent us a water bill. A water bill that was over $200 euro ($278 USD)!
We spent the next six months receiving an exceptionally high bill while staying in communication with our landlord about why this is occurring. (And by landlord, I should say, the landlord's daughter -- the most English speaking member of the family.)
Each month we'd get the bill and then try to figure out why it was so high. (And in the meantime, conserving as much water as we could!) We talked to all of our Portuguese and American neighbors. No one was paying a bill over 20-30 euro. Obviously something was not right in our house. The landlady would send someone to the house to check things. They'd turn some faucets on and off and be on their way.
About three months into this six month odyssey, she sent her father out who found a leak in the garden. He instructed us to keep a certain faucet turned off. We did for awhile, didn't notice a change in our bill, and turned it back on so JB could use it for his garden.
At the six month mark they FINALLY sent a plumber who, with the help of JB, found a HUGE leak in the garden. That leak was fixed and the bills dropped down IMMEDIATELY to 20 or 30 euro.
We discussed the fact with our landlord that for six months we had been paying hundreds of dollars because of a problem with this huge money-pit of a house. They agreed but said that their father had told us to turn off that one faucet in the garden and we didn't. If we had, the huge leak wouldn't have been a problem.
We decided to compromise. We estimated we had overpaid at least 500 euro during that six month. They agreed to split that 500 euro cost with us so that we could both take responsibility for the leak.
It still didn't feel fair, but we agreed.
For the next nine months or so, we happily paid bills of 20 or 30 euro. Finally. The problem was fixed.
So imagine our surprise when our landlady emailed us while we were on our trip to Sao Miguel to inform us that she had received a large bill ... larger than ever before. A $390 euro bill ($542 USD) bill! She asked us if anything in the house seemed out of place. We mentioned that the morning we had left for Sao Miguel we noticed a toilet running funny. A few days later they sent a plumber who fixed the toilet. He looked at the meter and still saw there was water running somewhere.
We finally pinned it down to a faucet in our shoe hallway that was hidden by some chairs in a back crevice of the wall. No one in our family, including my children, had ever seen this faucet. But when it was turned off, the meter stopped running altogether.
Or so I thought.
It just made sense to JB and I that our landlady would pay for this bill since it was obviously not something we had done. So imagine our surprise when she sent us the bill!
And imagine our even bigger surprise when we found out that the day before she sent us the bill, she called the housing office on Base saying we had refused to pay the bill.
John was so upset he told me that he could not email her. He knew he would not be able to speak correctly. So I was left to navigate this via email. Ultimately we agreed to split the bill again, but she told us that she will only do it this month (even though she believes this bill will spill over into next month's bill.)
We ... are ... so ... frustrated.
Even with splitting this bill, it will cost us over $250 for something we did not do. We live in a huge house with incredibly wacky wiring and plumbing. Nothing is done like it would be done in the USA. Things are haphazard and random. While we have loved living off-Base and having our sprawling yard and driveway and pool, the headaches that come with living in a place so big have been daunting.
I feel for our landlord. I really do. But I also feel for us. Truly, it isn't even about the money so much as it is being held liable for something you really had no part of.
Her argument is that she doesn't live in the house. How can she know if there is a leak if she isn't there to observe.
I know many of you will read this and suggest all kinds of things that we could do. We are going to speak to the legal office on Base. But understand that things don't work here like they do in the USA. You can't ask the water company to pinpoint the problem. (They don't do that here.) And we can't fight this for very long because in two weeks, we must have "all of our debts paid" on the Base in order to be allowed to leave the military and the island. (The Base won't release you until you officially "sign out" with various organizations on Base -- housing being one of them.) In other words, we don't have time to let this linger. To fight the principle of this disagreement would take more time than we have.
I'm not sure why I am writing this post other than to blow off steam. I very rarely get spitting mad. But this has just made me angry. I am not exactly blaming anyone but just blaming the fact that we find ourselves in this mess.
And I think that things like this help create "closure" for leaving a place. There are many things I am grieving about leaving military life, the island, my friends, the pace of life, privacy, etc. But then things like this happen ... things that make you realize being in a system you understand is good.
And I just miss that system. I miss that country. I miss that place. I miss understanding the rules and knowing the rules and knowing what I can do to fix a situation.
I am ready to just pay this water bill ... and go home.
Thanks for listening ...