Me: “Um, my lights don’t turn on, do you have electricity by any chance?” (Thinking the electricity’s off in the whole building perhaps, but asking a stupid question as I can clearly see the lights are on in her apartment.)
Lovely neighbor that she is, Gayane helps me troubleshoot the situation. After a few questions, she gets to the kicker:
Gayane: “Do you have any outstanding payments on your electricity bill?”
Oh oh (I think again). But I don’t understand: this month, I went to pay the bill (albeit on the 25th of the month and I now understand you should pay before the 23rd of the month) and found it atrociously high. Upon closer inspection, I noticed I had an unpaid amount of over 12,000 drams from the month before. But how can that be? I have diligently paid my bill every month (before the 15th, might I add) and always in full. Where did this outstanding credit come from?
I’m sorry to disappoint you, dear readers, but I still haven’t found the answer to my last question. What I did find out was all you need to restore the electricity is call the electrician guy who shut off your power personally (yes, on his cell phone) — well, that, and pay your bill in full.
Lucky for me, Gayane is the unofficial superintendent of the building (most likely the building’s oldest resident) and had Misho’s number (the guy who shut off the power — yes, apparently, it is just one guy). I am encouraged to plead with him to turn on the electricity tonight by saying it’s the only way I can heat the apartment (true) and do the many other mundane things one does in one’s apartment (cook food, store food in the fridge, read a book by lamplight ;) — but all minor compared to the heating issue (remember, this is winter). Then I’m encouraged to tell him it’ll be worth his while (i.e. slip a couple 1,000 drams to him, off the record, or as Gayane said, հայավարի ;). However, before I can get into all that, Misho advises me to go pay the amount using the automatic teller machines around the city (it’s about 7:15 pm at this point and no banks are open) and then take the receipt to the office (oddly enough, open at this hour but closing at 8 pm so I should hurry) and basically show them that I paid and plead with them to turn on my electricity tonight (keep in mind tomorrow is a non-working day because of “Army Day” and then it’s the weekend…).
Gayane advises me to call my girlfriend.
I do, she comes. We rush to VivaCell on Northern Ave. (open 24 hours) thinking I can pay the direct amount instead of rounding up the figure which I would have to do with the machine, only to find a long line-up. I give up, but not before running into a fellow repat (also named Adrineh incidentally!) who’s happy she ran into me prior to leaving the country this Sunday. No time to chat, I say (I’m so cruel), and she comes with us part of the way, as we go make a payment at a machine.
All this time, my girlfriend is telling me to calm down. I love that she’s so level-headed, because really, one night without electricity isn’t going to kill us. Besides, we could always just go over to her place ;)
So payment made, receipt in hand, girlfriend by my side, we weave our way through the streets to said office, which we enter to find three men casually hanging out with a TV in a fluorescent-lit room. They smile at us. One guy says he was expecting us at twenty to eight. I told him the guy (Misho) told us you close at eight so we should just be there before eight. I apologize profusely, explain the situation, say it would be so super-duper amazing (well not in those words) if they could turn on the lights today. I show them the receipt(s). They confirm payment has been made in full. They pull our legs a bit for kicks (one even asked if we came by bike — I’m not creeped out, I figure he knows I’m the cyclist in the building), then say let’s go. We pile into their (of course) white Lada and drive the 5 mins to my apartment. We get in the foyer; they unlock the huge padlock to the box with all the circuits for all the apartments in the building. Stick some wires together and voila! Ask me to go upstairs to make sure it’s all on. I do, it is.
I go downstairs to let them out. Girlfriend asks if I brought money. Oh. I do have money on hand, but didn’t realize this situation called for it and besides, how much do you give? Instead, as girlfriend and I are walking the boys to their car, I offer them a box of chocolates which I say I brought from Canada (true, though you could probably find something similar here ;). They decline, say no, it’s not like that. Then GF and I simultaneously ask how else can we repay them. And they shake their heads, get in their car and drive away.
I am surprised, but now feel like I am in debt. Girlfriend says, get used to it. Welcome to Armenia.
P.S. Girlfriend also says what might’ve scared them is (a) my being Diasporan and (b) more likely, finding out I work in news media. They did say, make sure you write about how the guys from the electricity office do nice things like this too sometimes, they’re not always the bad guys, why does the media always write bad stuff about them? I think GF might be right, but I still feel like I owe them.
Thanks, electricity guys! First they cut off your electricity, then they restore it. Magic ;)
(Reminds me of a post by Lara jan in which she writes about having her doctor's personal cell phone number — unheard of in Canada.)