Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Acts of God or just good luck?

My stay in Stepanagert was just way too long and at times, I just had to get in my car at night and drive home (to Marutni) so I could shower, sleep in my own bed and then drive back to Stepanagert the next morning.

Last week, on just such a trip, my car broke down. I was only 5 kilometers outside of Stepanagert. The time was 7:50 PM and there was still sunlight.

I popped open the hood and checked the obvious things that would prevent the engine from starting. The sound that was coming from the engine when I tried to start it was not normal and I figured that the timing chain must have broke, as the starter was not laboring when trying to start the engine.

I called on my cellular phone a friend and since I didn�t have the phone number to my Stepanagert mechanic, to go to his house and tell me I was broke down and to please come quickly.

With me was the niece of the mayor of Martuni whose house I stay at when in Stepanagert and who had recently married to a army officer who is based on the front line and since he was not due back until the weekend, she wanted to visit her sister in Martuni.

So the two of us waited and waited and waited. I decided that I better call my friend again to see if he was able to find my mechanic and when I tried to call, the call would not go. I tried a few other numbers and the same thing happened. The mayor�s niece who was waiting for us in Martuni called me to ask where we were and I gave her the bad news that the car broke down and we would probably not be coming.

I have become a person that really believes in faith and destiny and decided that there must be some reason that my car broke down and maybe God didn�t want me to go home that day.

A call came from my friend who said he saw my mechanic, who said he lent his car to someone and I need to bring my car to him as it was already dark and there was nothing he could do for me where I was.

I told my friend to find a truck that could tow us to my mechanic�s and we continued to wait.

The mayor�s niece became very sad that she would not be going to visit her sister and turned away from me to look out the window and I could see tears running from her eyes. I tried to cheer her up, but I could see that she missed Martuni even more than I did and after living in Stepanagert for as long as I have (which is much less than she has) I really understood her sorrow.

I told her that maybe someone would who was going to Martuni would come across us and stop to ask if they could help and I would ask them to take her with them. She smiled and as the cars passed and no one stopped, she started to get sad again. I finally said that in the worst case, I will put her in a taxi and send her. She got very excited and insisted on kissing me on the cheek.

The truck showed up and as we were hooking up the car to it, I got a call from a friend in France, who had been trying to e-mail me and his messages kept getting kicked back. I told me that my mailbox was most probably full and to wait a few days and send it again. I told me what had happened and he wished me luck.

We arrived in Stepanagert and made our way to my mechanic�s garage (which is just below his house).

He checked the car and said there was no compression, which means that it is probably the timing chain, but since the cylinders are moving and there is spark to the plugs, it could be something else. All I�m thinking now is Mercedes plus unknown problem can only mean big bucks and a long wait for parts to be sent from Yerevan.

He took off the top of the engine to find that the timing chain had not broke completely and a wheel which the timing chain passes over was half warn down as the chain had stretched and was not fully engaging into it. The wheel was what controlled the intake values and since the chain was not fully engaging, it had slipped out to time, thus no compression and thus the engine would not start.

We called a mechanic friend in Yerevan to arrange to have a timing chain and the wheel which was warn sent.

My mechanic told me that I was very lucky that the chain had not broken, as when a timing chain breaks, it usually causes extensive damage to the engine.

The mayor�s niece and I walked to the bus station and got in a cab to take us to Martuni.

We got to Martuni at 11:55 PM and both of us were starving. I went home to take a quick shower and raid my refrigerator of whatever is edible and went to the join the mayor�s nieces for a late night dinner.

I arrived to their house at 12:20 AM and they began to cook.

As the first course of the meal was ready and we were starving, instead of bringing the food into the living room, which was nice and warm, I went to the kitchen, which is somewhat detached from the rest of the house, as is the bathroom (though they are under the same roof, you have to go outside to get to them).

As I was stuffing my face and the niece was cooking up the second course, sparks began to fly out of an electrical junction box near the ceiling. It seems that the electric hotplate which for at least the last 5 years we have been using in that kitchen unattended, was just too much for the thin wires that are buried under the plaster in the walls. The niece panicked and ran out of the kitchen. I got up and took the cover off the junction box and with a pair of insulated pliers tried to disconnect the wires which by this time were burning quite nicely. The light in the kitchen was flickering in the same way that they did in the move Titanic, when the ship was sinking. As they flickered, I went to cabinet and got out a box of salt and no sooner did I get the box in hand, did the light go out.

So now the junction box, which is made of plastic is now starting to burn. A couple of handfuls of salt extinguishes the fire.

If we had been in the house when the fire started, we are convinced that the whole house would have gone up in flames, as the fire was close to the ceiling and the only things that really burn in our houses here and the floors and ceilings. Everything else is stone, steel and cement.

On top of this, if we had not gone or even if we had arrived to Martuni when we had originally planned, there is a good chance that we would not have been sitting in the kitchen and again, the whole house would have gone up in flames.

On Sunday, when I returned to Martuni, the niece's mother, came with me and since she was not home when this incident happened (she is a legal expert that works in Stepanagert) only learned Sunday morning what had happened. When at the Askeran church, she lit a fist full of candles and said that we have to do a Madakh and thank God for watching over us and not allowing their house to burn down.

And since I am talking about fires, the day before the above mentioned fire, the mayor himself experienced a fire in his house.

It seems that his elderly ill mother had the night before the fire, put a pan full of ashes in the entry area of their house, as she was too sick to take them outside as it was too cold. It seems that there was an ember that somehow caused the wood floor to smolder.

A laptop computer that I gave the mayor a couple years back, the hard-drive died on and he was sending it to Stepanagert to have repaired, was on the floor right next to where a fire started.

The computer began to burn and the high quality Japanese plastic let out a very strong smell, which woke the mayor (it was 3 AM), who was able to extinguish the fire before it engulfed the entire house.

He said that if it had not been for the computer, he believes that he would not have woken and the entire house would have gone up in flames.

A couple of days ago, I was at his house for dinner and he told me that he was tired, as he had not been sleeping well at night as he is now afraid that a fire could break out when he is sleeping and the next time he will not be so lucky. I told him it was understandable and told him I forgot something at home and will be back in 10 minutes.

I rushed home and went to my storage room and dug out a smoke detector, which I had brought from the states to put in my house when I finish it. I returned and presented it to the mayor and told him that he should let the smoke detector loose sleep at night instead of him.

At dinner we drank a toast to life and that during times like this, one understands how sweat life really is. I added that he should not see this as a loss, but should understand that they were very lucky that no one was injured or killed.

His house was blackened from the burning plastic and for the last 4 days, they have been cleaning. Since I have a washing machine, I�m washing the beddings (4 loads) and the niece who lives here Martuni is ironing them.

As for my car, my mechanic was able to do a temporary fix, as the wheel that was worn, is the same as another wheel that the timing chain practically blankets, so he switched the two of them and shortened the chain. The parts for the final repairs should arrive in Stepanagert today at a total cost of $100 (this also includes 2 wheel bearings, which have worn out due to our very bad roads).

Oh, and if you remember I made some mention of my cell phone not working? Well it seems that since I have not had internet access and not being in Marutni for almost a month, I had talked more than the allowed time (more than my 30,000 dram deposit) and at 8 PM, the phone was turned off to outgoing calls. If the car broke down any later, I would have been in real trouble with no phone and probably in the middle of Aghdam. If that�s not an act of God, I don�t know what is?

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