Friday, July 1, 2011

Grease Trap Fever

            And suddenly it is Sunday again. The walk with Altagracia and Chloë to the blue water tank was quieter than usual because the bakery on the corner has closed so there were fewer people on the street heading there or coming back from there with bread. Altagracia was in a chipper mood although not feeling much like going to work saying that always in April everybody likes to sleep late and she is also trying to figure out a way to get laid off from the pension because if you can manage to get laid off the ex-employer has to give you some severance pay but if you quit, even with notice, you get nothing. It will be hard for her to get laid off because she cannot resist working hard and she is too honest to steal anything, which is how most workers get fired, so the worst she can manage is to try to walk as slowly as possible to the bus stop so she will arrive late and annoy Elvira, her boss. Altagracia has been at the pension for eight consecutive months now and because after one year of continuous employment she will be eligible for higher pay and additional benefits it seems that Elvira is trying to force Altagracia into quitting by ordering her to kneel in the bathtubs to fish hair from deep out of the drain, feel the inside surfaces of the toilet bowls for any unseen crust buildup (and Elvira demonstrated this herself barehanded), has refused to buy rubber gloves and demanded that she wear shorts instead of skirts to work but Altagracia has flatly refused all of these impositions, particularly the dress code as she has not worn pants or shorts even once in more than twenty years, brings her own gloves and points out that that far down a drain is plumber's territory. So, to date, it is a standoff although the odds at the local banca deportiva favor Elvira because, here, the employer nearly always wins.

            Our lio, or mess, of plumbing in this house includes a grease trap buried under the concrete floor of the kitchen from which smelly water has been surfacing lately and is one of the reasons Chavela has been washing the dishes in the outside sink. This morning I took a hammer and chisel and proceeded to dig into the matter and after about an hour of easy chiseling through punky concrete I uncovered the grease trap which was a concrete box about 30“x16” and about 20” deep and was full of nasty stuff. I cut the top off an empty one gallon plastic water jug, leaving the handle attached, and used it to bail out the water, chunks of congealed grease and clotted food. It was disgusting. I had previously asked Guangu where I should dispose of this stuff and he had pointed me to the manhole cover at the bottom of the hill beyond the colmado, the same manhole where we had dumped the contents of my septic tank when we had installed the filtrante. Just as I was dumping the first bucket of slop down the manhole a short, fat angry woman emerged from her house nearby and yelled who did I think I was to dump here and this kind of thing was not allowed and I explained that I had asked such authorities as there were and that it seemed to me that there was no more appropriate place to throw this kind of waste and I walked away while she was still ranting. The angry woman did not reappear until just as I was leaving after my fourth, and last, trip to the manhole which was lucky because this time she brandished a broom stick.
The empty transit box or grease trap

            With the grease trap cleaned, I tested the outflow pipe which took water as it should, replaced the cover and mixed, placed and trowelled concrete smooth to blend it back in with the rest of the kitchen floor and warned Jhoanglish and Kiki, who was visiting for the day, not to step in it and about five minutes later saw Kiki trying to smooth out his first footprint. An hour later another footprint appeared and so I set up a flimsy barricade as a reminder using a short piece of plastic pipe laid across two cardboard boxes and when I returned after a couple of hours some friends of the kids had come to visit and had evidently not understood the meaning of the barricade and the patch was full of footprints and the signs of Kiki trying to fix them but the concrete was almost hard by then so the damage was not too deep. Incidentally, late that afternoon the angry woman happened to walk past the house while I was on the galleria and I smiled at her and said buenas tardes or good afternoon and I braced myself but to my surprise, she greeted me pleasantly and smiled back.
            Around 5 PM that same day I could begin to feel my hair start to tingle in the barber's chair while he was running the clippers up and down the back of my head and a few hours later felt more flushed while in the hammock on the galleria and then I felt hotter around 10PM and started having diarrhea by midnight, vomiting by 1AM and my fever spiked at 102° so after the second set of vomiting (and when she was able to stop laughing because she thought I meant 102° Centigrade) Altagracia called Rueda Taxi which has a poster with its phone number on a telephone pole visible from the house, and brought me to a clinic. The waiting room and the examining room were the same so while we waited we were able to watch Dr. Ureña, an unsmiling and prematurely tired looking woman, clean up multiple road burns on a teenaged male who had crashed his motorcycle and who was luckily still drunk and so did not feel the pain. When it was my turn an equally unsmiling nurse took my blood pressure and temperature and after I answered that I had no allergies to any medications they gave me an injection for the fever and one for the diarrhea, we paid them 600 pesos or about $20 and called the taxi back. I dozed on the examining table while we waited and we were home by 3AM.
            The next day I only slept and drank juice and water and my fever crept steadily back down to near normal and the day after that I took an Imodium. On one of my trips to the bathroom I tripped on a small concrete step and tore the pad off of my right big toe which bled all over and now it is soaked with mercurochrome with the pad bandaided back into place.
            I still have no idea where this sickness came from, perhaps from the grease trap. I am convinced that if Pasteur's Germ Theory was correct that none of us would be alive today. Our 5 gallon drinking water jug rarely has the cap in place, silverware is freely shared, leftover food from plates may be scraped back into the serving bowl and leftovers are often left at room temperature overnight and eaten the next day. The boys in the neighborhood shave each other's necks using the same razor blade and combs and brushes and hair rollers travel from head to head without washing and people spit everywhere and with animals living in the street anything might be tracked into the house. The guy in the colmado who has just handed four greasy 10 peso bills in change to a customer might put your bread in the plastic bag for you with the same hand. Some of these habits relate to the feeling of everyone here being a member of a giant extended family, and after all, I too would share a water glass or a toothbrush with my brother before I would with a stranger even against Pasteur's recommendation. The fact that all our floors are mopped with Mistolin, a disinfectant, and the bathroom and the kitchen counters are doused with bleach every day must help as must the high degree of personal hygiene that most people practice but it still seems surprising that there is not more apparent illness. In six months I have had one cold, one brief sudden bout of diarrhea that I think was caused by drinking some lukewarm guarapo, or sugarcane juice, without lime on the street, one more prolonged period of the same that I suspect had to do with long term diet change and this recent violent fever which is still abating as I write this.
            Life expectancy in the Dominican Republic is 67 years compared to the USA's of 77 years. Could the facts that the reported leading cause of death of men aged 16-26 in the DR is motorcycle accidents and almost a third of all pregnancies reported by hospitals are teenage women with a concomitant higher infant mortality rate mean that sanitary conditions are not what are responsible for a life expectancy 10 years less than the US?  A couple of months ago a Dominican aid organization began a campaign to feed people in the poorest barrios of Santo Domingo and estimated the needs using census figures but when they entered their first neighborhood with the calculated number of meals they thought they would need they discovered that there were thousands of undocumented people living there. Since nobody knows how many people are living here how can anyone know how long each person lives for?

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    A grease trap is a receptacle that kitchen wastewater flows through before entering the sanitary sewer lines. It is a piece of restaurant equipment, which is required in many regions to keep the sewers functional. Thank you...

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