De mal en pis: From chauffage to sewage

Warning: This post is about poop, plumbing and frustration. As such, it contains a few necessary expletives. 

What’s the most degrading thing you’ve ever done? The thing that’s most stripped away your sense of humanity?

If you’d asked me that before Wednesday night, I would have been hard-pressed to respond.

Now I have an answer: Squatting in my room with my pants around my ankles, pooping into a plastic bag.

I was in a shitty situation—literally.

I couldn’t use the upstairs toilet because of a clog that made it so that every time we flushed, all that went down upstairs came back up downstairs. I couldn’t use the toilet downstairs because it was surrounded by sewage (which eventually leaked into the hallway, from whence it would be tracked into the kitchen and upstairs by plumbers and an unfazed housemate). And I really had to go: Enter the plastic bag.

And all this after even more trouble with the hot water heater…

Apparently last week’s repairs after the complete break-down were only a quick fix. On Tuesday a plumber arrived without warning to entirely replace the heating unit. Of course, he completely uninstalled and decimated the old one before realizing he didn’t have the right new one. So we spent yet another night without heat before he could finish the job Wednesday.

Plumbing Chez Maurice

The culpable clog took root Tuesday during the initial attempted installation. There was a two-hour period where we didn’t have running water at all, which we discovered when we tried to flush the upstairs toilet and it kind of worked but made an unusual sound. Later that afternoon the water came back and we thought everything was fine (minus the continued lack of heating).

Then Tuesday night we smelled it from the hallway. The flood of eaux usées had begun.*

Since the plumber came back Wednesday to finish with the hot water heater, we asked him to check out what was up with the bathroom, too. (We didn’t yet know about the clog.) His response was that he didn’t know what the problem was. So he left.

Is it just me, or isn’t it a plumber’s job to find the problem and then fix it?

Later that night, once Nico—our Frenchman housemate who lives in the room on the ground floor and actually has to use the bathroom that was spewing poo—got home, he got on the phone to yell angrily at Maurice, who told him there must be a clog because apparently this same thing happened a few years ago.

Nico then somehow and miraculously got a plumber to come to our house at 10:30 p.m.

The plumber left an hour later, thinking he’d removed the clog. We shortly discovered that this wasn’t the case as sewage continued to seep out of the bathroom.

For want of a picture of the sewage, take a gander at the current winter-time state of the Gers (Auch's river). Its muddy diarrhea color is strikingly identical to what we found in our house.

For want of a picture of the sewage, I give you the current winter-time state of the Gers (Auch’s river). Its muddy diarrhea color is strikingly identical to what we had Chez Maurice.

The house stank. We couldn’t use the toilets. The entire ground floor was teeming with microbes. We exited and entered through the garage (accessed through the garden) rather than wade through the hallway. I had pooped in a bag. We couldn’t take it anymore.

Thursday I woke up early and got out of the house as soon as possible. Too afraid to eat amidst the fecal matter in the kitchen, Ashley and I got pastries for breakfast on the way to school. From the sidewalk in front of the patisserie we called Stéphane to enlist his help.

We’d decided to withhold our monthly rent payment and not stay in the house until Maurice gets everything fixed and professionally cleaned.

I got to school, used the toilet, made my usual photocopies, and taught my first two lessons of the day. When the kids asked how I was, I said, “I’m angry and tired!” and after explaining the source of my mood, Jack Sparrow responded to the ritual “How are you?” Q&A session with: “I’m angwy fow Cawa!” At least I had the solidarity of a 10-year-old.

I booked it out of school at 10:00 on the dot, power walking to meet Ashley and Lyanne at the bank. After leaving Maurice a long and angry voicemail explaining the gravity of the situation and informing him of our decision and demands, we cancelled our automatic rent payments.

Lyanne went to work as Ashley and I headed to a café for a pitstop and a place to wait out Thursday’s extended lunch hour.

In the meantime, Stéphane and Cathie had been scrambling to find us alternate housing for two to three nights. Resultantly, Ashley got a call from one of the teachers at one of her schools who offered to put the two of us up (Lyanne would be staying with Cathie).

We got back home after our afternoon lessons to find that the plumbing had been fixed. But the house had yet to be deep cleaned. Instead someone had cleaned it superficially with the same mop that had been used the night before to wipe up the sewage…

I called Maurice again and told him again that he needed to arrange for the house to be professionally cleaned. After grumbling about not knowing any cleaning services in Auch he got his act together and arranged for someone to come first thing this morning.

After a night spent with gracious hosts, we rallied back Chez Maurice to direct the cleaning. Apparently our lovely landlord had only instructed them to clean the bathroom—not the hallway or kitchen! But after we explained the situation, the cleaner took pity on us and did a little extra.

At 10 a.m., our spirits much improved, we began sanitizing all the kitchen surfaces and equipment—dishes, utensils, silverware—because during the fiasco some of our housemates had continued to cook and it was impossible to know who had touched what after having touched what.

As I filled the electric kettle for the umpteenth time, water suddenly started streaming out of the new water heater as the radiator icon blinked furiously and the water temperature dropped rapidly.

After another call to Maurice, the plumber was back, tinkering away. He left around noon and we thought all was well—until I glanced at the water heater screen to see “E25” flashing where the temperature should be displayed. I found the manual and learned that “E25” was an error code.

So I called Maurice again to get the plumber back. This time two came. And now, finally, we have a warm, sanitized and feces-free house. Knock on wood.

*I unfortunately didn’t take any pictures of the sewage spill as it was so disgusting and traumatizing that all I could think to do was stay as far away from it as possible rather than getting closer with a camera lens.



  1. Ashley · · Reply

    You’re the bravest.
    Also, this makes our life sound both hilarious and même temps.

    1. Thanks, friend. The situation really was so bad it was comical.

  2. This is terrifying! You’re a trooper. Also, I’m pretty sure you’re equipped to stomach any pet or child related fecal situation from now on. So that’s a positive?

    1. That’s a way of looking at it…

      We also have a great new catch phrase for when anything spills or in general goes wrong: At least it’s not poop!

  3. I didn’t realize it was this bad! I’m so sorry. That being said, I couldn’t stop laughing after I read the first couple of sentences! Wonderfully written.

    1. Thanks! That’s exactly the effect I wanted it to have—horror blended with humor.

  4. […] week I sank into a funk. School was rough. I was trying settle back into my usual routine after the horrors of the previous week. The weather was disgusting. And we had house […]

  5. […] met Ashley in 2012 when we lived together in an old French house with faulty plumbing while working as English teaching assistants in Auch. Both being badass feminists and lovers of […]

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