When we had completed the rather complicated purchase of our water hours from Juan Jose, he told us that the next meeting of the water association was at 7pm on the last Saturday of May. He clearly thought it would be a good idea for us to go along and we felt it would be good to show willing, even if we had no idea what the purpose of the meeting was.
The day arrived and we twitched nervously, hoping that the help of our friendly interpreter would smooth the way for us. At the very least, we needed to find out how to book a time for taking delivery of our first ever hours. We had decided to ask for a couple of hours so we could experiment with how the system would work on our land. Once we had made a complete fist of it once, we could refine the technique and take more of our monthly allowance at a later date.
We drove down to the old railway buildings in the next village in good time. The railway was disbanded, on Franco’s orders, but there are two very well- preserved buildings, one of which has been turned into a bar. Two or three old boys were perched at the counter on the front of the building. They directed us around to the back, where we found a very sparsely furnished room containing two tatty tables, about a dozen old chairs in various states of disrepair and four more old boys playing dominoes.
After a brief and very mystifying exchange between our interpreter and the domino players, he indicated that we should take a chair and make ourselves comfortable at the far end of the room.
Around 7:15 a few people started to drift into the room. They were all elderly, with the exception of Jesus, who I would guess is in his early fifties.
Jesus, Diego (I have chatted with him when he has been working on his land next to ours) and another older gentleman took up positions around a small table, while the rest formed a loose horse shoe facing them. Nobody mentioned or made eye-contact with us, as we watched quietly from the side. Including us, there were around a dozen people there.
About 7:30, Jesus started speaking rapidly, loudly and in a tone that suggested he is used to being in charge. He seemed to be talking about people who were not present, in spite of having been told there was a meeting to attend. Some things appear to be universal!
Then the three men around the table started talking animatedly about people who had not paid. “Paid what?” I asked the interpreter. “Not sure,” he replied.
As the meeting progressed, it became apparent that I could understand almost as much as the interpreter, with both of us understanding much of what they were saying, but not what it actually meant or referred to. Poor Geoff strained to hear our muttered explanations of what we thought was being discussed.
Talk moved on to technical matters around the solar panels they had recently installed to power the well pump. Both the interpreter and I got the impression that Jesus liked to blind the assembled small company with science. There were teething difficulties with the new solar panel system and something needed rebooting at odd times. A complaint from a gentleman with a worried-looking moustache was brushed aside with more techno mumbo jumbo and a like-it-or-lump-it attitude from Jesus.
A lady appeared at about 7:55, saying that she had been told the meeting would start at eight. Her explanation took about five minutes and resulted in a long speech from Jesus about how difficult it was to get hold of everyone. There was muttering and comparing of notes on the top table, with a list of members being read and ticked as comments about whose father should have told who else’s neighbour/daughter/cousin/son-in-law were made. Implausible-sounding names were mentioned, along with a fleeting reference to Juan Jose, from whom we had bought our hours.
Worried Moustache Man complained that he did not get as much water last month as previously. Jesus told him it depended how full the well was. There followed a heated discussion, during which Jesus repeatedly patronised WMM and finally told him that he could sell his hours and get some water from elsewhere if he wanted.
At this point, a very brief reference was made to the three elephants in the room – us and our interpreter. “They bought hours from Juan Jose, but we don’t know what they paid for them.” (Too right he doesn’t, but it was about ten per cent of what he had tried to charge us!)
So far, we had been in the meeting for over an hour. As far as we could tell, little had been done, nothing had been decided about anything and nobody understood how the system switched between pumping powered by the solar panels and pumping powered by the generator.
Jesus asked Pedro – the third man at the table – something about pricing. A brief discussion later he announced that water via the panels would be one euro per hour, plus three euros for Pedro, who turns the valves and collects the money. Water via the generator would be eight euros, plus three for Pedro.
“Right! Venga! There are not enough of us here to make any decisions about anything, so we’ll save that for next time,” announced Jesus. There was a brief flurry of activity as they all consulted mobile phones to ascertain the date of the last Saturday of June.
“One other thing,” Diego clacked his loose teeth into position and looked over to the three of us. “We should welcome our new members.” A few of the old boys looked at us curiously, as if we had just materialised and had not been sitting there for the last hour and a quarter.
We smiled our thanks for the tumultuous welcome as the chairs began to scrape and the posse disbanded.
“Well, that was enlightening!” said our interpreter, as we stacked our chairs.
“I guess we had better find out how we get water, if we can,” suggested Geoff.
We waited politely until the triumvirate had finished collecting their papers and scribbling notes.
“Do we need to pay anything you were discussing, or can we have some water this month?” we asked.
“No, everything is all paid, so you can water when you like,” announced Jesus, glorious in his magnanimity.
There followed a brief discussion with Pedro, who agreed we could have two and a half hours the following Monday. Diego offered to show us the ropes, and arranged to meet us half an hour before the appointed time, to show us where the sluices are, and which valves we have to switch between the well and our land. Diego’s kindness and willingness to help the newbies was very reassuring after the white- knuckle ride of our first meeting of the association.
We returned home, quietly excited about the prospect of watering our land for the first time. The trees had no idea what a treat we had lined up for them and we had no idea how we were going to administer it.
But that is a story for another time.