Well, the morning brought relief to my mind and by noon most of my questions were about to be answered. Not to mention the welcome sight of La Maquina AKA The Excavator about to take its first scoop out of the ground.
Holy Moly these things are POWERFUL.
When we were having a tough time securing one of them, Jorge had mentioned digging by hand but seeing the work that this beast did, I am sure glad we waited.
What a high to watch this huge hole appear, big stones being moved out of the way, and not so slowly creating the septic tank. The gentleman operating the machine said that one more meter and we would hit water. There was a brief discussion about switching directions and digging a well but Jorge said that 1) it would be more expensive and 2) it’s a matter of time before we get city water. A year or two was his guess. So for now, we are going to go with the aljibre system and get water delivered by truck to fill it, then having the pump bring it to the tenaco (big water reservoir on the roof) which will then deliver water to the house.
Meanwhile, I had shared my middle-of-the-night fears with Anselmo and he reassured me that the ground was strong and solid. He then said that this lot was much better than the one I had first considered, closer to the jungle, which would have been more sandy. I was l glad to have been guided in that direction and sent a quick nod of gratitude in the direction of the big house, up the hill. Catarino – the third member of the crew – said that this was going to be great gardening dirt and I asked him if he would help me design the garden, as I had heard him talk about plants several times. He said he would and that yes, landscaping and gardening were his specialties.
The Blocks arrived!
1500 of them, all nicely stacked and – super exciting for me – they come with 9 wood palettes which always get my creativity flowing. I see a couch palette in the future, maybe some chairs.
Cinder blocks are the main way homes are built here, not wood. I think this has to do partly with termites, partly with the heat, and also a shortage of timber.
Jorge told me that this shipment would take care of all the blocks we need for the fosa (septic tank), the aljibre (water cistern), and the whole house. But when my friend and I were looking at the pile of them this afternoon, it was hard to believe that this would be enough. Tomorrow I will check on this.
For sure it’s fun to see them sitting there, pure potential, pieces of home.
Less good news:
The excavator did not.
Not much to say about this. It’s another case of the mañanas and so it is.
It’s 2:00 in the morning and I am wide awake.
And now so is Lila.
Two things are keeping me awake.
One is a conversation I had with someone who gently asked if I had had a soil study done. The kind of study that tells you that yes indeed, this is good soil to build on. No sinkhole, no weird stuff like that. The answer is no, I haven’t. I connected with someone tonight who might be able to come take a look for me but I realize that the cart is way ahead of the horse.
Second thing is the money. I knew this week was going to be a heavy-budget one as we are getting a lot of the main materials. But even though I am missing the exact cost of the sand and gravel (I’ll get that in the morning), there seems to be a lot of extra pesos I can’t match to anything. Of course, there is labor – Jorge pays himself and his two workers by the week – but there was barely any labor this week other than waiting for the excavator to arrive and moving the steel beams when they did. So I will check on this also tomorrow.
This brings to mind a conversation I had with a local young man a couple of weeks ago as he and I both started on the project of building our homes on this land. His is a beautiful triangular corner lock facing the field and the river. He is about a month ahead of me and building it himself with the help of two workers and lots of good music.
He explained to me that there are basically two ways to do this:
One is to buy the materials yourself and then hire your workers, whom you pay by the week. And the other is to hire a contractor who pretty much bids the whole job and does all of the materials-getting and workers-paying for you.
Being local and well connected, he is doing it the former way which as he mentions means that he is sticking close to the job site to ensure that work is getting done, actually doing a lot of it himself. He says that this way is cheaper as long as you are very much hands-on.
The other way is the way I am doing it. Jorge gave me a price and he is handling all of the materials-getting and workers scheduling, managing, and paying. And I still plan on being very much hands-on, partly because I want to learn every little tiny piece of this process.
A couple of days ago I had the thought that for my next project (ha!) I may want to do it the way the young man is doing it. Talking with a friend who is Mexican American and has been developing her own little piece of land in the village, she tells me that no way – even with her perfect Spanish, as a woman she would be “eaten alive” and given high prices and slow work. Basically, less respect is what I heard.
This is one more piece I sometimes forget about, living here. The man/woman thing is very different. And I can make all the connections I want – and do – and huff while moving steel beams, I’m always going to be a woman and one with an accent on top of it. I am not going to fight this nor be upset about it. Instead, I am going to learn how it works and hope to find the sweet spot where we all win. It’s usually there for us to find.
Time to go back to sleep and ask thoughts of sinkholes and numbers columns to let me be.
We have an excavator to welcome tomorrow.
I slept terribly and woke up in a bad bad mood.
Then I lost $50 in fees getting money from my US account, to give to the builder. Hidden “5.6% commission at the ATM.”
I will file this under my “tuition” category in my budget. The price I am paying for learning what to do, what not to do. I guess that’s an expense that needs to be factored in when we embark on big stuff we know very little about. Which I seem to specialize in. So yes: the tuition category.
As of 10 am, there was no excavator in sight. Nothing was moving and I was grumpy. But then Jorge mentioned that two piles had been delivered: one pile of sand and one pile of gravel. I immediately drove over there to admire these two little mountains which with the help of water (how are we getting water? I am still not sure) will become cement. I don’t know yet whether we are getting a mixing machine or whether this is happening by hand. I have a feeling I will know this shortly.
Then I was told that the machine would arrive tomorrow at 2 (which could mean 3, or 4, or not at all), which is the time at which I teach a little kids painting workshop, darn it. So I will boogey right on over there afterward and see if I can catch a ride in the bucket, or at the very least smile a lot.
Things were looking up.
And a 4,:00 I got a call asking if I could meet the metal delivery truck and escort them to the site. HECK YES! At 4:02 I was out the door and had the guy follow me through under-the-bridge-and-over-three-rivers where he proceeded to unload 16 big bars of steel, 40 small rods of another metal – or maybe steel – and 2.5 kilos of wire. I think these are going to be for the ceiling. I’ll ask more tomorrow.
Having unloaded, he left me alone over there until the little crew of three arrived (Jorge the contractor, Anselmo his main guy, and a young man whose name I don’t know yet).
They decided to move the stuff to a different spot and because I want to get my hands in as much of the process as I can, I grabbed one end of a steel bar while Jorge looking surprised grabbed the other. Between the 4 of us, we moved all 16 pretty fast and I felt kind of like a badass even though I don’t think I could have done 2 more.
I am told the blocks arrive tomorrow at 9 and then well, the excavator at 2.
On the way back Jorge asked me what colors I was going to want my floors to be (we are doing tinted concrete and I get to choose the color for each room). I smiled and said I didn’t know yet but very possible turquoise in the bathroom.
Patience, trust – and maybe muscles.
Well, the excavator is not happening today. We are looking for a new one. Could happen tomorrow – which is kind of a drag because I will be out of town most of the day (I had hopes of riding in the bucket or something). But, it will be when it will be and that’s that.
The blocks have been purchased – not yet delivered – and so is the “acero.” How the heck do you say this in English? the metal bars? Because apparently their cost is going up by the day so I was told that it would be a good idea to buy them now. We are going to use them for the ceiling which is going to be soooo cool: curved bricks the way I have been marveling at for years.
Meanwhile, I just received this photo from Irvin and I am shaking my head.
Not sure how I landed this honor nor any of this. I still can’t understand. But I am sure that it makes sense, somewhere.
Yesterday was a heck of a day.
After having learned that Jose Luis had passed away, I was invited by Irvin to come view his body and say goodbye. I had immediately said yes, that I would go – and then spent most of the morning getting myself ready to do that.
“In front of the restaurant where we had met,” he told. me. I knew just the place.
It was also in front of the house that Jose Luis and his family own, the one where he and his wife had been spending the days recently because it was easier to tutor their granddaughter from there than if they stayed at the ranch, the big house close to my piece of land. His wife had explained this to me while we were at the notary’s office and then said that they were going back and forth between the two houses (she had used a Spanish idiom having to do with the paws of a dog) each day, sleeping at the ranch at night, but that in a few weeks they would just return to the ranch and stay there and enjoy it. Having been invited to the big house a couple of weeks ago, I could see how they would want to spend all their time there.
Their house in town is also where the grandpa lives. Jose Luis’ dad who will turn 100 next September.
I was a little intimidated. I had heard of the days-long viewings and the gatherings to honor the person who passed. I had walked past a couple of them in the last year and they seemed to me to be a blend of deeply intimate and yet full of community. Tables with gifts, food, people praying, talking. And the casket. I felt that I would be out of place there, having so recently met the family. What would I wear? What would I bring? What would I say?
A quick Google search confirmed that bringing a gift was a good idea. But what gift? How easy it could be to bring the wrong gift.
I looked around my home and decided to bring one of my heart paintings, hoping it would be okay. I looked through my stock and was guided to one. I got it ready to go and then found a way to stall for a couple more hours.
I needed to bring Jorge some money, make plans to meet later at the land with the excavator. I had to send some emails.
I was squirming.
Finally, I got in the car and made my way there, to what I thought would be a blocked street with many people I did not know. I was likely to be the only white person.
I parked, walked over to the street, the restaurant, the house … and there was nothing going on.
No canopy, no food, no people, nothing. The only indication that this was no ordinary day was the two flower arrangements leaning against one of the doors.
I was relieved. And then I was confused and then I was sad.
Where was everyone? Did I really miss this?
Not understanding what was happening – and not happening – I poked my head into the restaurant (the oldest one in the village), thinking maybe that was where the gathering was. Nothing. So I decided to quietly leave the heart painting on a table that was outside the house, next to what looked like an unplugged coffee pot, and leave.
I made it three steps towards my car and turned around, picking up the heart.
The other door to the house was opened and I had glimpsed a woman sitting in a living room in front of the TV. The same living room where they had brought me to meet the grandpa, a couple of weeks ago, as we had talked about me painting him as part of my “People of the Village” series.
I stood outside the door, watching her watch TV in this strangely quiet house until she looked up at me.
“Is Irvin here?” I asked. She shook her head. Then, not sure what to say, I added: “I am here to see Jose Luis.” As soon as I said it, it felt weird. But in a way, I WAS here to see Jose Luis. To say goodbye. To say thank you, too.
“He died,” she told me as though these were the only words she could speak. “I know,” was my reply and along with that, I gave myself permission to walk into the house, our eyes connecting.
“They are all on their way to the ranch. Then to the cemetery. He is my brother,” she told me, her words barely using her breathe to carry them.
My heart cracked as I tried to make sense of this moment. Her brother. Everyone at the ranch. Her, watching TV.
Then I realized that most likely she was not alone. The older gentleman was sleeping and someone had had to stay with him.
I brought a gift, I said, handing her my small painting. Something I made.
She took it, looked at it. “I will give it to his wife when they return.”
That’s when I knew that the heart was never meant to be on a table filled with other gifts, nor alone by a coffee pot. Nor for anyone but her, at this very moment. “No, it’s for you,” I told her. She looked at it again, then turned it towards her, the painted part facing her body, and clutched it, heart to heart. And then she cried, wiping her tears as fast as they came as though it was not what she was supposed to do, today. As though her job was to hold down the fort. Watch TV. Wait.
We talked a bit more, she explained to me the diabetic surge that took her brother’s life, also that he wanted to be cremated. I felt that she had feelings about that decision. I didn’t know whether I should sit with her and wait or whether I should go. I decided to go and I am not sure it was the right decision.
Before I left she asked me my name and I forgot to ask her hers.
Stepping out into the sunshine felt weird.
An hour later I met Jorge and two of his helpers at the land as we were supposed to start digging. Passing the third river, I could see many, many trucks parked on the side of the road, in the dirt, everywhere. People were coming in and out of the big house, visiting Jose Luis and his family.
Jorge and his crew were sitting in the shade under a tree and told me that I had just missed the funeral procession, that someone had driven him through his land, one last time. I could not catch up. I still saw him right here a few days ago, holding that measuring tape and hammer. I wanted to go up to the house but I had not been invited and so I too stayed under the tree, waiting for the excavator to show up, feeling heavy and full of something I could not name. Sad that I had missed the procession, trusting that it was perfect.
Then the knowing.
I knew today was not the day to start building, not the day to make noise, not the day to make holes in this dirt.
Today was the day to be here, to be quiet, to feel it all. To watch the big house from afar. To send gratitude.
But we had a crew ready to work and I wasn’t about to cancel their plans.
When the excavator gentleman called to say that his machine blew a hose and that we would have to postpone the digging till tomorrow, I nodded and remembered that we are always guided.
Talking with the lawyer this morning, about a leftover thing that needed to be signed, she informs me that the man who sold me the land just died.
Not sure I was understanding correctly I contacted his son/grandson Irvin who confirmed.
I am in shock. I don’t know what happened.
Irvin told me that they have his body and invited me to go visit in front of the restaurant where we had met, across from their house, across from where the older (99-year-old) gentleman, Jose Luis’ dad lives. It cracks my heart to think about this man burying his son at his age. I mean, you would think he would get a pass on grief, no?
I told Irvin I would come by this morning because, well, because I did.
I don’t believe I have ever seen an open casket, and also I am fairly certain that I have no landmark for how this works over here, other than it works differently than it does in France or the US. This will be an opportunity for humility and learning and feeling.
Maybe I will learn more about what happened. Maybe not.
I do know that he had decided to stop selling pieces of land for a while. His wife had made a joke while we were signing that he could get kidnapped. I believe that was a joke…
He looked really healthy to me and talked about building a house for him and his wife.
The last thing he said to me was: “I am going to watch you build your house.”
A few days before committing to the purchases, my friend had introduced me to this quiet, calm man while she and I were visiting another way cool project (that’s her story so I can’t tell it). He was building a house, I had told him about what I might be about to do and he had given me his phone number. The day after I signed, I called Jorge and we made a plan to meet over there.
Excited to be there with him and equipped with many questions (I have a page on my phone called “Things to Ask Jorge”), I knew he would want to see a drawing so before going to bed, I drew my vision on paper. It came right out of the pencil, having played with it while my family was here for Christmas.
But when I was standing there, under the morning sun, and asked to show what I had, I got a little shy and wondered if Jorge was going to laugh at it.
Now it is time to draw the contract. The one that my lawyer refers to as “the real one.”
Months ago, I would have gone with the 5-liner that was shown to me by Irvin. Not anymore. I have grown, I have learned, I am still learning. The fact that I have a lawyer is still surprising to me.
Meanwhile, I need to complete my immigration status and my lawyer needs a copy of my new legal status to add to the contract. The second I get it, I WhatsApp it to her. The whole thing feels a little surreal.
Several revisions later, we are told to meet at the notary’s office to sign. I am to bring the cash for the down payment.
And here we are. Across from a very large table, Alvin’s dad (who, it turns out is actually Alvin’s grandpa) and his wife. Time goes by slowly. I can tell they both want to not be there and are very likely wondering why I need all this legalese stuff when everyone else has been fine with 5 sentences.
I know why and I decide that me knowing why will have to be enough.
Finally, finally, I hand them the money. And within minutes, they get up and leave.
Me, I was kinda thinking we would hug or something, but no, that’s it.
That’s it AND I don’t have the contract because it still needs to get to the notary. My lawyer assures me that it’s fine. Twice.
And I’m back in my car, apparently having bought a piece of land.