I am disappointed to not be writing more, continuing to tell the story of creating this house as it unfolds.
I really am. Throughout each day, I "write in my mind" and want to record this little moment, and that little moment. But I leave my cabin each morning and come home late afternoon dirty, hot and with little left.
I will say this: we are getting there. There are realizations, twists and turns, and each day a request to be 100% true and to stay focused on the goals, not the ego. The goals being: finishing the house beautifully and happily - for all involved.
So this means pivoting, not hanging on things like "but you told me that _____," It means Declaring the Essence of Joy over and over again. And Gratitude.
We are getting there.
Most of the house is stuccoed. We painted the big two outside walls early this week (18-year old Osvaldo doing a heck of a job and so sweet at refilling my paint tray when it was my turn) and I was so glad we started with those. These are the ones with no windows, the ones that lead to the two neighboring lots, one of which is sold. Even though I may rarely see them, I wanted to paint them to protect the walls (they are plastered but not stuccoed). The orange-ish yellow is pretty - and pretty bright - and the plan was to do a version of this for the inside-outside walls, meaning the outside walls that are inside the yard. Know what I mean?
While Osvaldo and I were doing this, the rest of the crew was applying stucco to these walls. Which is a work of love.
Well, as I walked around the house to get some water, I was stopped in my path seeing the BEAUTY of the white stucco covering the blocks. WOA. SO BEAUTIFUL. And so right there I knew that the house had to be white. The blue sky wants white, the jungle wants white and my heart wants white.
So Casa Sama will be white-with-a-hint-of-cream. With two orange walls out into the world, for now. Maybe it's a creamsicle?
Later that day, I asked if I could try my hand at the stucco. I can only watch other people play with mud for so long, you know. So I was shown. Jokes were made about me doing the whole house by myself, next time. I don't think so, dear god, but I sure am learning a lot.
(Be sure to click on the photo with the paint roller I was holding and see the bull)
And today. TODAY IS A HUGE DAY.
Today, it is very possible that we will turn on a lightbulb in the house.
Tyler and his team in coming at 10 and depending on how much really got down on the roof (I did not climb up there last night), we may be ready for them to do the magic.
The idea of Casa Sama getting electricity from the sun gives me all kinds of feelings and somewhere I still don't fully believe it is possible. Will we really be able to use an electric polisher? Get water to the tenaco with the pump? Make the fridge (which I am yet to get) hum?
So off we go. I will report on the miracle.
And keep writing in my head - and taking photos.
Oh. Also. I had been wondering for weeks now HOW the electric wires were going to work. Wow... what a trick.
PS: three months and one day today since we broke ground. With everything that happened (A LOT) I think we are doing pretty darn well,
I want to tell you everything.
I can barely move.
These last few days, I have been coming home from the worksite around 4 or 5, and after taking a shower, crashing happily on my bed under the blessed air conditioning.
There is so much I want to say. Mostly, I want to say that I never again want to underestimate the cost of keeping company with relationships which have run their course.
One afternoon, three weeks ago or so, a girlfriend wisely said to me: "You are so over this crew."
I didn't know what to respond to that. Over this crew... well, let's see. That week, it was true that I had not gone to the house during the day, did not want to see any of them and only went at night when they were gone. It was true that I felt helpless, and it is certainly true that the joy had drained out of the project.
Whatever happened, I may never know. But something had happened, and it was poisoning the energy.
Having made it official that we were transitioning, Jorge invited his son in law Luis to join us and darn it, the three of us were going to make it happen. Which really would have taken six months.
But the universe intervened, Jorge fell off a ladder and well, it looked unlikely that Luis and I would get the job done under two years.
Jorge having told me once again that he was not leaving, he called on Evaristo to come work with us. Then on his own dad, Nacio. Then finally, Osvaldo, Evaristo's son joined us yesterday, and man oh man, we have been kicking butt AND having fun.
There is music, everyone is happy, the water cistern got filled yesterday (oh the joy of this), and every day things are happening.
There are stories about the beautiful old doors I have found (and the man who will fit them and hang them), the floor that will get oxidyzed and the cement furniture I am hoping to create. As soon as I have time, I will talk about all these artisans I am meeting who are going to be part of finishing the house with love.
For now I will just say that I am learning a ton, that I am learning both some theories of building (while it may go up quickly, next time I will be ready for that phase to take about 1/3 of the whole time), and practically (how to polish stucco, concrete and what needs to happen before what - not all of which we have done with this house.)
I am there every day, doing whatever I can and getting a lot of smiling support on what I can't.
The first time I picked up a shovel (which may have been the first time in 20 years but no way was I going to let anyone guess that), they all stopped and stared. All of them. Now, when I fill a bucket with stones, they kindly replace it with an empty one so I may keep going.
I have been taught how to polish stucco, cement floor, how to color the cement floor and if all goes according to plan, I will learn how to make polished cement furniture very soon. Or watch, at least.
I am happy, often dirty, tired and would never have guessed how much I would love this whole construction thing.
Jorge is wearing a sling, and I keep reminding him not to use his right arm.
Tomorrow the roof is getting poured (on Sunday, which is definitely not a work day), and when I asked the guys if they wanted to take a day off on Monday or Tuesday, they answered: no, not really.
I came by to say hello before leaving town on Saturday morning. Jorge and I went over the plan once more, he said he would send me photos of the roof crew the next day, said he wished he was going with us on the trip (I instantly decided to buy a little one night mini-vacation for him and his wife when the house is done) and off I went, feeling calm and re-centered.
We were entering a new chapter, we were going to make it happen.
I left the house to Jorge and Luis. They were putting down the bedroom and bathroom floor and wow that was fun to see!
Driving down the dusty road, over the three river beds and under the bridge (there is a song, there) I felt good. At peace. I still wished I could be there for the roof crew but trusted that it was going to happen just the way it should.
A drive, a boat ride and many crooked cobblestoned streets later, my friend and I were happily exploring when I saw a message from Jorge pop up on my phone:
"Laura, I fell of the ladder and hurt my shoulder. I am on my way to get an X-ray. We cannot do the roof tomorrow."
BAM. Plot twist.
That night at dinner, my friend pointed out that upon hearing the news, I had said "It's going to be fine" five times in a row and quite fast.
More in a bit. It IS going to be fine.
As I sit down to write this, sweat is pouring down my face. Last year, I found it odd, and I fought it. Wiped it a lot, talked about it a lot and wondered if that was normal. This year, it feels sweetly familiar and I just let it drip, send love to my big tall metal fan and carry on. Then I remember that it is not even June so not to get too impressed with myself.
So, yes. It's getting hot.
Which means that in the we-don't-know-how-near future, one day the sky will open and gallons of water will fall. The jungle will almost instantaneously turn green and it's possible that I will cry at the magnificence of the earth taking its first drink in 6 months.
Unless the skylights are not covered on my roof and then I will just ... cry.
I am still not ready to let my breath out all the way and recount the last twelve days but I will say this: we now have a crew of two. Jorge and his son-in-law Luis. The fact that a man named Luis and a man named a Jorge are building me a house shows what a good sense of humor Life has, that is not lost on me.
A crew of two. For a while there, it was tense. Oh boy. In the end, I may never know what really happened but I can tell you that 1) Jorge seems hurt and 2) it has taken a lot of Morning Pages to get me through the last few days as I contemplated the possibility of not finishing the house, even though Jorge assured me that would never happen. "No way. I'm here till the end" he said. And then we both cried a little. Again. What the heck?
Ok, till the end. But here we are almost mid-May and we were supposed to be done. We are about 70% of the way. I need to be in the US in July.
What are we going to do? I wailed in my notebook.
Again, Morning Pages and meditation came to my rescue and as of today, I believe we have a plan which, if implemented (and I am going to be so close to the whole thing that it just very well might) will have us finished in 3-4 weeks.
We will have gone a little over budget, a little over time, a little over-stressed. But I believe we are going to get it done.
And it's going to be beautiful.
Last night I decided that even though a guy friend who is half American and half Mexican gently explained to me that I can feel intimidating to a Mexican man, I decided to be okay with whatever that meant and just make sure Casa Salma got done. Calmly, with love. And focus.
To me, that meant a schedule and a spreadsheet.
Late last night, I created a beautiful-to-me spreadsheet including each and every little task that has to happen to get us to the finish line. Then I sprinkled these between today and June 4. Added a couple of workers. Made a schedule.
This morning, Jorge and I sat on bags of cement and went over the whole thing.
Today, we have a concrete floor in the bedroom and the bathroom. Next week they will both get colored.
On Sunday, a group of guys is going to pour the roof.
And even though I will be gone for this, on a pre-planned two-day trip, we will reconvene Monday and keep at it.
Progress has been slow.
There is much I could say about this and while it is tempting to write about the details, the conversations, and my inner terrain, I have vowed to keep my focus on the finish line. I have declared the Essences of Trust, Compassion, Support and Boundaries. I am using less words. For now.
All good juju is deeply appreciated.
Meanwhile, there are always stories. So many stories. Today, I will tell the story of The Welder.
I heard about The Herrero early on in this project. He was the one recommended to create glass and metal work for the two big double doors and four windows.
The two double doors when closed, will fold into accordions and hide smoothly behind the walls, leaving two big openings for the air to dance in. I love this.
Then, a big decision had to be made about the windows, specifically about "la proteccion."
Hmm ... protection, security. In this case referring to the metal work that is welded on the outside of the glass windows in many houses over here. It can be beautiful and the proponents of la proteccion will tell you that you absolutely want it. For security.
Well, as someone who has not used a house key in about 30 years, the idea of bars on my windows has been a stretch.
I thought, I wrote, I looked around, I asked. All the while living in my little cabin, whose door I don't think I have closed once in the last six months. I don't mean locked, I mean closed.
In the end, la proteccion won and it was time to commit to The Welder, especially since the price of metal - like the price of cement - has been going up weekly.
But I couldn't quite let it go so easily. I still wanted to be able to look out of my beautiful arched windows, glass closed occasionally, and not see bars.
I took the matter over to my son who quietly and quickly proposed an option: have the glass and the metal on different hinges so that you can open la proteccion on its own like shutters (I love shutters) and still close the glass. BRILLIANT.
I presented the idea to Jorge who said that yes, we could do it and that he would talk with The Herrero. We came up with a design, he met with the senor, told him what I wanted, and I sent a deposit.
Then we waited for him to come over and take measurements. And waited. It took about three weeks and finally, there he was, with his assistant and a big piece of cardboard with which to draw the outline of the windows' curves. For some reason, I had envisioned a different measuring tool.
Funny thing (kind of) is that after the original shaking of my hand hola, the man really paid me very little attention, nor eye contact. It was all him and Jorge. Man to man. Which I am getting used to (kind of).
But I was listening and paying attention.
I reminded Jorge of the special hinge work we wanted and he reminded The Welder. Somehow, I had a feeling this was a new concept to him, and not one he seemed to love. "I heard "Me complica las cosas," it complicates things for me. Interesting.
Then he said something about the arched windows having to be split so that the top would remain fixed and only the lower, rectangular part would open. Also, something about them not being able to open outwards. Now I was the one who did not love it.
By the time he left, I was not feeling super good about the whole thing and spent some time talking with a few other people, including Ibis who makes the frames for my Hearts. They all told me the same thing: of course it can be done, and yes, it's a little complicated. But, as is often the case here: yes, it can be done.
I went home that night wondering if I was going to switch craftsman, lose my deposit. Maybe only have him build the big doors.
In the morning, my intuition kicked in and it told me that I needed to go meet The Herrero in person. Understand what was really going on, had he - as I suspected - been surprised by the design? Could he really not do it? I think my ego also wanted for him to notice that I existed.
Jorge offered to go with me but I knew I had to go without him.
I got the address and Lila, my girlfriend and I hopped in the car for a mini road trip. We drove through the jungle, through cute little towns and finally arrived, thirty minutes later than we had hoped.
The Herrero was in his studio waiting for us, and a car full of people was there waiting for him to be done so they could leave.
We talked. I explained. He explained.
As I had guessed, he had known nothing about the split metal idea. He had learned about it that very day. Which meant that when he had given us the bid for the job, he had not included the part that complicated his life. Whew.
He was patient, I was clear.
While his crew waited for him (and called him on his phone repeatedly), he took all three of us across the street to look at some doors. He petted Lila. We talked.
He said that yes, it could be done. No splitting the windows.
I mentioned the money and I think that created some breathing room in the tidy workshop and between us.
We compromised: I could not pay for all the windows to be done this way but I could choose one. Then he would build the others the more traditional way. How much will it be to do the big studio window that way? Nada, he said. Nothing. No extra charge. I decided to file this information for later and thanked him. We then went over each of the windows to make sure we were on the same page. I wanted to send him a text with a summary of it all but he said that it was not necessary and somehow I felt that it was important that I listened to that. Even though it made me itch a little, even though I so badly wanted to.
As we walked away, we shook hands and he assured me that it would all be done.
I was so glad I took the time to go and clarify, listen, understand.
In the end, I think part of it was about feeling blindsided by new information, the discomfort of that. Also, the ever present machismo. If there is the option of having a man to deal with, I will fade in the background most times.
Unless I drive my butt through the jungle and through cute little towns.
I called him later and told him that I would like to pay for ONE other window to be done this way, the bedroom window. Done.
My sister brought me a book and from the first two pages, I knew it would kick my butt. "No Land to Light On" by Yara Zgheib is the heartbreaking love story of two young Syrian refugees. Part of it takes place in 2017, the week that dt decided to create Executive Order 13769 banning entry into the US to anyone from Syria (and six other countries). Visa or not.
Sama and Hadi are caught in the dirty web of the order and well, if you know me you know that my heart has been in my throat for many hours of reading this book.
And also, my heart has been in heaven. Because of the way the author writes. Feels, really feels, then writes. So much poetry within these pages. Food, music, heartache, family, hope, despair, and love. A potent brew.
In the early pages, Yara Zgheib takes the time to explain the name of the young woman, one of the two main characters: Sama.
Sama means Sky in Arabic.
I knew right then that my house, with its 5 big ceiling windows opening towards the sky was called Casa Sama.
(and if you say it fast and with a Spanish accent, it sounds like Casas Ama. Houses Love.)
On my way to the welder's workshop (I will give the background for this visit next - just know that it involves getting fed up with being The Invisible White Woman) I wanted to first stop by the house to have a talk with the windows.
I also wanted to come over and say "Hi, we are not forgetting you, this is just a little rest and we will all be back very soon." Whoever "we" is going to be.
Walking around the three sweet rooms (I will talk about the elephant in the shower in a bit) I am loving the quiet of the countryside in the morning. Last Saturday, the place was hopping, with many of the little casitas being worked on and much music playing. I still don't fully "feel" the neighborhood but I loved the activity and its creative energy.
But this is early and this is Tuesday and also, I have to pee.
I just drank a big glass of the sweetest freshly squeezed orange juice, I have a good size drive ahead of me and while I can stop along the way, well, I have never peed in my house before. And I really like the idea.
A few hours later my girlfriend would ask me why I did not go into the bathroom and I would answer that well, how many opportunities would I get to pee in my living room? Not many, I hope. Not to mention that really, the bathroom, other than being called the bathroom is not any more ready for this kind of activity than the living room.
I look around, spot one of the many halved bottles of Sprite that the guys use as drinking glasses, and right there, with the birds singing and the jungle nearby and my walls mostly surrounding me, my house and I commune on this intimate gesture for the first time.
It feels so good, a ritual of sort. An inside joke, too. My house and me. Just the two of us.
Or so I think.
I am mid-drip drying, being sure to avoid my flowy pants, when I hear - very, very close - Hola, vecina!
Vecina. Neighbor. Damn, that's me.
No one has called me vecina here before. And now, with my butt bouncing over the dirt floor somewhere between the kitchen and the art studio ... vecina.
Voy! I call out. I am coming!
Making a mental note to empty and discard the Sprite bottle/drinking glass/toilet before leaving, I walk out as respectably as I can and meet Ismael, a very nice seeming gentleman who is finishing building his house across "the street" from mine. It turns out I had seen him both at the well water meeting and in my current street, near my little cabin a few days ago. He had called me vecina then and I had been confused, having never noticed him on that street. But I had smiled and said good morning and had not thought about it since.
But there he was, smiling and hoping for a tour.
It was a very nice visit. Maybe the first glimpse of easy neighborly-ness. He and his family are still living in the village, renting, and they hope to be moving here in October. A construction guy himself he commented on the beauty of my ceiling, the giant stones jutting out of the cistern, and I am sure noticed that while I said my plan was to move within a few short weeks, things were rather quiet for a Tuesday morning. Falta bastante. Yes, we still have a way to go, I agreed.
Poco a poco, he said, smiling.
You have no idea, I thought.
After he left and before I hopped in the car on my way to the welder's, I made sure to empty the green plastic vessel and throw it away, lest someone decided to fill it with ice and get a nice refreshing drink.
I would lie if I said that I didn't, for a deliciously mischievous second, consider leaving it there for just that purpose.
There is so much to write about. I have - or rather had, as Lila has eaten half of it - an ongoing list of vignettes to record and celebrate. I want to talk about the kids who hang out on the construction site, of the first deposit for the solar system, of the name of the house, which floated my way from the pages of a beautiful book, of gently falling in love with it too, and of what's happening - and not happening - with the water treatment plant, I want to talk about the magical window I found .... and so much more.
Days pass and so much happens even though sometimes it seems to happen slowly. It's a weird paradox, this Mexico time thing.
But right now it is 5 am and I have been up for a good while, partly due to the Frappuccino I drank yesterday afternoon and partly because... holy smokes.
Monday morning. Oh, Monday mornings.
This one was particularly edgy because it came on the heels of Sunday, May 1st, a holiday. Jorge had checked in with the guys and yes, they were going to work. Rigo and Cata both had worked really reliably the last two weeks, making up for Jorge and Anselmo taking care of their families' medical needs. I can't say that things were happening fast but I can say that they were happening and happening smoothly. Which felt nice and ease-full to me.
Jorge and I were to be at the house early morning to reconcile our money books and also to meet with the famous and elusive herrero, the welder who is making the metal doors and windows.
I arrive at 9 and find Jorge very much alone and not looking chipper.
Que pasa? I ask. They're not here, he responds.
The guys aren't here. It's Monday and they're not here. It's also now May and we are both aware that this is the month we - and the budget - are slated to be our final month of construction.
But there is something else. I can't quite put my finger on it but I can feel it.
What else? I ask.
I'm going to look for a new team, says Jorge, in his eyes a blend of frustration and sadness.
Whew. And there I had been plotting a nice little thank you fiesta dinner for our team, complete with photos of each guy doing its magic and maybe copious amounts of Sopa de Tortillas and Coronas.
He suggested pausing for a week while we re-grouped. I declined, petrified that if we stopped, my casa would become one of these ever-present not-quite-finished houses that are so frequent here. Not to mention that I am pretty sure leaving the house alone for a week, unfenced and with a bunch of building materials is not a good idea. To that, Jorge nodded his head.
He and I spent the next hour talking and sharing our experiences of work and friendships and the complications that can happen when the two intersect. Just the day before I had read part of a letter the singer Jewel wrote to Zappo's Tony Hsieh days before he died where she had said: “When you look around and realize that every single person around you is on your payroll, then you are in trouble. You are in trouble, Tony.”
Well, here we were. In trouble.
While Cata had said at 8 that he was on his way (I am writing this on Wednesday morning and he never did), Rigo was simply not answering his phone. And Jorge was hurt.
Waiting for the welder to arrive - he was already an hour late - we both shed tears sharing stories of betrayal but also deep kindnesses. Jorge seems pretty tender these days, I am guessing some worries about his tiny grandson combined with something I am not privy to, I think.
It was quiet over there, and sweet. And we had a pickle on our hand. So much left to do and less and less money to do it.
As we heard the welder's car finally send clouds of dust our way, Jorge turned to me and said: "The thing is, Rigo has the work truck and all the tools."
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