Friday, January 23, 2009

Here and There

There are many differences between life in El Salvador and in the US. The differences are most prevalent in with respect to every day household matters. In the US, I was used to lots of storage space, a pretty much all enclosed living space, hot water, and laundromat laundry. Let's just say I was spoiled.

Closets/Storage Space
Most houses in El Salvador don't have closets and have very little, if any, storage space. The house we are in how actually has a rather large closet in the master bedroom, but this is the first house we've been in a with a closet. You either have to go out and buy wardrobes, put all your clothes in a dresser. We bought a bought a nice dresser that is about 4 ft. across, has a mirror, two locking drawers and three long drawers for $130. It was well worth it, and a bargain by American standards, as it is first piece of particle-board-free furniture that I've owned in I don't know how long. Kitchens also seriously lack storage. There are typically no cabinets, cupboards or drawers, so you're left to your own devices for storage there as well. We've solved this problem by using these shallow, stacking, plastic bins... they work well just about everywhere and run about $13 a pop.

(Literally) Open Floor Plans
One thing that I've noticed about almost every house we've lived in or been in here, is that some part of it is open to the elements. Typically, there is a courtyard or patio or small back yard--mostly because you need somewhere to do the wash! Right now, our home is completely open--as in every room opens to the outside and we have a rather large courtyard with a mango tree in the center. It's nice because it provides a decent amount of space, and gives Mi Amor room to work... it does, however, still have its problems.

The courtyard is tiled with outdoor brick-like tiles, and we have a few flower beds, so we're not talking about living around a lot of dirt. You wouldn't know it though! I have to sweep the living areas of our house every morning and mop every other morning, just to keep the place remotely clean. It's still a constant battle. The dirt just finds its way everywhere! It's not as bad as the last house, which somehow attracted this horrible film of black dirt every morning, but still. This constant battle with the elements and dirt is one thing I really have a hard time with. I get frustrated at times because it feels like everything gets dirty just as soon as I clean it.

Hot Water
There is none, unless it's warmed by the sun. This is something I've gotten used to, but I think I'll be investing in a one of these at some point because the water is just too cold in the morning. Mi Amor stresses that it's good for the body, and I'm sure it is. It's just not good for my mind!! All dish and clothes washing done at home is done in cold water, and is leaving my hands rather... rough.

While we are lucky enough to have a separate sink in the kitchen, where we do some of the wash, most of the dishes and all of our hand washed laundry is done in the sink above. On the left is a large water reservoir, which is convenient when the water pressure is nil during the day (which actually hasn't happened for a while). The downside to these reservoirs (there are typically large reservoirs in the shower area too) is that they are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and need to be emptied and cleaned weekly. On the right is a basin where the wash is actually done.

The other problem with no hot water is figuring out how to bathe children.

La Hija is not a fan of the cold water, so I've taken to trying to make it play time for her. The water gets warm from the sun, and it's typically hot enough to make cool water feel more than refreshing. We still haven't gotten to a point where she will let me wash her hair without a fight, though.

Overall, I'm really fine with the differences. I may be bringing back some less harsh dish detergent, however. My hands feel like sandpaper


Steve Cotton said...

Thank you for your detailed posts on daily activities. Whenever I think some of my coming living arrangements are a bit primitive, I just need to look around to realize how fortunate I am. And enjoy life without spending all my time working for conveniences.

chicadedios25 said...

We had a courtyard that was very similar to that in Mexico.

Regina and I would go out every morning and sweep the courtyard down so we did not track dirt into the house all the time. I still go outside at my house and sweep everything down. Carlos laughed at me when he first saw this...but he knew why I did it.

When I was in Mexico we did have semi-warm water because they put the tanks on top of the buildings and they did have a pilot light in them at least....but it was always lukewarm at best.

It sounds like to be content in El Salvador one would have to learn to be self sufficient...but that could be very empowering when you stop to think about it.

Live Simply Love Strongly said...

I love the pic of your daughter taking a "bath." It actually reminds me of a picture my mom has of me playing in a large tupperware bowl when I was small.

Anonymous said...

Hello from Seattle,WA

I really enjoy your blog. A couple of thoughts about the water problems... people who live on sailboats have a thing called a "sun shower". Hang a plastic bag in the sun all day to warm the water.

Also, my friend in the carribean puts clorox in the dish water to kill any bugs that may develop in the cistern. You'll need rubber gloves, tho. At nite just lather your hands with lotion and put on some old cotton socks before you go to sleep. In the morning you will be pleasantly surprised.

Kind regards, Corrinne

Honduras Sprout said...

I have to wear rubber gloves when doing any washing. But sometimes (often) I'm' too lazy to put them on for some reason so I still end up with rough hands.

Bleach in the water will help. I love my pila and I have said that if I were to live in the states, I might consider trying to have one made. They are so useful!

Live Simply Love Strongly said...

About the water, I was thinking that when I was in Mexico, we heated water on the stove, put it in a bucket, and added some tap water to make it the right temp. I bathed with a washcloth and a small container to "spoon" it out. Long-term, you could think about some sort of solar-heater. I have seen some on-line, that people make themselves.

Laurie said...

I like your descrioption of your living spaces. It is quite a bit like my life was like when I lived in Comayagua. Here in Tegus, I upgraded a bit. I have and (love!) hot water.

carol_cil said...

That house reminded me of my grandma's house, she had a courtyard like that and what they did was "wash it" (they just dump water on the floor) at least once a day to keep the dust from going inside the house.

If you guys decide to move to a "big" city, like San Salvador, Santa Ana or San Miguel, you will find that most of the houses have closets in the bedrooms and cabinets in the kitchens, and depending on the neighborhood (and the price you are willing to pay) you might get a water heater.

Someone I know, got electric showers and they seem to work fine (their kids love it...)

BTW, the pilas are still present even in the most expensive houses... they are very useful! And about the hands... try some fresh sabila (aloe) with honey and if you have olive oil, throw it in there!

Good luck!

aighmeigh said...

Steve, my mother told me that there was no way she could live the way we do there, and I agree it's definitely... different. Different is good sometimes! :)

Chica, what really made things work for me was getting into a routine. I really had to get a set of chores planned out on a daily basis both to keep me sane and to keep things... less filthy! hehe

LS, it was always a struggle to get her in the thing, but once she was in she loved it!! I used to heat up the water to shower, but it's just too much work. One of these days I'll invest in a portable tankless heater so I can shower in the morning comfortably :)

Corrinne, thank you for reading!! I actually got used to the showers, although I didn't tend to take them in the mornings... I would wait until it got hot during the day. I started putting a bit of bleach in the pila to keep the mosquitoes from breeding in there and it seemed to help. I will definitely try out the lotion idea as well--my hands need some serious TLC!

Mama Sprout, I love the pila too! There are so many things that it makes much easier... and the wash is done much more quickly. I kept meaning to get gloves, but I don't feel like I can clean well enough with them on... gotta find a happy medium.

Laurie, although I don't mind the lack of hot water when it's really hot, at some point I'm going to have to get it. Mi Amor understands that at some point this gringa needs access to heat in the shower!! :)

Carol, I started "washing" the courtyard every day too... especially after days the sugar plant did a lot of work and put the black carbon flakes all over the city. It made a big difference... although the house still got pretty dirty every day. We were looking at a house in Santa Ana which had closets and even *screens*!! No signs of hot water yet, but that's okay. We are looking at places around San Salvador and I am hoping we find somewhere with a bit of storage. I really do love the pilas... they make life a lot easier! Thanks for the hand ideas--I'll give them a go! :)