Sunday, October 25, 2009

working the land

I've done a terrible job writing about the actual construction and transformation that's been going on at our land since we moved to the jungle. J spends backbreaking hours and days in the hot sun carefully planning, building, and creating our future home. While this doesn't do it justice, here are a few photos of our recently constructed earth bag structure. The whole thing was done by hand, the door and window frames were handmade, the bags will carefully filled with a mixture of sand and clay. J has spent countless, countless hours on this, not only in the building but in the art of learning how it's done.
While it looks simple, this took forever. Lots of dirt. We found pottery shards during the sifting which was pretty amazing. Earthbags are very heavy and the walls are thick. Thick walls means cooler temperatures. Natural respite from the heat. The round construction means it's not going anywhere. This will be here for a long, long time.
This may look like paint but it's actually a tint applied to the last coat of mud. Once the bags are done the whole building is covered w/ mud and then the final coat has some sort of magical mixture added to it. As you can see, J has spent an incredible amount of time on the details. It's been amazing to watch his passion and persistence unfold in so many ways. Every step of the process was looked at from a environmental lens, what materials are sustainable, what is the least harmful, etc. I am a particular fan of the window flare and the slate at the bottom which while beautiful, serves as a splash guard for those pesky thunderstorms.

We had to hire the roofing work out. Thatch is absolutely an art form, and the guys who did this spent several days cutting, weaving and then tying the leaves. It's an incredible process.
So there she is, our little jungle structure nestled on our little jungle property. We aren't planning to live in it right now for a number of reasons but we eventually might use it for guest lodging. We needed a practice structure before attempting to build any sort of living space and there were countless lessons learned. J's working on a different structure now that this one is finished, which will be the center of the garden. In the meantime we've planted over 50 trees, many of them fruit bearing.

It's a work in progress, but as it's progressed I've watched J become a botanist, an earth father, a laborer and a foreman. It's been a joy to watch his brain work in new ways and he's largely self-taught himself everything as he goes along. And there's no home depots here either. So he's been forced to think creatively and exercise his passion. It's not always easy but it's been amazing to watch. It's been an evolution of our partnership as well, in our former lives we both went off to the workplace, now so much more of our focus (at least when I'm not out of the country) is on meeting our basic daily needs and our land. We've both become more domesticated out of necessity. There is simply too much to do if we want to manage everything that needs to get done. But it feels more honest somehow, more deeply personal and less stressful.

This year has been a lot of things, ever since we took the leap and left our jobs and our lives and moved to the jungle but mainly it's been a year of discovery and of working things through.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

thirty nine

i can still taste
the sweetness of that cabin
long ago.
the discovery and blood and cement and the yes
that lit the fire that brought us here.

you, the human that makes it all seem sane
the one who held on even when the road
the road was lonely and long
and good and full of flowers
that one night in the casino
and the one right after we brought our girl home (the year they finally won)

and we
we made this, this life this one is ours
through the mountains of oregon
and florence
and bangkok
and suchitoto
and bayon
and now the jungle

it is you, i cleave here and there and in ways quiet and loud
and sometimes teary and mostly, yes mostly with gratitude
i celebrate you.

happy birthday to j

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009


I've been volunteering in M's school this week, an informal sort of thing. As you might imagine school here is mighty different, the rooms are crowded and supplies are nil. The teachers have a lot of kids and few resources to get the job done. I noticed her struggle and offered to come and help. She said OK and told me when to show up but I've yet to see her smile.

So I show up and the room is in a subdued chaos, the teachers here have no problem yelling at the kids, something I'd imagine I'd do too if stuck with this job. She handed me a stack of composition books and asked me to write the homework assignment in each. I dutifully sat at her desk and wrote and wrote while she taught the kids about 1,2 and 3. I watched M on and off and she was in heaven, somehow sitting in this crappy little room with an oh-so-strict teacher and the afternoon heat didn't seem to bother her or maybe she just doesn't know any better. Either way given the circumstances I count these blessings because this is what we've got to work with here.

I came home a bit depressed if she was in the US she'd probably be taking yoga or some shit and you know they'd have A/C and J just looks at me and says it's the sum not the parts that we need to focus on and yet I can't quite find the charm because I can't help but worry about what is best for her and we talk and we realize that while living here school is different and perhaps substandard but she is happy and safe and still learning even if there is a hole in the classroom floor.

So I went back again today, determined to not only volunteer but observe again and I have to admit it was better, the teacher had my work ready for me when I arrived and she was able to finish her lessons without worrying about the paperwork and I got to sit at the front and assign the homework and tease the kids when they came to collect their books. After closing prayer (hi hello there is a lot of jesus going on around here) she looked at me across the room Manana? I say and she nods and even smiles and M and I walk out hand in hand and happy, she's thrilled I show up and I'm thrilled I'm afforded the luxury of coming mid-day to my kid's class and hang out.

I decide I'll come whenever I can, tomorrow and the next and when I'm not running back and forth to the States because that's what this new gig affords me, long stretches at home and some time away, my id and superego and ego might just unite after all.

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Monday, October 05, 2009


I've been sticking rather close to home lately. I've got a gig that requires me to work from home, a blessing that is near indescribable. That and one car and a child whose school schedule has her popping in and out a record 4 times in 6 hours. It's okay though. I feel good. Really good. I've been a stay at home mom type for awhile now and the preciousness of that has yet to grow old.

But today I met some friends for breakfast, my voodoo priestess friend and another. We spent the time talking all things otherworldly, a place I am unafraid of but rarely visit. She's hungry, my friend, she's hungry to shake things up a bit and feeling subdued because few people speak her language even here.

I challenge her over our eggs and beans, I challenge her to do it anyways, to bring us to her land and work her magic. She laments and then comes around but not without asking me to have a role in the ceremony and I laugh, I can't help but laugh because I may be an alright sort of girl but I'm hardly tuned into the otherworld, the one that hums all around and over and under. She's undeterred, my friend and insists so I say okay as long as I can be from the East, I've found some Sufi writings lately I'd want to share. She agrees and works her magic even at the table and apparently the ancestors are on board. We are good to do this thing.

As I drive away I reflect on the past eight months, often spent hot and sweaty and itchy and weird and lately en route and I also think of all the blessings, that until this year I was a working girl who worked all the time and shopped at the box stores and drove to work and turned back around. It's like that here but different, there is a routine to our lives but it's untethered, it's random and frustrating and delicious and third-worldly, and I feel like I know more now, a kind of quiet knowing that things are different everywhere and there is grace in all things. I am slowly becoming less afraid.

I get home in time to watch a neighborhood dog kill an iguana right in front of me. It was a longish sort of battle and it made me want to cry and also want it to be over. I watched the dog turn and wander off, it's great battle over with barely a second glance and I looked at the dead thing and I thought of the cycle of life, of how it goes round and round and that I might not have thought of it this way if I hadn't come all the way down here. It's like I knew and did not know, and that doesn't make one thing better than the other but there's a quiet knowing in it, knowing our time here is short and we have to jump and grab those rings when we can.

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Friday, October 02, 2009


You'd think the auto registration center for the area would be rather official. You'd think it would have more than a shack-like quality with a couple dudes sitting behind desks so old you wouldn't believe with the A/C wall unit rattling behind them covered in dust. You'd think, but then you'd be thinking all wrong.

We pay our money and they give us a receipt. What about the plates I ask and the man smiles. Oh mon, we are out of plates. The entire country is out of plates. J starts to get nervous, we still don't know all the rules. We can't drive around without plates he says. Oh yes, mon. You aren't in America any more so you need to relax. Besides, everybody knows we are out of plates. Here, I'll write you a note. And he does.

So at the checkpoint we get stopped. You don't have any plates they say. Your country is out of plates we reply and we hand him our little note. He glances at it. Oh that's right he says. We are out of plates and smiles and waves us on. Everyone does know we say and we laugh. And we laugh extra hard and I keep saying The Country Is Out Of Plates! No Plates Anywhere! And I laugh some more.

I love the lunch time school pick up. Everyone goes home for lunch so all the mamas and the papas and the abuelas and abuelos and tias and tios gather under the shade, some with umbrellas, some in taxis, the old men laugh and the women gossip. We wait for the bell and wait some more for our own uniformed child to come racing out. Mine is easy to pick out of a crowd here and as she spots me she breaks out into a grin. She races over and we climb in the car while joyously turning on the A/C. The car is still the one place we are cool although with the fall has come cooler weather and it's getting harder to complain. We pass goats on the way home and a woman with a basket on her head and it starts to rain. A horse blocks my way and I have to honk and it tosses it's mane disdainfully as if to tell me he's been here long before me. I see my neighbor on the road and we wave.

I like it here, I like it here a lot.

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