Saturday, January 26, 2013

Making Do

I was working in the garden with the irrigation running when I heard the alarm on the tinaco (roof top reserve water tank) start screaming, indicating that the water level was falling. I ignored it. That was a bad mistake.
A rooftop tinaco, somewhere in Mexico

We put the tinaco on the roof because of the frequent water outages in Banámichi. The way it was designed, all the water for for the two houses first runs into the tinaco and then flows out to the garden or the house. Then we realized that if the city water supply went down, the irrigation would run the tinaco dry in a very short time, so Dan designed and built an alarm system with an exceedingly raucous alarm and warning lights. When the alarm goes off, we can turn off the irrigation, thereby insuring a reserve water supply for the house.

The only problem was that it took awhile to work out the quirks in the system, so there were many false alarms. When the alarm went off this time, I never even considered turning off the irrigation. I was lulled into complacency. It had to be another false alarm.

But noooooo, not this time. A short while later, Dan called out the door: "We're out of water." Ok," says I, "No problemo, it will probably come back on within an hour or so as it always does." Well, not this time. By evening, Dan was scrounging around in the shed to find the 5 gallons of water we had stashed away for emergencies. This situation qualified! The 5 gallons lasted for a couple of toilet flushes and for washing the dishes. By now, we were down to planning meals that could be served with a minimum of dishes.

Fortunately, drinking water was never an issue, since we purchase purified water for that purpose from an establishment called River Water in Aconchi. River Water is a is purified and distilled.

The next morning, there still was no water. Of course, rumors abounded -  the mine was sucking up all the water, or, some guys had gone to Hermosillo - in the middle of the night - to get parts for the city pump. All that day, we expected the water to come on momentarily. The dishes piled up and the toilet went unflushed. All of us gringos commented on how foolish it was to have only one pump for the town, and groused about our waterless lot.

Lynn asked Ramón, "Why don't you Mexicans revolt?" He just shrugged. I think it is just not the Mexican way to complain. Mostly, it won't do any good and is a waste of energy. Why ask the city to buy a second pump, when they hardly have the money to maintain the one they have? Mexicans don't complain, they just make do with what ever they have and with whatever happens. In contrast, I recalled a TV news item during Hurricane Sandy where an American woman in New York was shrieking about how it was two days already that she had been without electricity. Two whole days after a disaster of that magnitude! Her face was contorted with rage. What was somebody going to do about her problem? She as truly ugly about it. We Americans are SO spoiled!!

The morning of the next day, Dan took several 5 gallon buckets down to the irrigation ditch and filled them with greenish water. I did worry a bit about bacteria, but we both have pretty good immunity, so we went ahead and did the dishes. We blew right through those buckets of water and soon needed more. It is shocking how much water gets used in a normal house..even if one is being frugal with it.

Dan filling up at Feliz Estancia
By this time, some people in town had a trickle of water coming out of their faucets, but random others - including us -  did not. In the afternoon, we went out to Feliz Estancia, the hot springs, so we could soak and clean ourselves up a bit. While there, Dan filled several more buckets with water from the swimming pool.

As we entered the 4th day without water, we were finally able to fill our buckets with clean water at Los Arcos Hotel. Others were also getting water from friends and relatives. Little old ladies were seen carrying heavy buckets of water up Calle Obregon. Making do the best they could. Finally, later that day, when I had given up all hope of having water before we had to return to Tucson, Dan turned on the faucet...and whooosh!! There was a healthy stream of water. The crisis had passed. Within a few hours, the neighbor's washing machine was gurning away, and laundry hung in every yard up and down the street.

There is something to be said for knowing how to make do with what one has instead of looking to someone or something else to solve problems. It builds self-reliance and creativity. Mexicans have made an art form of doing this. When we first moved into our house in Banámichi, we had an armoire that we were using as a pantry. Because the floor sloped where it had to sit, we had it propped up and balanced on a large rock. Ramón stopped by one day, and when he saw that he roared with laughter! "Muy Mexicano!" (Very Mexican!) he said!

Using what one has....
If you look around in Mexico, everywhere you will see the evidence of making do. When the water heater breaks, or you have no money to pay for the gas it takes, rip out the wiring and build a wood fire under it! Have an old washing machine that doesn't work? Use it to prop up your swamp cooler. Your car is missing a couple of doors? No it anyway. No work? Sell tamales or coyotas (jam filled pastries) door to door. No money for carne asada? Eat beans and tortillas. And what is there to be ugly or complain about? Be happy! Life is good.


  1. Hi June, First of all I am glad you're getting your hip fixed. You'll be back to normal before you know it. I understand you concern though about the prep that is necessary. Hopefully that can be turned around too quickly. Okay, making do. You are so on target with this. We are so spoiled here in the US. We have to have it a certain way. I recall our time in Mexico over two decades ago. My strongest impression was of the very clean laundry that everyone hung out for drying. Another was the obvious resourcefulness of the people. It was impressive how many uses a free rock could have. We don't want anything that shows we couldn't affort to do it up right. Yes, I'm in that trap too. But I've been working on it for decades. Take care you two and have a beautiful remainder of your winter even with the challenges ahead. Love you both.

  2. June - What a fantastic writer you are! We frequent the Springs (not nearly as much as we'd like) and absolutley love the area. We're from Tucson but enjoy the quite town feel and great rural beauty or the suroundings. Our small group of friends (all from Tucson) travel throughout Mexico enjoying the culture, food and fun. We'll be in Banamichi this Thur-Sun at La Posada and would love to meet to talk about your life and experiences down there! If not at the springs we'll probably be strolling the square or sipping margaritas or sangria at the hotel! thanks so much for the blog... Nick & Meg