This morning, mosquitoes made me buy an iron. Yes, you read that right. I bought an iron – and not because I have wrinkly clothing and want to look presentable (I’m a backpacker – wrinkly clothes are the norm). Oh no! I bought an iron this morning because we’re installing mosquito screens in all the windows in our apartment. And since this place is old and has nonstandardized stuff – that means all the screens have to be custom made. Enter carpenter Kyle and seamstress/crafty Kathy.
We’re back in home improvement territory again, after years of being away from it. Years where we worked really REALLY hard to not have a home. We sold everything we owned back in 2012 and it was so much stuff – and so much work to dismantle and sell off a life – that we vowed we would never let ourselves back into that lifestyle ever again. We promised ourselves we would not own things beyond the mere basics. For years, we have lived out of our backpacks – and all of our belongings (most of which are either art or paperwork we can’t throw away) fit into the very small guestroom at my parents’ house. But one day we realized we were craving a sense of community.
8 months ago, we made the decision that maybe it was time to settle down again. After 3.5 years of travel, we were a bit tired and really missing that sense of community that comes from staying in a place longer than 3 months. We knew we wanted to continue to have an international life, but that maybe it was time to have a home again. Time to settle down a bit and get to know a place and make friends with our neighbors. Time to live in a different language and culture. An opportunity presented itself – one that involved a move to Oaxaca. We jumped on it! 6 months ago, we moved into our apartment here.
It has been exciting and nervewracking! We finally got to unpack everything from our backpacks – and they got stored in the bottom of the closet. It was also a bit of a culture shock to have to purchase a bunch of things for a household again. The first thing we bought after signing our lease was an oven. Okay, so really it’s just an oversized toaster oven, but in the past six months I’ve baked cupcakes & cakes for celebrations in that oven – six cupcakes at a time. We roasted a turkey for Thanksgiving and made pumpkin pie from scratch – including roasting a pumpkin to make the filling. An oven is one of those things that screams “this is a HOME” for me. It means preparing healthy meals and tasty treats for people I love – a rare treat when you live on the road. We own one again.
And now we’re busy screening all the windows in this place. The deadline is May 26th, the day before we leave for the summer. And the screens must be in before we go, because when I come back in July with my niece (& then my parents visit two weeks after that) it will be full on rainy season – and nobody has any idea what the mosquito situation will be like. Oaxaca is tropical enough and just barely low enough in altitude to be able to host the Aedes aegypti mozzies – the ones who carry dengue, chikungunya, and zika. We also don’t have ventilation, air conditioning, or a heater (it’s never really cold enough) – open windows is how we ventilate and cool our house and they are always open – in fact, some of the windows have never even been closed in the almost 7 months that we have lived here. So screens are a must. But since the screens can’t all be installed on frames, some of them have to be taped into the frames or secured with velcro. And for that, they need to be edged. No way to edge the screens before I hand sew them except with an iron.
Damn you, mosquitoes! I caved this morning and bought an iron. And not just the cheapest one they had either. I bought the one with all the bells and whistles that old Kathy would have wanted – just in case – because I’m never buying another one ever again and maybe one day I will want to vertically steam my clothing for some special occasion.
In ways I quite often don’t even realize, this place is becoming home in ways both fast and slow, profound and simple. It’s delightful and frustrating. Every day, it seems I am learning things about myself and Kyle and this life we choose to live here in Mexico.
For instance, I had no idea there were so many different shades of turquoise. A fact I discovered when we decided to paint the wall behind our couch. OUR couch – we have a couch now and it is so incredibly old and uncomfortable that we’re considering replacing it. But, more importantly, I want the wall behind it to be Turquoise!!! Me, the gal who had an incredibly simple and neutral palette in her old home (beige couch, beige carpeting, white walls). Check out my carpet now!
Now we have an old apartment in the center of Oaxaca, with loads of great light and walls the color of the caucasian flesh tone crayon from the Crayola 64 box of my childhood – the one with the coveted built-in sharpener. Our kitchen tap looks more like the one in your backyard – the one you attach your garden hose to.
We only have hot water in our bathroom, which I’ve spent time trying to make look less like a gas station restroom and more like a bathroom in a home. You can plug in 8 things in our home. 8 electrical plugs (not outlets) – in a two bedroom apartment. The light fixtures are all currently bare bulbs, often hanging on wires from the ceiling. It’s okay. Things are slowly coming along. We couldn’t be happier to have found home. A fellow traveler we met was bemoaning having to return to her modest Mexican life for a few more months (after a brief return to her hometown in Canada). We laughed to ourselves about how happy our Mexican life is. We choose to live more simply in order to live richer. And Mexico has delivered a rich life in spades ~ one of good friendships, good food, inspiring culture, passionate interests, and the time to enjoy it all.
We’ve hosted dinners and birthday parties in our home here. We’ve celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, & Easter here – all with a different rhythm than we have in the past – old traditions blending seamlessly with new ones.
In just over two weeks we will say “hasta pronto”, shut the door to our Mexican home, and leave it for the summer. I’ll only be gone a short 6 weeks before I return for a month – and we’ll return full time in mid-September. But there is something profound about leaving home – whether it is for a short time or a more extended one. For years, we’ve called ourselves home. Our marriage has been a shelter for us, a foundation from which we journeyed out and explored the world – with practically no signs of homesickness. To make this choice to have a home base again was a big deal for us. We were looking for a place to call our own. A retreat at the end of the day. A base from which we can continue to grow our life, ourselves, and our passions.
We found it. And soon, it will have a turquoise wall and no mosquitoes.