Category Archives: Cultural Challenges

House Cleaning in Rural Mexico

My house cleaning routine is completely different now that I live in rural Mexico when compared to living NOTB (north of the border). The way my mother and grandmother cleaned didn’t transfer to this new land without carpeting and linoleum floors which meant I had quite a bit to learn. I’m sure my mother-in-law thought I was a useless wife.

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty (literally) with some tips I’ve learned along the way to keep the house, perhaps not sparkling clean, but at least bearable.

Most cleaning supplies, buckets, sponges, bristle brushes, mops, dustpans, brooms and so on, are found in the jariceria. Soap and detergents can be bought at the abarrotes (corner store) or supermercado. It’s a limited selection though. Most places carry fabuloso which comes in a variety of scents and pinol, which is “pine” scented.

There are even places you can buy cleaning supplies in bulk. Paper towels can sometimes be found at the desechables (disposable) place, however, most abarrotes and smaller supermarkets don’t carry them. I suggest using a cut-up towel if you can’t find paper towels. It can be washed and reused endlessly.

Living in rural Mexico means dirt roads, dirt paths, and dirt lawns. That dirt seeps in under the door and through open windows. Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to reduce the amount of dirt inside your home, which ironically means reducing the amount of dirt outside of it.

The first line of defense is a broom. The broom is a mighty weapon in the battle against dirt. Brooms come in plastic and natural varieties. The ones made of twigs or straw are really the best for the dirt work outside your home.

Use that broom to sweep any loose dirt from in front away from your house. The broom is what you’ll use to sweep the loose dirt from the back of your house as well. Furthermore, the broom is used to sweep the loose dirt inside your house.

Your broom needs a super sidekick for the best results. Invest in one of those long-handled dustpans, not one you have to bend over to use. You’ll do a lot of sweeping in rural Mexico you’ll be thankful. Don’t just sweep the dirt outside. It will find a way back in. Sweep it into the dustpan and put it in the trash.

The plastic broom becomes an even better tool when combined with water and soap. With soapy water you can use the broom to scrub cement floors. Depending on the texture of your tile, you might use it to scrub those too. For example, the tile we have downstairs is smooth and a mop works well. But the upstairs tile is rough and a broomy mop does a way better job.

A broom can also be used to scrub the walls. Most walls are textured and you can’t just wipe them down with a wet cloth without getting bloody knuckles. So, use a broom. 

If you have throw rugs, a broom makes a heck of a rug beater. Brooms also work to knock down cobweb buildup. Surprisingly enough you find chimney sweeps readily in Mexico, which work great for the same purpose. 

Next, you may need a mop. Let me tell you, a mop won’t last nearly as long as you expect it would. But hang on to the wooden mop handles because, for some reason, broom handles are prone to breakage (probably all that scrubbing). A nail or two and your broom head has a new handle. 

Mopping is done differently here than how I learned to do it. Here it involves at least two mops and a bucket of soapy water. First, the mop is dunked in a bucket of soapy water. Then it is hand wrung. Some broad swishing about the floor follows. After that a DRY mop is swished over the same area, reducing the water residue. This is repeated until the entire floor surface has been cleansed. Mops are left to dry with the strings up, handle down.

When building your home, take this into consideration. Once you are ready to install tile, be proactive and buy brown floor tile, preferably with speckles that already resemble dirt. NEVER buy white tile even though it is usually cheaper. Choose dark grouting as well, not light. Also, smooth tiles may be easier to mop but are slippery when wet, so not the best option for bathrooms, kitchens, hallways or anywhere else where water accumulates.

Don’t be shy about using the water that you’ve used to wash clothes for mopping. We have a washer that we catch the gray water from the outtake hose in a bucket for this very purpose. When we hand wash, we do the same thing. 

Some cleaning can be reduced in intensity or avoided altogether if you are wise. For example, don’t buy white towels. I know that it gives your kitchen or bath a bright, clean feel, but it won’t last. Instead, buy brown towels. Seriously. The same goes for bedding. White sheets???–PLEASE! You’re just asking for trouble. Dark colors, like brown, are good. 

The reason I suggest this is because Tide Ultra is not available at the local super (supermercado). Instead, you’ll find a paltry selection of overly aromatic laundry soap which can’t quite cut the mustard, literally. I use Foca liquid detergent which is biodegradable and has a very mild scent but doesn’t get clothes as clean as my detergent did way back in the day when I lived in another country.

Since the detergent available is not great for stain treatment, a scrubber bristle brush works is another tool you’ll want to add to your cleaning arsenal. You really need to put some muscle into scrubbing at those stains. though. After you’ve scrubbed the bejesus out of those chili stains, hang the garment in full sun for some natural bleaching. 

Bristle brushes work for the walls in your shower too. Take one in while you shower and scrub away. The floor is already sudsy from your shower, so go ahead and broom scrub it then too. 

Whether your washer is indoors or out, a washer cover goes a long way in keeping dust from accumulating in the wash barrel. Covers are easily found for square washers as well as the round chaka-chaka ones at the places that sell blender lids.

Roma powder detergent works great to clean grease off the stove. On some stoves, it’s possible to put aluminum foil around the burners and stovetop which can be changed out as needed. Remember, prevention is the better part of cleaning valor. 

Dusting is a never-ending battle. You can buy a feather duster or make your own from your backyard fowls’ plumage. The roving carts that sell the chimney sweep brushes also carry feather dusters. A slightly damp cloth will do too. 

Most kitchens have a vitrina which is like a pantry cupboard. Use that to store your dishes. Make sure to replace broken glass doors. It keeps the dust build-up to a minimal. If you have knickknacks–keep them in a vitrina as well. 

A few stores carry products like Windex that you can use to clean your windows and mirrors. I’ve found that an auto detailing cloth works well to wipe them clean. I don’t bother with the exterior side of the windows unless they are extremely dusty. I do run the chimney sweep brush over the screens periodically to knock the dust off, however.

Flies make icky dirt speckles when they poop. Having screens in your windows and keeping the doors closed will curtail that. Those sticky fly traps will reduce the population and keep the poop speckles down too. 

Trash accumulate can be a problem in some areas. In town, the trash tractor comes by three times a week to collect your refuse. Where we live, it doesn’t. We burn some of our trash every other day or so. We recycle plastic containers, cans, and caguama (beer) bottles by taking them to the appropriate recycling center every month or so. For other items, we shop mindfully. For instance, we drink Cafe Oro because the glass jars it comes in make excellent pantry storage containers. 

If you are a financial position to do so, consider hiring a cha-cha, the term used for the cleaning muchacha (girl) even if she’s older than your mother. The cha-cha will come to your house for as little as 200 pesos a week, depending on the number of days and hours you require. It’s a fairly common practice even among the middle class and it provides a much-needed source of income for the women living in rural Mexico. While she’s scrubbing away, be sure to take notes on her techniques. Be sure to share them with your other clueless friends (and me in the comments below).

Realistically, you’ll need to learn to make peace with some dirt living in rural Mexico. It comes with the territory. Do what you can each day and don’t stress about the rest.

6 Comments

Filed under Cultural Challenges, Homesteading

How to Stay Warm in Rural Mexico

Yes, I live in Mexico which is substantially closer to the equator than the U.S. or Canada or Russia for that matter. However, it DOES get cold here. As most homes in Mexico are not insulated, nor do they have a heating system, well, that coldness seeps right into the bones some days.

fireplace

Our toasty fireplace

I am a very lucky lady in that my husband made us a fireplace which in the most extreme weather conditions, we can light. In our area of central Mexico, that usually happens part of November and most of December. When my husband deems it is not sufficiently cold to light said fireplace, I have developed a few other ways to keep the chill off. 

I expect I shall feel better after tea.

Hot Drinks

Hot tea is my constant companion during the colder months. I’m not too particular about flavors. I like hot jamaica, hot manzanilla, and hot yerba buena, either harvested from my little herb garden or already bagged up bought from the store. Hot tea keeps a body warm.

Hot chocolate is another favorite of mine. I like a nice hot chocolate, made with Abuelita circles, in the evening. When there is fresh goat milk available, even better.

IMG_20190924_093608 (2)

All of those jars are Cafe Oro.

Hot coffee is my morning drink of choice. We’ve been drinking Cafe Oro for years because I use the glass containers as food storage jars in my pantry. They are square you see, and fit nicely lined up on the shelf. However, we are trying out new flavors this month. Some have been amazing, others rather disappointing. 

Este caldito resucita a un muerto

This broth will raise the dead–South American saying

Soup

Soup is another requirement for cold days. Not only does it warm you from the inside out, but the long cooking process also heats the kitchen, which is where I am, in front of the fireplace. Bone broth, chicken soup, beef stew, pozole, even menudo on occasion can be found simmering in a big pot in our house. 

Pajamas and Slipper Socks and Sweaters

I have quite an extensive selection of warm pajama bottoms and slipper socks. When I’m teaching classes online, my students can’t see my nether regions, so I swaddle them in furry jammie pants and fuzzy slipper socks. Sweaters work great to cover over that cute strawberry PJ shirt too. 

Throw Rugs and Blankets

Most houses in Mexico do not have carpeting. The tile floor can get mighty cold even with slipper socks on. Strategically placed throw rugs can reduce the amount of time your little feet come in contact with the tile. Think of it as setting up your own giant board game, and you are the plastic piece that needs to move forward and backward only on those throw rug spaces.

Blankets can be used to wrap yourself up in, or hung in doorways and over windows to keep down the draft. I like to fashion myself an entirely separate living space by hanging blankets at all the entrances to the main living area (the kitchen) where the roaring fireplace is doing its best to keep me warm. 

Snuggling

If there is nothing pressing to be done that cold, cold day, you might find me as snug as a bug in a rug in my bed piled high with blankets. I might have company, or I might be alone. My husband doesn’t allow the animals in the house, otherwise, they’d be right there with me, dogs, cat, and possibly a chivito or two. Isn’t that how the Eskimos keep warm?

Space Heater

When I must venture from my cocoon and work in my office which is farther from the fireplace than I would like, I plug in the space heater and put it under my desk. It uses quite a bit of electricity, so I only use it when I just can’t get warm, but it is an option. 

Get Outdoors

Most houses in Mexico are made with brick or block, which means cold walls and indoor temps. It’s great on hot days, but on cold days, not so much. 

If the temperature indoors is lower than the temperature outdoors, I go for a walk in the sunshine. A little bit of exercise raises my body’s internal temperature and I feel warmer, if only for a little while. 

Be Active

To keep that internal body temperature up, you can do some indoor activities as well. Sweeping, the job that never ends, cleaning the bathroom, and dusting are all great cold-weather chores. Some chores should not be done in frigid weather, like hand washing and mopping because getting all wet on top of the cold makes a miserable woman indeed. 

These are some of the ways that I stay warm in rural Mexico. How about you?

 

2 Comments

Filed under Construction, Cultural Challenges

Showering in Rural Mexico

Today I’d like to talk about showering in Mexico because odds are you won’t get the luxury of a bath unless you are willing to sit in a horse trough in rural Mexico. 

We have a shower and we have hot water, but that hasn’t always been the case. So here are some showering things you might need to know about before stripping down.

C on the shower knob stands for caliente (hot) and F is frio (cold). And even though the hot water control should be on the left side and the cold on the right, that may not be true for the shower you are using. 

bathtub ledge

Showers are often built with small ledges that you can trip over if you aren’t careful. This is so water doesn’t spill out onto the floor. Our shower has a sort of reverse engineering. The shower is slightly lower than the bathroom floor and the floor is angled toward the center drain. Not all showers have that sloping and sometimes you can get quite a bit of water build up around your feet.

If you run out of water during your shower, mid-shampoo, hopefully, there is a barrica (barrel) of rainwater that someone can bring you a bucketful of to rinse out those soapy locks. Running out of water happens more often than you might imagine.

tinaco

Houses have tinacos (those ugly black round storage containers on the roof) that if you are connected to the town water supply will fill when the water is on. The thing is, water may only run two or three days per week. The tinaco is supposed to store enough water to get you to the next delivery. That’s not always the case. 

If you know ahead of time that there isn’t any water for a shower, you can take a bucket bath. When the occasion calls for it, my husband has been kind enough to heat water on the stove to take the chill off my bucket bath. Most homes have at least one enormous aluminum pot that will quickly heat water for your absolutions. Some have electric water heating devices. Just make sure to unplug it before testing the water temperature with your hand.

heating up water

The typical water application device for a bucket bath is a plastic bowl that we call a scooper. It’s the same plastic container that is used for washing clothes when it’s done with a washboard setup. 

water heater

If you have enough water for showering, then you’ll need to decide if it’s worth the effort to turn on the boila (gas hot water heater) or not. I’m a little afraid of it, having had my eyebrows singed before. 

The procedure for lighting the boila is as follows:

  • Turn the red switch to Piloto (pilot).
  • Push down the red button 10 or 15 times in rapid succession.
  • Open the portal.
  • Light a match.
  • Hold down the red button.
  • Wave the match around inside near the pilot light contraption until it whooshes. 
  • Slowly release the button. 
  • If the flame begins to waver, press the red button firmly down again.
  • When the flame is steady, turn the red switch to Abierto (open)
  • Close the portal.
  • Back away quickly.

After you have successfully lit the boila, then you need to wait around for about 20 minutes until enough water is warm enough for a shower. 

Make sure to turn the boila off after your shower. The contraption is gas-powered. If it is not vented properly, the gas can kill you or at the very least cause carbon dioxide poisoning if left on for an extended period of time.

electric water heater

I’ve also had the dubious pleasure of showering under an electric shower head. Although I loved every minute of the hot water on demand, it still made me very nervous. Water and electricity aren’t exactly the best of friends. However, if it is installed correctly and in working order, then there is no risk of electrocution. 

solar heater

The newest rage in our area is the solar water heater. It mounts on the roof and connects both to the tinaco and pipes that lead into the house. Many people who have this setup say that the water comes out boiling and even the knobs are too hot to touch. Yikes! We choose not to get a solar water heater because there are occasions when we don’t have water in the tinaco. If there isn’t water to run through the solar heater at all times, it can burn up the components. 

If it seems too much effort to get hot water, take heart. If your black tinaco is on the roof, the water is a comfortable shower temperature in the early afternoon. 

Most showers are set up on a gravity system. If the tinaco isn’t far enough from the showerhead, you may not get a lot of water pressure. Rinsing long hair might be complicated with the trickle-down effect. During the rainy season, the rain may be coming down harder than the water comes out of the showerhead. Feel free to take advantage of the heavenly shower Mother Nature has provided outdoors. 

rub a dub dub

Bathing children is somewhat simpler. Babies can fit into the sink off the side of the lavadora (washboard). Small children can splash about in the laundry tub. And several children fit nicely in a horse trough, which comes in metal and plastic for your bathing pleasure. 

Now I’ve heard that there are hot water on demand setups, but I’ve never been to a house that has one. I’ve also been to a plomería that had not just bathtubs, but jacuzzis, so they do exist too. These are just things outside of my own experience in this area of Mexico. 

So there you go! Tips for showing in rural Mexico. Follow these and you’ll be squeaky clean in no time!

Tell me, how do you shower?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Construction, Cultural Challenges, Homesteading, Water issues

International Women’s Friendship Month

September is International Women’s Friendship Month. So how do these international friendships typically pan out? Sometimes not so well, sadly.

Living in rural Mexico often means isolation for women who have chosen to come with their husbands to the lands of their ancestors. Friendships with other women are slow in developing, if ever. And yet, women need the support of a tribe of their own, not just the husband’s sister or aunt or cousin. 

Studies have shown that deep, abiding friendship between women can counteract stress–and moving to a new culture is certainly rift with that. Women have an innate drive to communicate, which moving to an area where a new language is spoken can inhibit. Friendships occur over shared experiences, beliefs and values–things that are not found in the new environment these women have settled in. 

Friendship can help women combat loneliness, improve their chances of surviving breast cancer, and generally help create a satisfying quality of life, no matter where a person lives. 

So why is it so hard to foster friendship in a new country?

Unfortunately, we have an inherent bias built into our perceptions that takes deliberate effort to overcome. We tend to choose friends who look like us, have a similar background, and social values. When we are faced with making connections with people who neither look like us nor have a shared history, we need to work more at finding commonality than we would otherwise. And while we immigrants to Mexico may be driven to find connections, the women that live in our village with long-time established friendships, are not. 

So where does that leave us? Depressed, lonely, and ill. Online friendships sometimes help with the worst of this, but virtual buddies can’t ever replace an actual friend. 

In June, I was able to visit my hometown for the first time in 10 years. I stayed in the home of my best friend since third grade. I thought that it was just me, who had been living in relative isolation for so long, that most enjoyed our time together. So I was surprised when my friend said that she really missed the company of women, both her girls were grown now. 

at shannons

We talked about the growing Amish community in the area and whether they had a better support system than most women. After all, they have shared values, a common background, activities, and history. Since that society of women is closed to non-Amish for the most part, we weren’t able to do more than speculate.

Bringing these thoughts back with me to Mexico, I started to feel less resentful of the women who refused to befriend me. The closed society of women here is no different than the Amish community in Pennsylvania. Which of course, makes it difficult for interlopers like myself to establish deep and abiding friendships. 

shopping with e

So where does that leave me? I will continue to enjoy my virtual interactions in the various Facebook groups I am in, including two that I help manage SOTB Bloggers and Women Surviving Rural Mexico, which I invite you to join if you live in Mexico. I will keep trying to be supportive of the women as they struggle with their online presence and daily interactions in Mexico. I will try to remember that I have an internal bias as do the women I come in contact with, so I mustn’t hold it against them. And I will continue to cherish the friends that I have no matter the distance between us. 

How have you made and maintained your friendships with other women?

2 Comments

Filed under Cultural Challenges, Uncategorized