Rustic Sustainability

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A report from the woods…

IMG_3490A disclaimer: I am (was) a Spoiled North American Woman.

It never really crossed my mind until adulthood that some people (a.k.a. most of the inhabitants of the Earth) actually live without a washer/dryer. Or a dishwasher. Or a refrigerator. Those handy home appliances are standard in my country, at least for the middle class and higher income brackets.

Well, on June 1 of this year, my family took a great leap into the muddy unknown and (somewhat unwittingly) became a whole lot more sustainable, at least as far as our carbon footprint. My little family (hubby, toddler daughter and myself) moved to a new place, a place we had sought and bought with the profit I made from selling a house I’d owned for nine years in Austin.

So now we live on a few acres of land in a little two-story house. And by little, I mean tiny: it’s just under 400 square feet. It does help that this land and house happen to overlook majestic Lake Atitlan, the sparkling blue rural Guatemalan place we’ve called home for the past three years.

Forgive the too-much-information, but I feel compelled (and a little proud and a little ashamed) to tell you that since that day, I have been digging holes and shitting in the woods. I bathe precisely twice a week, thanks to the generosity of a dear friend and neighbor whose running water and delectable solar shower is just a 10-minute hike away. Running water is something we are still working on getting hooked up here on our land. As of today, our newly-constructed outhouse (baño seco/dry composting toilet) is—at last!—ready to use. So, no more hole digging.

My beat-up old 1993 Lancer cannot handle the rocky roads in our new neck of the woods, so we’re in the process of selling her. No more car. Public transportation: moto-taxis and boats locally, buses or shuttles if we need to go further, and perhaps one day an actual airplane ride, though for now our time, energy and money is going into home renovation projects.

For the first two weeks of our new residency, we had no power. We burned candles at night and usually went to bed not long after dark. Then, we got our solar power system all set up, which is enabling me to type and publish this very blog right now. The wonders of technology!

This experience has reminded me how flexible and adaptable I am/we are. How we humans can pretty much get used to anything, for better or worse. And how to be grateful for the little things.

My daughter Jade is a great teacher in this regard. Whenever she spills or breaks something, she has taken to saying, “No importa, mama!” (or papa). Translation: it doesn’t matter. It’s gonna be okay. 

Sometimes, in the first few weeks, I had to remind myself: I chose this. Although I’ve been gradually moving further and further from the lifestyle I led in the USA for the past six years, this was no doubt the most drastic and sudden shift into shocked sustainability. I would wake up feeling a mix of anxiety, fear, excitement, boredom, curiosity, and doubt most days.

Now, six weeks in, I’m beginning to feel more and more settled—both in my own skin and our new house. I have lightened up and am learning to live by the mantra of my little girl: No importa!