When we first arrived at the house we were giddy with excitement. The kids ran through claiming this room or that room as their own. They explored all the nooks and crannies inside and marveled at all the different kinds of trees and plants outside. We were greeted by Panda the dog, who the kids immediately fell in love with. It wasn’t until a day or so later that we discovered we also had a cat, named Tigresa. After some debate and an elaborate preference system, we decided who would sleep where, and the unpacking began. It was then, I quickly realized there was a lot of work to do to make this house a home.
Let’s back up. I found this rental back in November when I came on a scouting trip. Back then, I toured a bunch of schools, met with local physicians and non-profits, and had a friend of a friend take me around to a bunch of potential houses. The idea was to get a sense of what life might be like once we got here: jobs, schools, home, etc. One of my stops with Tio Hugo was to meet the local tennis pro and see his tennis court (one of two in all of Urubamba). Being the tennis fanatics we are, it seemed the logical thing to do. In the course of our conversation with Coach we asked about the house under construction next door. He said it was his uncle’s project and that it would be available to rent “oh, sometime around the end of March.” My eyes lit up. However, I was also being shown some really cool places in other spots around Urubamba. . . it was a tough decision. I took lots of photos and when I got back to Portland Jeff and I ultimately decided on this one. Not as many creature comforts, and we had no idea how furnished it would be, but we were assured it would at least have beds for five people. Also, the price was right. And did I mention it is right next to a tennis court?
Initial impressions of the house. The place was in a semi-state of disarray. There were dishes piled in a drying rack–a conglomeration of glasses, plates, and mugs that you might find at a garage sale. Some matched, some didn’t. The forks were bent and the plates were all different sizes. There were boxes of unopened pots and pans (new), a rice cooker, and a blender. In the corner of the kitchen there was a tiny refrigerator, about double dorm room size. No freezer. No shelves anywhere! There was nowhere to put anything, other than stack them on the floor. There was a layer of dust over everything, and although I am used to that now (impossible to keep this house clean, so I’ve totally given up), at the time it just made it seem grimy. I didn’t take any photos at the time because I was a little overwhelmed.
Sometime after the first hour of arriving to the house with my sister, my parents, and all the kids, Tio Hugo had to leave to get back to Cusco. As soon as he closed the door behind him, I had a wave of panic descend upon me. I was like, wait a minute. You are just going to leave me here? It was similar to that feeling when they let you go from the hospital after having your first baby. Like, “What?! You mean we’re in this alone now?” All this time he has been my lifeline to Urubamba–holding my hand all along the way. When he left I looked around at the suitcases strewn about, the unfinished kitchen, unfamiliar shower heaters, and I had a total internal meltdown. I walked around for the next few hours with a fake smile plastered on my face but inside I was screaming “What the f*%# have you done?” I reevaluated this whole ridiculous, convoluted plan of taking my perfectly happy family out of our perfectly comfortable, stable life in Portland. I wanted to say Nope. Changed my mind. Let’s go back to Portland and get a grande non-fat latte and call it a day. And I don’t mean to say that this was a fleeting feeling, like it came and went super quick. No. It lingered all day long.
But then slowly, one thing at a time, one foot after another, it dissipated. I came back into the house and my mom and sister had organized the dishes, stacked empty boxes, moved a bench in from the yard to function as a shelf. We unpacked groceries and my new bowls and mugs (that I bought in Cusco–super cute). We hung new towels in the bathrooms, we made the beds. The kids organized their rooms. I unpacked the big suitcases that I’d been lugging around for a week. I could finally find the Ibuprofen and the extra toothpaste and slippers that had been buried deep down in the duffle. It started, ever so slowly to feel like home and not just a house.
Now, it not only feels like home, it is home. I can’t compare it to anything in Portland or anywhere else I have lived in the US for that matter. Jeff commented yesterday that it is a little bit like “glamping, but really nice glamping.” We estimate that our carbon footprint is pretty low right now, mostly because of the kitchen.
Here are the basics. In the kitchen we have a sink, with no hot water. We have a stove with four burners that is connected to a propane tank. Each time we use it, we start the gas then light a match. We’ve already gone through two boxes of matches. There is also an oven, which I have only used once. It also needs to be turned on and then lit. I have a healthy fear of ovens that need to be lit, so it largely goes unused. We have a very small refrigerator, with one of those internal icebox things. It works pretty well, but fits about four hamburger patties before it is full. (I might be exaggerating a little bit, but it really is tiny.) On top of the fridge is a small microwave. Our counter space in the kitchen is pretty limited. On one counter we have a dish drying rack. On the other we have a coffee maker, which was my first purchase upon landing in Cusco with three kids and no husband. We also have a hot water heater which gets quite a workout everyday since we can only drink boiled water. Other key appliances are a blender, a rice cooker, and a toaster. I also purchased a pressure cooker, but am terrified it is going to explode so I haven’t used it yet. Our dishwasher has a name: Cooper, Carmen & Charlie. Much to their delight they are in charge of all dishwashing after dinner. A scraper, a washer, a dryer, and then the scraper is also the put-away-er. Sometimes Jeff and I just close the door to the kitchen and listen to them work it out, and by work it out I mean fight with each other about whose turn it is to be which role. There is a window just above the kitchen sink that slides open when it is time to do laundry. The washing machine is outside and needs to be plugged in and connected to the water source before each use. I think laundry deserves a whole blog post so I won’t go into details here.
Oh how I miss our comfortable couches. Our housesitters in Portland send us updates about Juno and usually include a photo. The last one had a photo of her lying on the rug next to our big, comfy, grey couch in the office. While I definitely miss Juno, when I saw the photo I pined more for that couch than anything. We’ve done what we can with the living room here, but it ain’t much.
I’m most happy about the awesome rug I got at the Pisac market. It brings the room together, right? My mom bought be a great ceramic vase from the Seminario studio, and I fill it with flowers from the market. I bought a big bunch just yesterday, for a whopping 2 soles. The exchange on that is $ 0.62. Yes, sixty-two cents for the whole bunch. How can I not buy fresh flowers every day? You’ll notice in the photos that we made room for a bunny cage. Stay tuned for a post about the bunny. Despite the uncomfortable couches, we do spend time in the living room. We play a lot of card games, do homework, read, and occasionally check email from the laptop. When my parents and sister were here, we brought the kitchen table into the living room and connected it with the card playing table for more of a dining room experience.
Well, at least there are a lot of them. Carmen kindly suggested that I purchase some air freshener for the bathrooms “because they kinda stink.” In Peru, the sewage system cannot handle any paper products. What this means is that each time one uses the bathroom, one must dispose of the paper in a small wastebasket (hopefully, if you are the one taking out the garbage) lined with a plastic bag. We are accustomed to it now, but that first week or so you’d hear an exclamation of “oh no!” come from within when someone forgot to use the wastebasket. And then a silent prayer that the toilet would flush and not get clogged. Needless to say, the wastebasket may produce a few odors that are not always welcome. Our house has four bedrooms and five bathrooms. This is more than double the number of bathrooms we have in Portland. The one on the main floor, upon entering the house is called the Harry Potter bathroom. It is a step down under the stairs and the door is so small, we all have to duck to get in. The kids are thrilled to each have their own bathroom, but the excitement of one’s own bathroom is somewhat tempered when one discovers the hot water situation. Here is the process of taking a shower.
1. Make sure the terma is set to hot. The terma is an electrical apparatus attached to the shower head. Yes, you read that correctly. How many times did your mother warn you to never use electricity in water? Well, welcome to our showers. Little sparkies just waiting to fry you.
2. Turn the water on high pressure.
3. Flip the giant electrical switch just next to the shower to the ON position.
4. Say a prayer to the god of your choice that all the circuits are intact.
5. Turn the water pressure down to as low as you can possibly imagine, so that what little water flows through the terma has the chance to get warm enough that you won’t freeze.
6. Take the shower, alternating between lukewarm, scalding hot, freezing cold water.
7. Turn off the water, dry your hands, turn off the giant switch.
Or maybe better titled, outside. Our garden contains trees, bushes, flowers and a small caretakers house. For those of you who know me well, you know that my gardening skills are about as good as my neurosurgery skills, which is to say non-existent. We definitely have a garden with many fruits and flowers. I like to look at them and eat them, but I haven’t the first clue in how to identify or grow them. Fortunately we have a caretaker who waters what needs to be watered. I have always dreamed of having a house with a bougainvillea spilling over the wall, and much to my delight there is a bougainvillea with one little branch that drapes over the wall. Done. I am in heaven. The rest of the outside it a little bit like the inside when we first arrived. Somewhat disheveled, has a lot of potential, and needs some work. When the sun is shining, I sometimes pull a chair onto the stone path and sit and read. The garden is surrounded by a stone wall and the red metal door that go out to the driveway. The view of the mountains beyond the wall is beautiful. You can see the view in my previous post. Here are some photos of the perimeter of the house.
Oddly enough, there is another family living within the gate of our garden. They are the ones who have the dog Panda and the cat Tigresa. They have two little girls, one who is four years old and very shy, and other who is ten years old and very sweet. The mom and dad work hard and are rarely home. You can see their house from our living room window. As you can see they live very humbly. Our landlord has known them for many years, and I believe they live here rent free in exchange for watching over the garden and making sure the house is secure.
With the first moments of panic upon arriving, and the transient moments of longing for Portland, I have been mulling over the idea of home. Our family of five has found a new rhythm here in the Sacred Valley. We wake to roosters, fall asleep to ruckus music, walk miles to and from school, cook from scratch, watch the cloud patterns over the mountains, and play a lot of card games on our uncomfortable couches. It is definitely not all unicorns and rainbows (as Carmen would say), but it is home. I believe that home is the place we can be ourselves. Home is where we arrive at the end of the day and are welcomed by the people who love us no matter what. Home is people, a place, a feeling, an origin, and a destination all wrapped up in one.
“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” -Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes