En casa / At home

The sunrise corner of the cabina boasts two mismatched plastic chairs at a blue plastic table, adorned with brilliant pink and red flower plumage in a jar of water. From my seat I survey our “new” home, and dream about our unknown, off-the-grid future. Perhaps we will learn here some of what will be born there, wherever that is.

(This experience is something students would pay for, I reckon. Aside from chicken care, we’re learning Spanish, history, permaculture, botany, biology, cuisine, and also how to deal with spiders rappelling into your salad.)

Our home for a month is the old farm cabina where the man who sold our hosts his land used to live, before he moved someplace where it is easier to be old. The cabin is precious, and humbly earns our reverence as a part of history and culture and architecture. I loved it at first sight. Some might see the cheap foam mattress, the absence of certain useful kitchen implements, and the gaps between pieces of screen. But, we saw with joy the refrigerator and freezer, the little gas range, and the light bulbs, and the non-flushing toilet. To us, a composting toilet is better than crapping into gallons of clean water every day and hiring someone else (and their chemicals) to take care of it.

There are two toilets, actually. One is for pee only, and drains into a raised garden bed (more on that next time). The other is for shit and wood chips. Both have nice, clean, regular seats, with lids. There’s no stink. Seriously. My favorite part of the bathroom, though, is the emerald vine creeping inside the screen, coiling like a decoration around the corners. I’ve always dreamed of having a house that is alive, whose border against the outdoors is pleasantly blurred.

And is it ever blurred. You can hear everything: the animals, insects, birds, the guavas dropping with a bang onto the tin roof of the nearby shed. The farm dogs barking from the big house when they tree a wild thing. We are told that we will hear the ocean waves crashing when the wind is high.

And there is just as much window as wall. There are two rooms to the cabin, the bedroom and the kitchen/dining/living room. The latter is all screen from hip level up, so sunrise and moonlight and rumbling clouds and wildlife are never segregated. Even walls and floors are more suggestions than solids… we can see fine slits of earth two feet below, between the floorboards, and plenty of cooling breeze passes through the gaps between the stick frame walls.

In such a climate, this construction style denotes not laziness or poverty, but adaptation to the environment. Long eaves shade the walls from the equatorial sun, an elevated building and single walled construction allow air movement in the heat.

The shower is a thing of beauty. A concrete slab with the back abutting the cabina, two tin sides, and a plastic curtain opening to a jungle view. The shower head doubles as the water heater; it’s technology I’ve not seen before. Something about rinsing off in womb-temperature air and water, in natural light, feels extra clean.

The clothes washer is a basin that one fills with biodegradable soap, water from the hose, and dirty chickenshit clothes. It agitates gently on its own, but takes a few human-powered steps (drain the soapy water, refill, drain the rinse water) and some electricity. It still seems a lot less energy intensive than the usual machine, though I can’t say for sure.

The dryer is, of course, a clothesline. And that concludes the tour. I wish I could post photos, but those will have to wait for a better Internet connection. Until then, imagine ferocious, vivacious growth, ants helpfully pointing out where a crumb of bread has fallen, and friendly bug-eating anoles of all colors moving about our bright home with us, and you will not be far off.

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