Events / Nonprofit News

Meeting the Challenge

Solar cooker and solar oven working hard

I first want to apologize that it has taken me so long to put up this post. It has taken a few days just to catch up with MEJOR Communities general tasks and emails after the week without internet or phone. That combined with my son, Teo’s first birthday on Saturday, this has been the first chance to upload our observations/journals. 

I admit I was a little nervous about taking on all of the challenges, but after just a few days Roberto and I noticed that a lot of it was much easier than we had expected… for a week anyway.  Some of the aspects of living reminded us so well of living in Peru during Peace Corps, that we’d kind of like to continue them. 

soaking laundry in the bathtub

The first day of the challenge Roberto had to wake up without an alarm.  But it is summer, plus the body has a sort of inner clock, so he woke close to normal time anyway.  We barely noticed not having lights with it being summer also.  I was able to do my first load of diapers in the bathtub while Teo was napping, and we made porridge for breakfast over a fire in the fireplace.  Full sun didn’t come out until a few days later, however, which made me worry that the diapers I’d washed wouldn’t dry before running out of them.

I was very distressed the first few days that there was no sun to use my solar cooker.  Then when the sun did come out I was disappointed to see that my small porch only received a mere 2-3 hours of direct sun per day.  We cooked all of our food over the fireplace which gave our food a delicious firewood flavor. I was at least able to hard boil some eggs, cook beans that had already been soaked, and rise a bread loaf that I later cooked in a make-shift double boiler in the fireplace.  It was delicious. 

Homemade bread by solar oven and fireplace

I had started a sour dough baby to make bread with, but by the time the starter was ready to use it had also grown mold and I had to throw it out.  So for the bread I ended up having to use yeast.  That was one of only two things we used that weren’t local, though.  The other was salt.  We have fallen in love with eating local food.  I don’t know if it really tastes better, or if it is simply that we feel better knowing that we’re eating local, but I think that is one of the things we’ll continue to do at least as much as we can.  Although I’m excited to throw in a few outings to sushi, and icecream (sugar is not local at all, of course)!

 The bad things about not using phone or internet was that rather than feeling more connected to people around me I felt more disconnected, because our culture is simply not set up in a way that surrounds us with people easily.  I am at home with just Teo and Clay most of the day, and although they are fun in their own way, it is not the same as having a whole community to talk to just outside your door.  Plus, I also stopped doing MEJOR Communities work becuase it is all computer-related, and when I got onto email Saturday morning and saw 69 messages that I had to wade through, I realized maybe I should have at least kept up with that at least.  

hanging out to dry

On the other hand, I wouldn’t have had time to do any of the work, because the eases of modern living were not at hand to use.  Washing one load of laundry took me between 30-45 minutes, and I was only able to keep up with Teo’s diapers and wash rags.  I was constantly battling a pile of dirty dishes (especially when there were two little ones were in the house), and starting a fire for the meals takes a bit longer than turning on the stove.  Plus, cooking from scratch all the time (although well worth it for flavor), is also time-consuming. 

We did notice that the challenge seemed to be harder for those around us. Everyone was so concerned about how hard it must be for us, that they ended up offering us rides and food to try to make it easier.  Unfortunately that only presented us with more of a temptation, when riding our bikes or eating just local food wasn’t that hard without it.  We certainly appreciated the concern, however, and also the chance to talk about it with people.  Not having phones was also hard for friends and family since they would want to call and talk but couldn’t.  Certainly coordinating meeting up was a bit challenging as well.

some of the great food we were able to eat

One of the things I’m most proud of is that we were able to have guests for dinner twice during the week and cook a very delicious meal each time.  We did rice and beans and baked zucchini and a large salad for father’s day with my Dad and Dee, then beans and steam-fried potatoes, and salad for Roberto’s Mom when she came into town on Thursday. 

These were some of the questions I asked myself as I was doing the challenge:

What was the most difficult aspects of the challenge and why? 

My answer: Keeping the house clean is one of my top priorities, and with one or two little guys running around it’s hard enough.  I think especially hard was not being able to use a vacuum when we have carpet, because there really isn’t any other option to keep it clean.  I know, now, that if I have an option in the future, I’d like to have no carpet so that I’m not forced to have a vacuum just to keep the house clean.  I’d at least like to have the option of not using electricity. 

What do I sacrifice by indulging in the American lifestyle? 

My answer: I feel like I sacrifice a lot of my values through indulging in the American lifestyle.  There are certain things that have become necessary to live here, like the phone and internet to remain connected in such a non-community style culture, but other parts of the challenge actually helped me feel more connected, like going to the farmer’s markets, and riding the bus and max to get around.  You actually get out of the house and meet new people, talk to strangers (which contrary to mother’s advice is usually a good thing), and just physically remind yourself that you do, indeed, live in a community. The other values I feel like are compromised are supporting local businesses, maintaining a healthy body, and doing our individual parts to contribute to the sustainability of the earth. Plus, it’s good to remind ourselves that we don’t “deserve” everything we have, by sacrificing some of it every once in awhile.  We are lucky enough to have the option, but just because it’s there doesn’t mean we need it or have somehow earned it. We are no more deserving than the people that slave away day after day just to barely feed their families in other parts of the world.  Where is their reward?

What aspects would be easy for me to keep or are things I enjoyed about the challenge? 

My answer:

The easiest parts of the challenge were keeping the lights off, especially because with the summer hours we barely need them anyway.  But even when it was dark, candles did a great job of just lighting whatever it is I was looking at and nothing else, plus they give such a better atmosphere and don’t encourage staying up too late, something that I’m bad at sometimes.

Also, Roberto and I both agree, although most people think we’re crazy, that the cold showers are really very amazing, and we felt the same when we were in Peru.  They are certainly cold, and feel a little shocking at first, but with the right technique they aren’t that bad and when you’re done you feel totally refreshed.  I’m not sure, again, whether I would say the same thing during the winter, but right now we’d like to continue that practice.  The same does not go for Teo, since even with some heated water in his tub it was still cold and he screamed bloody murder when we attempted it.  He got well-heated sponge baths the rest of the week.  As I had also already mentioned we would like to continue eating locally as much as we can, with some wiggle room here and there.  I thought eating local would end up being much more expensive that buying our normal food (which included some prepackaged) but paired with our garden produce we haven’t seen any difference in our spending.  In fact with not eating out I’m sure we’d end up spending much less over the course of a month.

I’m interested to see what everyone else experienced, and your own answers to the above questions.


One thought on “Meeting the Challenge

  1. What a wonderful challenge and I love that you’ve posted such detail in your results. And by the way, I have three boys and tore all of the carpet out of our home. I don’t miss it a bit. It’s now easier to clean and I think we stay healthier.

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