If you think sharing a room with your little brother would be bad, how would you feel about sharing one... with your whole family? That's actually the case for most families living in small, single-room, adobe huts here in Todos Santos. Most kids here simply can't shut the door to their room and turn up the music real loud because their room also belongs to their parents, brothers, sisters and sometimes grandparents. Even the kitchen is often in the center of this common space, but at least the bathrooms (or I should say the toilets) are usually outside in tiny outhouses.
For my family like most others here, privacy is not an issue. Although the father was killed in an accident five years ago, my host mother Eusabia shares her small house with two daughters, Marisela 13, and Josefe 9, and her sister and 2-year-old nephew. The five of them seem to get along well considering how closely they must live together, which is something I can't imagine happening with an American family, not even my own. Life here is much simpler, probably one reason the people stay sane despite the lack of privacy.
For my family, life consists mainly of working and eating meals together in the home. Each day everyone begins household chores by 6 AM and Josefe prepares for school. Marisela is not in school this year because she stays home to weave, cook for the family, tend to the animals, and take care of her cousin while the women are working. They work up to five days a week preparing food in one of the local comedores or restaurants, making less than three dollars a day. Marisela wants to go school and hopes to return next year if the family has some more money.
With only two beds in their small home, the children must all share one, leaving the other for the women. The cooking is done right there in the middle of the hut and meals are shared around the fire with guests and relatives. There is no running water inside but rather a sink and flushing toilet just outside. Since the nights are cold up here at 8,000 feet, getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night is quite an expedition.
Very few bathtubs or showers exist in Todos Santos because water is so precious. There also aren't any hot water heaters. Instead, the traditional method of bathing called the chu is used. A chu is a small adobe building separate from the house and much like a sauna. A small fire is built beneath a pile of rocks and a jug of water. The rocks and water are heated until they are very hot and all that's left of the fire are the coals. The person taking the chu then enters, bringing in a jug of very cold water and a basin to mix it with the hot water. With the door shut, the water is poured over the hot rocks, which fills the small chamber with steam, making it very hot. Then the hot and cold water are mixed to the desired temperature and the washing begins. The first time I did this I was so relaxed afterwards that I was half an hour late for a meeting.
The members of my family, like many villagers here, seem content with life, despite being too poor to afford the luxuries that we in the web-surfing world take for granted. Families are very close here and depend on each other and although they live without running water, gas or television, they also live without many of the stresses which fill the lives of people in more developed countries. Even though my sisters share a bed within a tiny space, they get along better than most siblings I know. After dinner each night, Josefe practices Spanish pronunciation by reading aloud from her book. Instead of telling her to shut up (as I would my brother), Marisela corrects her mistakes and helps her learn new words. I've learned that it takes patience and tolerance to live in such small quarters, but I think people who do are able to communicate better than people who can shut each other out behind walls and doors.
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