The Land of Make-Do

There is a culture of people here where we are living, undoubtedly third world with an ability to adapt to virtually any kind of situation.  They have to, they live with very little money and their resources are limited to pretty much what they have on hand.  Recycling takes on an entire new meaning in life here (unfortunately, not in some areas where it really counts-no thanks to commercial progress, even in the ‘remote’ regions).  We live in this country off the beaten tracks where there are generations of families living here off of the land – they are called ‘campesinos’, country people.  For the most part the folks out here are ranchers and farmers; they live very simply with the most basic living conditions.  Predominantly there is no electricity; some have at least some propane, which is used for cooking only when what needs to be cooked can be quick (conservative), otherwise a fire is built for cooking.  Most of the kitchens are pretty much ‘outside’ with simply a roof over their head, sometimes there is wire fencing around it to keep the chickens out, a lot of the time the floors are dirt, occasionally they have wood floors, some even have tile floors.  Windows are open, usually an old sheet will be hung for privacy, but critters and weather have an easy ticket in.  Bathrooms are always outside, rarely is there hot water.  For the most part, the water is only truly ‘cold’ during the rainy season when the temperatures can actually drop down into the 50’s and 60o’s, which can be brrrr here in the tropics!  And then of course the water is cold as it is running high and fast, water sources are mostly springs from deep into the earth, sometimes the water source is from creeks, and the water in those can run dam cold in the rainy season.  Nothing says ‘we cool’ more than a day at work in the rain, and then a nice cold shower to clean up.

Supplies and tools are hard to come by here, so there is a lot of improvisation.  For example, a shovel handle breaks and it is necessary to keep your eyes open for the right piece of wood (in a tree) that is good for another handle.  Guava wood is good, there is lots of that and if one can find a straight piece of a good length, then it is whittled down to fit the shovel blade and voila, new shovel.  This is how they live, and now this is how we live, as well.  We have our helper that is teaching us so much about how much there actually is available in the jungle for all kinds of uses, and rightly so.  Even way out here the economy has had a seriously devastating impact and there is little cash to be had, so there is rarely any available to spend on something when what works can be found out and about, in the junk pile or the jungle.  They make do with what is available.  It still amazes me how they can take simple motors apart and repair them with so few tools and supplies!

We built our greenhouse out of harvested and local supplies, except for the screws, some wire fencing to keep the critters out, and plastic for the roof.  We harvested the bamboo from the jungle, and used scrap wood for a gate.  Whatever can be found in the scrap pile is seriously salvaged and appreciated, so now we are scavenging for supplies to build a rudimentary structure to raise a few chickens and rabbits.

The abundance of food available here in this valley, and in our jungle is absolutely astounding.  It is standard to find wild growing sweet potatoes, and bring back the vines to plant in our own garden; there are mountain papas (potatoes) that we have transplanted into the garden, and so many other wild foods. Wild fruits: eat the fruit, plant the seeds – instant (well maybe not ‘instant’) fruit trees.  Banana trees grow easily and abundantly; eat a pineapple and plant the top, in a year or so another pineapple.  Take a cutting, stick it in the ground and it grows.  Drop the chayote on the ground and it becomes a huge vine with lots and lots of chayotes.  And this is only a glimpse of the possibilities for planting ( more on that later); the point here is that you can live off of the land.  The food, the water, the resources for building to the best of your ability is all right out the front door, pretty much.  Water is out of the ground, it is a huge project to develop a spring for your home drinking water so that in the rainy season you have good water to drink or wash with and not dirty water.  We used recycled five gallon water jugs with holes for our filter, buried deep under gravel and rocks as more filter, with the hose running out of it to our home.  Of course we had to buy the water line, which is costly, but now it is in and we have water.   But so much is available for repair of tools and simply making things work!

One good example is the local ‘mechanic’ shop – quite different (understatement) than what gringos are accustomed to seeing, yet they seem to be successful in correcting the faulty mechanics of whatever.  They may have only a few tools, perhaps they must borrow certain others, and scrounge for parts and pieces that correct the problem – amazing.  Car window rattles? Open up the door, find something to make a shim – no more rattle.  Need something we don’t have?  Hold on – I know someone that does…wait a minute, maybe this will work…

The folks out here can make just about anything run when we westerners think of it as done, broken, over.  Nope, they will take it apart and fix it – unbelievable!  They have to, cannot afford to buy a new one (nor can we), so you have to fix it!  It is all part of life to keep things running, working, in good use, they depend on that.  Life is simple, but their adaptability is extraordinary and so valuable! Gives the old (or perhaps not so old) saying of ‘repaired with Band-Aids and baling wire’ a new appreciation– what they could do if they had duct tape would be awesome!  Even these folks have ways of doing things when westerners were taught that there was no other way, for example when there is a dead battery in a car/truck – there are no jumper cables here, so what to do?  Another car that is running: put that battery in the dead battery car, start the car, replace the batteries and off you go.

Another amazing point about the folks out here is that they all know their plants, the trees and flowers and wild edibles of the jungle and the countryside.  I don’t know where they learn it, probably just hanging out with the elders as little ones, but they know every single plant.  What kind of citrus is it?  Taste the leaf.  Good plant or bad plant?  They know it.  Is the wood good for fires or building, construction or garbage?  They know them all, by name.  Insects and critters, as well.  Snakes – all of them.  Spiders, lots of them– some good, many which are very very bad.  And the ants – OMG, there are gazillion different kinds of ants!  Most will bite, a lot will always bite, and some really sting badly!  You have to really watch out where you are standing, just step on the ground above an ant home and in seconds there will be twenty ants on your feet biting you (itching for days).  And if you are weed-whacking pay attention, in moments you might have ants all the way up your pants, in your boots and under your shirt – biting every step of the way!

I am getting off track here talking about critters and gardening, this is the land of make-do and the abilities of the people that live here never cease to amaze me.  Their knowledge of what to do in a myriad of different circumstances with minimal requirements in tools, of which there are few, is astounding.  And the few tools that they have provide an income, machetes and shovels.  If someone is fortunate enough to have more, so much the better, but this is not the usual.  Horses are the primary mode of transportation, and if there is no horse these people walk.  They will be up at three or four am to have enough time for a quick breakfast – cooked over a fire – and then an hour or more walk to work.  Work is normally from six a.m. to two in the afternoon, because of the heat index and the need for afternoon time to attend to one’s own home, not to mention that the rains normally show up about that time, or shortly thereafter, as well.  The wages that these folks work for are appalling, however there is a cultural understanding that is difficult for ‘outsiders’ to comprehend, so to feel sympathy for them and pay more is more than likely to cause many more problems.  Ho hum, we do live in a very confused world, with the hopes of a better one, but for now we must do what we can to work well together in this one.  I am learning so much from these wonderful people in the land of make-do, changing my way of living to make do with the resources available to me in this world, as opposed to the other old ways of thinking that I ‘must have this or that to survive’, or progress.  We have been bombarded all of our lives with so much misinformation and most certainly programmed thoughts for the advent of commercialism.  I am most certainly an advocate for a simpler way of living, which requires a lot of letting go…but that is another story.

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Author: Elena in the Jungle

Living a very simple reclusive and self sustaining life way out in the jungle with my husband, growing as much food and medicinal plants as possible, I find my freedom and sanctuary in the amazing and spectacular array of life that surrounds me, gifts of Gaia, most especially while traveling around on my horse.

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