How to move a roof

My roof leaked all winter last year. The corrugated iron channel system to collect rain between my two buildings, so favoured here in Guatemala, was just not working. So, in preparation for this winter, I got a loan and decided to redo my roof in the dry season – Jan to March. How naively and optimistically I stepped into what became a major construction project which aged me about 50 years. But in the end, I’ve got one hellova great roof!

Step One: Asking for help

Here in Guatemala you can’t be scared to ask for help. Especially me, living as a chica on her own, I often have to lean over my fence and holler to a passing man or kid to help me lift a sink, climb a coconut tree, bury a rat etc. for me (actually I buried the rat I feel quite proud to say) But the first job, lifting the roof off my existing house, was a BIG JOB. I would need to cash in all the brownie points for this one. Thankfully, all the tourists in Paredon Surf Camp were up for the challenge, in exchange for an ice cream. And at a critical moment (when the roof was half on, half off), 15 strong (tho short) army guys showed up (all with Tshirts that said ‘NAVY’) and helped lift the roof into the street and to the back of my garden, where it would be put on posts to make a chillout hammock area (and maybe eventually another house)

Step Two: Knowing when to call in the professionals

I was determined to contract workers from El Paredon. I got a few quotes and went for a builder who was touted as ‘reliable’ and ‘muy bueno’ and a contractor to do the palm roof who was ‘responsable’ and ‘muy bueno’.

The builder took his time. Lots of time. And as he had to take the boat over from his home, it was up to me to find a step ladder, large pieces of wood to fill columns with concrete and the materials budget doubled as he needed more and more extra things that I had to get. I was working full time running around them. Eddie was a sweet enough guy but, troubled by me, as a woman, asking if he could work a bit faster, he decided not to show up one day.

Meanwhile, I gave the palm roof guy his first $100 to pay his men who were chopping wood in the mangroves. After I didnt hear from him for a couple of days, I phoned his mobile, answered by a crying wife he lamented that he had been drinking for the last 2 days and if it wasnt for her elderly mother who fed her tortillas, she would be dead through starvation by now, as her husband didnt provide for her.

This was not a good start. Especially as I had work starting in Nicaragua at the beginning of March and I needed it all building before I left.

Fortunately, Todd, my guardian angel and a professional contractor building a property further down the coast, stepped in to help. I cancelled my contract with my drunk builder and in less than two weeks, Todd’s team from a nearby village created the roof of my dreams – levelling off the two buildings, creating a wood skeleton and eventually the palm on top! Then we got to painting and it’s now a beautiful (and dry) living space! Phew!!


the finished house!!
the finished house!!

The Circus

In Guatemala, life is surprising, shocking, funny, tragic, uninhibited.

Health and safety and ethics.

Some things that the developed world would question or condemn are celebrated, or accepted there. And vice versa. Every day allows me to question my morals  and my values in a way I never have to at home. Teenage pregnancy Рcondemned in the UK, celebrated in El Paredon. Turtle egg eating Рsame. Drinking alcohol Рcondemned in Guatemala, celebrated in the UK. Families living apart Рsame.

Before I left to come home for a month, the circus came to town. A great night out for only Q10 (80p) I shot a video below of a clown with his son. Is this funny and entertaining, even amazing? Is it abusive? Is the kid happy? Seeing the family together wandering around town, they are together, loving and just trying to make ends meet like every other Guatemalan.

Now I am home, sitting safely by the fire in my parents house in Scotland, rain drizzling down the window pane, listening to the grandfather clock tick and looking at recipes with my mum.

Ah what a different life. I am trying to work out which life is the better one for me.

3 days home, I am still searching for the bin to put the toilet paper in, still revelling in a hot shower without sand or frogs, savouring mouthfuls of warm brown bread, fruit cake, cheese, appreciating  being cared for, loved and the humour and warmth of my family.

But I already miss those incredible small people running out of their homes calling my name, big open hugs, a big sense of home created by being part of a community, the everyday adventures in a life that values living, not just working.

At the doctors today, she told me the brutal facts about the dangers of contracting dengue again. Five tubes of blood were taken from my hiding vein, to be sent to some tropical medicine clinic ‘down south’ when I will be given serious advice from a Western expert about living in a dengue area again.

So let’s just wait and see.

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