Wednesday

Belize Survivor, part 97

As Alexis carried the large box of clothing upstairs, she noticed Miss Carmen's primitive Jesus painting still hanging on the wall of the living room. The blue eyes of the conspicuously Caucasian face stared oddly from the flat canvas, and his steady gaze seemed to follow her around the room. Not only had the Belizean artist fallen short of divine inspiration, the painting was almost a caricature. With the bleeding heart and eternal flame superimposed over Jesus’ chest, it was creepy-looking, and Alexis was at a loss as to what she should do with it. Somehow, she couldn't just throw it in the trash. It was too corny to give away, too awful to leave in view. Finally, she slipped the painting behind a cabinet against a wall and forgot about it.

The house wasn't spacious, but it was adequate. Upstairs there were two bedrooms, the jewelry room, kitchen, and living room, and the whole lower story would serve as a woodworking shop. There was a toilet all right, but it had been starkly installed, sans privacy, in the corner of what was now the jewelry room. There was no actual bathroom, so Max built two little dividing walls, one with a door.

Most people in Cayo still had an outhouse in the backyard. Indoor plumbing was just starting to become fashionable for some of the more affluent townspeople. In Miss Carmen's last years, her son had bought her the flush toilet and tied it into the town's new sewer system. Had it been on the first floor, the city water pressure might have been sufficient to fill the toilet's four gallon tank, but on the second floor, there was no chance. So, as in every other place they'd lived, one of Max's first jobs was to buy a water tank and build a tank stand above the level of the second floor. By diverting the rainwater from the roof into the tank, he created a secondary water supply to make up for the deficiency in pressure. Rising to the occasion always brought out the best in him.

In the backyard was a rickety structure of rotting wood that served as a bath house, but it was nothing more than a wooden floor surrounded by four walls and no roof. Max made a few improvements by repairing some of the existing wood and adding a soap and shampoo rack. Still, there was no running water in the stall itself. For the next year and a half, the routine would remain the same. To bathe, Alexis had to fill a white plastic bucket of water at the foot of the stairs and then carry it to the stall in the backyard. Once inside, she used a coffee can to dip into the bucket and pour the cold water over her body.

Alexis rapidly learned that living in San Ignacio didn't mean that public utilities such as water, electricity, and sewers were more sophisticated. It simply meant that instead of being within their control, she and Max would now be subjected to all the inadequacies and inconsistencies of town life in the third world.