Construction in Mexico UPDATE—By Jennifer Shipp
Guanajuato Mexico North America

Construction in Mexico UPDATE—By Jennifer Shipp

Ahhh…Home Sweet Home. It’s not very pretty on the outside yet, but who cares? What really matters is on the inside…

There’s a mirror on our bathroom door and I can see the reflection of our kitchen in it. Sometimes it helps to look at things turned backward because it’s easier to see what’s really there. The backwardness makes me look harder and study the parts that I otherwise ignore. Backwardness has that kind of effect on things. Today, when I saw our kitchen reflected back at me, I noticed that there’s a cadence emerging to the way that the onions are placed on the shelf and the way the dishes are positioned on the drying rack. There’s an order and a rhythm and it occurred to me that our lives have been chaotic for a long, long time.

The rhythm of our lives is important like the way a pulse is important. And I reflected, (while looking into the reflection) on how much I appreciate the pulse. I don’t mind having a life-rhythm that speeds up and sometimes slows down or even skips a beat (every now and then). I like variation in the rhythm. But I hate the flat-line that had happened to our lives when we were in the states. There was no life in our lives.

As I write this, one of our workers is outside manipulating a ladder that probably drops down into our patio

If it weren’t for the amazing view, I would’ve already given up on this project…

right outside the door of this tiny 500 square foot apartment where Lydian, John, two cats, and I are currently living. The worker keeps yelling, “CHALUPA! CHALUPA!” and then whistling a little riff that has some meaning to it (like a language). The whistles are actually words, like a secret code except it’s not secret to everyone, just to me and Lydian because we don’t understand whistle-talk (not sure about the cats…they might get it). John knows how to say “Come here” in whistle-talk and he’s really proud of himself for it. Felipe taught him and every now and then, he uses it and then laughs at himself.

A big piece of cement falls into the patio followed by several other smaller pieces and I hear the clumsy smash-of-it-all on the ground while the metal from the ladder is being adjusted to the right height. Sometimes, these sounds might annoy me. They certainly aren’t relaxing sounds. But I’m not in the mood to be easily annoyed today, so it just is what it is and I observe the sounds and then they fade into the background of what I know to be My Life At This Moment.

Look at me be chill.

A few days ago, I had a conversation with an American that ended with her looking at her watch to cue me that she was finished and ready to go on her way. It occurred to me later that I haven’t had someone look at their watch while I was talking to them since we moved here. I generally don’t chat with other expats or Americans so I expect that the reason why I haven’t had that experience is because Mexicans are less concerned about time and more concerned about people. This fact has become part of the rhythm that defines our lives.

Did I mention that I bathed myself in the kitchen sink this morning because our bathroom plumbing is clogged?

Three Days Later…

We’re no longer living exclusively in the 500 square foot apartment because the 2nd floor apartment (or at least the first half of it), is complete.

We didn’t move because of the clogged plumbing, although the results of that plumbing fiasco approached nightmare-proportions. The main pipe coming from the apartments on first floor was plugged with debris (plastic bags, terracotta, and old PVC) that was left there by Beto. It was probably a malicious act because Beto was like that, but anyway, it’s fixed now. Sort of. Temporarily. It’s a project that will need to wait until later. I don’t really feel like talking about what happened in the kitchen just yet. I’m still enjoying a sense of denial about it all… how we cleaned everything three times over with Clorox between 11:00 PM and 2:00 in the morning. And then, the next day, we started moving upstairs.

David, getting ready to cut into a sewage pipe that got stopped up by debris like plastic bags and old, broken PVC…courtesy of Beto. Note the proximity to our kitchen appliances and the fact that David used his bare hands to remove the poo from the pipe…

Ultimately, after a major plumbing event like that, I realize that cleanliness is state of mind. Nothing is ever fully, purely clean. And human hands are the dirtiest things on the planet.

So much for the onions, reflections, and rhythm.

In between the two livable apartments is a No-Man’s Land of heavy construction. If I open my “front door” too quickly, I’ll break one of the glass panels on the edge of a cement block that’s been placed precariously on a 5-gallon bucket over which a piece of wood has placed as a scaffold and a man is teetering with sweaty arm pits making a wax-on, wax-off movement over some plaster that will eventually make the walls look smooth and pristine. About an hour ago, the bathroom was finally completed in this second floor apartment, but before then, anytime we needed to use the bathroom or get anything from 1st floor, we’d have to pass through a corridor of scaffolding and the waxing-on, waxing-off. Several men worked on the bathroom project all day today and yesterday while Lydian, John, and I tried to pretend like we were “Zen” and just doing an average day’s work.

I keep thinking about when we lived in Cairo and how I would sit on the floor on a yoga mat and balance my computer on my flip-flops as a desk.

Someone is pounding on something above me. I would guess they’re working on windows upstairs? It’s a

No Man’s Land after working hours…someday it will be our entrance foyer.

tender pounding that doesn’t seem like it would be very effective at doing anything in a building made of cement, but whatever. I wish it had a rhythm to it because then I could drone it out, but alas, it lacks rhythm. It does not however, seem malicious. So I’ll put in some earbuds and turn up the volume.

Problem solved.

Later tonight, maybe 5 minutes from now or right before bed, we’ll move some furniture upstairs along with things like underwear and soap, although not ALL of the clothes can come upstairs yet. I have to get Felipe to grind 2 millimeters off of some metal posts that I bought to make a closet outside of the bedroom. I would do it myself, but my tools end up in different places throughout the day. And I’m not keen on cutting metal since I have no idea where my safety goggles are. Tracking them down is a major project and Felipe gets possessive with them and the tools. Honestly, I’m glad that he’s possessive because when he needs a tool, I want for him to know where it is. Believe me, I do not want to hold up the progress.


After a thorough cleaning and some stacking along with the removal of trash (example: the carcass of a half eaten chicken) I can totally imagine this space as our master bedroom. Isn’t it luxurious?

Chaos is too mild of a word for this era in my life. But I don’t want to be overly-dramatic about our situation. No. I mean, there was the humidity and the flooding when we moved into the first floor three weeks ago. Yes, there was that. It was the first day of our lives here in Pueblito and the water started rolling in under the door in addition to water NOT draining out of the shower (these things were unrelated and happened the same day). It was the first time it had rained in months here. And it just so happened to be a storm brought in by a hurricane. No one opened the flood gates so ours wasn’t the only house that flooded. And we were able to fix things pretty quickly.

And the humidity. That’s a different thing altogether. It’s the rainy season here, you know. So when John and I squeezed two twin beds into a room that could just barely hold them, we thought we’d be comfortable enough…like two peas in a pod. Yes, we had to hurdle the ends of our beds to get in and get out because they’re meant to be bunks and the end-boards are about 3 feet high, but we both mastered that process right away. No sweat. The real problem was the humidity in that room (which came from leakage on third floor where the roof had not yet been built). Our room had 80% humidity. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, it rained in there. We finally tracked down a dehumidifier and it was like moving from the rainforest to the Great Plains. But still, the third floor roof had to be built quickly once the leakage and humidity problem was discovered. Felipe and the team worked until 10:00 PM one night to seal that damn thing before they could go back to building the apartment I’m sitting in right now on second floor, which meant that we had a few extra weeks in that tiny 500 square foot space where the plumbing exploded last week.

Felipe’s here again. He’s going to finish the boquilla (grout) in our bathroom. Where did he go? Why did he not

Felipe, our foreman. I seriously don’t know what we’d do without him. He’s been a lifesaver…

finish it earlier? I don’t know. But I like Felipe. He does a good job. He works hard. I sense that I’m learning a self-restraint skill from this process of building in Mexico. I like our team. They’re working hard, sweating profusely and getting things up to between 10/11th and 15/16th complete throughout. They leave little poops of unfinished this-n-that behind them, but I can’t fault them for it. It’s not their house, after all. As an American, it’s hard for me to make peace with the imperfections and really comprehend that the idea of “complete” is not a standardized thing here in Mexico. They mean me no harm. And so, sometimes, when we’re well fed and well rested, John and I laugh lightly about it. We both know that if we live through this project, we’ll probably laugh hard about it later when we’re in some other crazy country, wishing we were here because we’ll think that “this place makes sense” while the other country “does not make sense”. Someday that could happen, I suppose.

We chose to move into our house at the earliest possible moment rather than commute back and forth between Pueblito to Marfil. This was my choice. It’s good to remember that. We knew it would be hard to live here while the building was under construction. But it was also hard to live in Marfil too. At least here, we’re available to answer questions and manage things throughout the day. The view from my window is amazing. The cloud rolls in over a mountain to my left where houses are stacked in bright colors. Across the street, large deciduous trees wave back and forth in a light wind. The smell of fresh rotisserie chicken wafts through the window. People walk down the hill. And to my right, another mountain rises up with less brightly colored houses—brick houses that have not been finished due to a lack of funds. If I lean back at my desk to look through yet another window that faces La Bufa, the mountain that everyone hikes here in Guanajuato, the view is even more stunning. I can’t believe I live here. Lydian is going out tonight with her estudiantina group. She’s got a never-ending supply of things to do and sample now that she’s an adult and technically living on her own.

I can’t really justify complaining, but I have to write it all down or I’ll go insane. I’ll forget the chaos someday and look back and probably realize that it had meaning and purpose in my life. All the shrugging-it-off that I do every day in regard to things that probably don’t really matter like waking up to the sound of hammers and chisels, and other tools that I can’t name scraping and pounding on my walls. The little dog next door that barks at the workers when they arrive. The humidity, the wetness, the dirtiness, the Banda music playing next door where a man has a horse tied up inside a mechanic’s shop, the fact that the brand-new hot water heater is temperamental and I have to turn the shower on and off 10 times to get it to stay “hot”. God help me though, I hope I’m not learning how to cope with a long-term bout of chaos. Maybe I’m just learning “Mexican”. This medicine is a flavor I don’t recognize and right now, I just hope it won’t have a bad aftertaste. Despite all of it, John and I still regularly hold hands on our way down to the centro and say to each other, “I’m so glad we live here.”

Three times last week, a transformer blew: once during my shower (luckily there’s a hole in the wall or it would’ve been pitch-black), once right after we sat down in the evening to watch television after a long day of uncertainty and flooding, and once right after I sat down to try to work. There are solutions to this electrical problem in the future and I think I’m proud of myself for rolling with it day-by-day-by-day. In order to be proud, I’ll need to reflect though. In order to reflect, I have to stop having to roll with it and kind of consolidate my thoughts about how I reacted to this and that. I acknowledge that it could be years before that happens and by the time I look back on myself before-and-after, who I was before may not be recognizable anymore.

But sometime in the next few weeks? Months? We’ll move again, this time, up to third floor. Then, Lydian will

Partially completed kitchen on 2nd floor…

live in this second floor apartment. In my mind, this is a small event. We’ll probably complete it in a day. Sort of. I mean, after we build a closet, put in shelving in the bathroom, install doors, and storage-type areas, move all of Lydian’s stuff, fix any problems still left on second floor, and order furniture, etc. It’ll take a day after all that. So no big deal.

John just slipped me a note on piece of graph paper that reads:

8 Bathrooms

8 Bedrooms

4 Kitchens

4 Living Rooms

4 Staircases

1 Patio

1 Balcony

2 Terraces

He and I just realized a few days ago how big and complex this project actually is. Since that time, we’ve been taking deep breaths and reminding ourselves of the Big-ness so as not to lose our cool during moments of intensity. It’s not like we’re being chased by a Tyrannosaurus Rex, after all. It’s just construction…in Mexico.

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  1. kj

    …and then soon, when it’s winter, i will come and visit (and help, if i can do anything to help), because i miss you guys and because there is a bus that goes between Greeley and Guanajuato and every time i see it i feel a very strong urge to get on it, and i believe in gut instincts.

    August 11, 2018 Reply
    • jennifershipp

      That would mean so much to us if you came and visited! We would LOVE that…it means so much to us to hear from you!!! The ride from Greeley to Guanajuato is beautiful and interesting (we’ve done it 3 times round trip by car)…I had no idea there was a bus that goes between those two places, but it seems like a really good sign. 🙂

      August 12, 2018 Reply


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