Bolivia and the bathroom deal

Yesterday, while visiting on the bleachers with another mom during my daughters’ gymnastics class, my friend asked me how I met my American husband.  I told her both Stan and I were working in Bolivia when we met and then we ended up staying there together for a number of years.

“Oh,” she responded politely, “Is it nice there?”

Is it nice there?  I wondered how to reply to her question, while staring at the blur of sparkly body suits and pony tails in front of us.

“Very. Nice.”

End of conversation.

Our housemate, Jaun, loved to plant flowers as much as we loved to plant veggies, so it worked out just about right.

Our housemate, Jaun, loved to plant flowers as much as we loved to plant veggies, so it worked out just about right.

I could have kept talking though, if I thought she were really interested.  In fact, Bolivia has been on my mind a lot lately, even though we wiped the last of her red dirt off our sandals more than eight years ago.  I can always count on my washing machine to remind me of our time spent there.  At least once or twice a week while I’m shutting the door of our beautiful front-loader on a pile of dirty clothes, I will remember this:

My in-laws came for a visit and helped us out with just about everything.

My in-laws came for a visit and helped us out with just about everything.


Stan and Juan working under the drying clothes.

But besides my regular washing machine reminder, I’ve been thinking about our bathroom.  Specifically, whether I’ve kept my end of the bargain I made with myself years ago while sweeping the ashes out of our latrine.

When we first moved to Taperillas, we lived in a small storage room in the community store.  During our stay there, we went to the bathroom where everybody else did; in the bush.  Unfortunately I was also coping with severe and chronic diarrhea (aggravated by parasites and undiagnosed celiac disease) so I got familiar with every bush and scrubby plant within 200 meters of our living quarters.  Then, after five months, we finally moved into a house of our own.  And… (insert uplifting orchestra music here) it had an outhouse.

I do not believe anyone has warmer feelings for outhouses than I did then, and continue to nurture deep within me.  It wasn’t just any old outhouse either; it was a dry latrine—the Cadillac of outhouses.  Not only did it provide an enclosed place for us to relieve ourselves, it composted the solid waste (aka poop) so we could use it later for fertilizer.  Which we did.

Constructing the latrine with rammed earth blocks

Constructing the latrine with rammed earth blocks

The  happy family with their new latrine (Jaun, Stan, and Tricia)

The happy family with their new latrine (Jaun, Stan, and Tricia)

An inside view.  One year for my birthday, Stan made me a custom seat.  I had so much diarrhea that I was often too weak to squat.

An inside view. One year for my birthday, Stan made me a custom seat. I had so much diarrhea that I was often too weak to squat.
the inside of our latrine door--made of flattened lard tins

the inside of our latrine door–made of flattened lard tins

One day, soon after the latrine was constructed, I was merrily sweeping around the squatter hole and I began to think about cleaning the bathroom of my university apartment. I thought about the shiny bowl, the 70’s tile floors, the sink (conveniently located in the the same room as the toilet, with a cold and hot water tap to boot!) and made a resolution.  I decided that if I ever had the chance to own or rent a home with a bathroom as nice as that one, again, I would keep it immaculately clean… ALL THE TIME.  I imagined myself wiping the floors daily, and even the underside of the toilet’s holding tank, for the pure joy of it!  I would never let it get dusty, hairy or grimy, I thought as I filled the wood ash box that sat next to the hole.  My floors and fixtures will be clean enough to eat off!

Well, the unthinkable happened.  Eleven years later, I walk into our bathroom, and it’s dusty, hairy and grimy.  And believe me, if one of our girls happens to be eating a cookie and it falls on the bathroom floor, there is no way that cookie is going into her mouth.

One of the reasons this little deal has surfaced again is because I just recently made another kind of pact with myself.  This time it encompasses a lot more than bathrooms.  It has to do with making a home, and a life, for my family.

While I was teaching grade six this past fall, I learned a lot.  I learned what it is like to come home, after a long day, to a cold house with two hungry children and nothing on the stove.  I learned that all the years I was at home with my children, feeling like I was accomplishing nothing, I was, in fact, keeping our little house afloat.  And keeping a house afloat in the great big sea of family needs takes a lot of effort.  Of course, while I was teaching, I had very little to give to this effort and slowly, slowly our little boat started to lose buoyancy.  While it was sinking I told myself that after Christmas I would the throw myself into holistic home-making…  and more.

With seven hours a day of “free time”, I figured I would set a few goals.  Here’s a sampling of them in no particular order: simplify, organize, and keep our house in shape; host different people in our home every week; take meals to people; look into fostering children; brew our own probiotic beverages; write a book; become a certified doula; get a master’s degree; be emotionally present to my children and husband; help organize a community garden; create a no-fail gluten-free sourdough bread recipe; design and sew my family’s wardrobe; make homemade gifts for all my nieces, nephews and every birthday my daughters get invited to; substitute teach; learn vibrato on the violin…

At the end of everyday, I evaluate what I did with my time and wonder what happened.  Our office is still chaotic; my emotional rope is one hundred times longer, now that I’m at home, but I still come to the end of it at least once every day; I write a paragraph in the time I thought I would be able to hammer out a chapter; and guess what… yep, you got it, the bathroom needs a deep cleaning.  I am starting to get the feeling that my intentions to invest in my home, family and dreams, may end up like the failed bathroom deal.

By the way, if you are expecting a high note at the end of this mini-essay, you will be sorely disappointed.  There will be nothing of the sort.  Rather, I intend to end on a low note, and I do mean LOW.  As far as I can see, the best way through all of this is to lower my expectations.  Frankly, I think people underestimate the value of mediocrity.  Especially when it comes to how it affects our personal sanity.  If this sounds lazy or uninspired to you, consider the lists you make; they are probably different than mine, but I’m guessing your success rate isn’t.  Of course, I truly hope it’s better (as long as I don’t know you very well and end up comparing myself to you), but if it’s not, take heart and just set that bar one notch down.  Or two or three.

With resolutions fading fast almost three weeks after New Years, perhaps the wisest way to sign off is:

Hoping for more; happy with less,


PS.  I was sort of kidding about the ending-on-the-low-note thing.  I really want to fit in a picture of our brand new dishwasher in this post, and it’s definitely not depressing.  I remember thinking about dishwashers when I lived in Taperillas, and wondering how I could explain them… after you eat your meal you take you dish and put it in this big box and then the box cleans it!  It seemed so fabulous and ridiculous all at once.  The first few times we loaded the dishwasher last week, then closed the door and listened for it’s magical hum, we felt pretty much just like that.

Honestly, isn't it amazing?

Honestly, isn’t it amazing?

Thanks moms and dads and grandparents for your Christmas contribution towards this!

Thanks moms and dads and grandparents for your Christmas contribution toward this!


9 thoughts on “Bolivia and the bathroom deal

  1. I love your ramblings. We all deal with time constraints and failed expectations. I thought it would get better once the nest was empty…..but I have so much less energy now….however….I am getting pretty good at mediocrity, which just wasn’t an option when I had to be a role model for my 4 children….poor kids!

  2. I love this. Everything about it. You are so right about our expectations as well as how much goes in to making our homes. And I am a wee bit jealous of that fabulous new machine you got 🙂 As always, I love reading what you write.

  3. I love your Bolivia reflections! Brought back many memories of your time there – of the way you and Stan integrated into Taparilla culture and memories of health struggles. It’s wonderful to see where you are now and hear how your life journey continues!

  4. Just “borrowed” this from another website. I think you accomplish more than you realize (this is supposed to encourage you):

    A man came home from work and found his three children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.The door of his wife’s car was open, as was the front door to the house and there was no sign of the dog.

    Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall. In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing. In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.

    He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened. He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door. As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap and more toys strewn over the floor. Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls.

    As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked, ‘What happened here today?’ She again smiled and answered, ‘You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world I do all day?’ ‘Yes,’ was his incredulous reply. She answered, ‘Well, today I didn’t do it.’

  5. Tricia – your metaphor of our family as a boat and keeping it afloat is so poignant. I have been doing a lot of reflecting on this lately – thank you so much for letting me sneak a look into your life through your writing!

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