Tag: resourcefulness

Waterless Days

Our toilet usually makes an annoying, sporadic dripping or trickling sound. There have also been a few times, before the rooster on the fourth floor wakes up to crow, that the toilet will make an explosive racket, gurgling and spitting up convulsively. The first time we woke up to the auditory chaos, we thought the washroom had flooded. It turns out, this happens when the enormous water tank on the roof is suddenly switched on after being empty for hours. As it fills, the extremely high water pressure quite literally shoots water down to all the apartments below.

Fénix con su Contenedor de Agua
Poor Fénix crying because he doesn't have water. (He was posing for the camera, by the way).
And then there are days when the toilet makes no sound at all. These are the days we worry because it often means that there’s no water at all.

Today, the toilet was quiet and the landlady knocked on our door at eight in the morning to advise us to collect as much water as we could. I was prepared. These days, I fill any available empty bottles with water. We can at least use this water to flush the toilet. The most valuable water is the pitcher of boiled, potable water we keep in our fridge. This gets rationed out to ourselves and to Fénix the kitty because we’re never sure how long the water famine will last.

Desperate times call for ingenuity and resourcefulness. We were ecstatic when we thought of bringing down rain water that had collected in buckets near the laundry station on the roof. It was a good thing we woke up early because the early bird catches the worm and wins the precious water. This morning, I had the clever idea of trying to empty any existing water that might have collected in our shower tank. Unfortunately, there were only 10 drops.

But we value what we have.

Have you ever experienced not having a key resource when you needed it? How did you approach the situation?

I promised to blog for a cause for International Women’s Day. In the days leading up to today, I thought of all the strong, inspirational women I knew… and felt fearful and weak in comparison as I started my trip down south from Huancayo to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. It was going to take over 50 hours to get from one place to the other via three buses, which turned out to be four, that arrived late at each destination. I imagined I would use all those extra hours to think about this blog post, but traveling is exhausting, especially when you’re on the verge of fear.

I was afraid about traveling alone as a woman, meeting the wrong people, turning into one of the tragic tales that grace the front cover of daily newspapers and being a victim of the fallibility of developing countries. I’m neither a traveler nor an adventurer; I prefer to settle in and make myself a cozy nook in another country. I chose to purchase tickets from more reputable bus companies, put a lock on my backpack and sleep with my foot slipped through the backpack strap, but there are no guarantees here.

Thankfully, I made it from one end of the Andes to the other smoothly and in one piece even though I can only catch around 50% of what Chileans (and Spaniards and Cubans) say because they speak so quickly. I wondered why I was worried in the first place and am trying to convince myself that the trip back in two weeks will be easier now that I know what to expect. On the way over the Peru-Chile border in a shady-looking mafia car, one of the men I was traveling with told me I was brave for traveling alone. Maybe I really was brave if a person can be brave and afraid at the same time. Today, I want to recognize all brave female travelers and adventurers who aren’t afraid of taking risks, being alone and living without plans.

The more I take combis (Peruvian public transportation) in Huancayo, the more I envision the combi as a microcosm of Peruvian life.


Today I rode a combi that had a little speaker hanging dangerously over the heads of some passengers. It was tied onto an inner metal support bar and wired to the front of the van somehow so that people in the back could enjoy the same Peruvian cumbia music as the driver. It wasn’t even working, but it’s the thought that counts.

Last week, when I hopped onto a combi to escape the pouring rain, there was a leak near the window and rain was dripping onto one of the seats. They stuffed a cloth into the crack to stop the leak. It would be temporary. The combi worked fine when it wasn’t raining. They were never going to fix that window.

To me, these are examples of resourcefulness and of taking advantage of what’s available. They’re examples of being okay with imperfection. The lesson is to care less about the little details and more about making something functional. It’s about using something for its full worth and then finding ways to extract even more out of it, instead of continually buying the latest gear or replacing the whole package because of a tiny tear.


I have been on various interrupted combi rides. Sometimes the combis take a different route because there’s a parade or party going on downtown. Sometimes they take shortcuts without warning their passengers or explaining why. Sometimes the police will stop the combi for going too fast or taking passengers in undesignated areas, and everyone on the combi has to wait.

It’s impossible to know what to expect and things aren’t always fair, but they happen so you live with them. People learn to let things go. Maybe sometimes toleration is expressed as repression or resignation, but what’s important is knowing when to choose their fights. Toleration can also be seen as a type of acceptance. In the grand scheme of things, life isn’t ever fair and this realization melts indignation and demands respect.


At any given time, you may ride a combi in the company of dogs, chickens, piglets, or even sheep. The owners often hop on with large mantas (a large cloth ladies use to carry load on their back), filled with what they’ve bought at the market as if their mantas were large purses and shopping bags combined into one.

There are unspoken rules to help each other out. The cobrador (money collector) always helps the ladies with their things, especially if they have extra boxes. The passengers get up to give the ladies their seats. Not only do these ladies get priority seating, but I’ve also seen people get up for seniors and pregnant women just like in Canada.

Sometimes, a child or recovering drug addict gets on the combi to sing or tell their life story, and then ask for our “collaboration” with whatever we can spare. You see the nod of the cobrador: “Come on in. I know what it’s like to live a hard life too.” And after the presentation, the passengers on the combi share — at least half of them.

There’s poverty here, but it hasn’t become cut-throat, at least not in the Andes. There’s still a sense of community. It’s near impossible to live an isolated lifestyle. Huancainos know that no man is an island and being packed into a combi together is only a physical affirmation of the links between you and your neighbours.

In the Heights

I don’t think any other New York experience will top my first time seeing a broadway musical. My friend and I had second row discount tickets that evolved into front row seats when the lady in front of us asked to switch spots because she had a neck problem – I didn’t mind at all, but she was so apologetic that she bought us free pop in souvenir mugs during intermission. What a deal!

Front row seats meant that we could take a peek in the orchestra pit underneath the sewer-like grates at the front of the stage. They meant that we could make eye contact with the actors, notice them wink at one another, and see their hard work expressed in the sweat on their faces. They meant that we could feel their energy and the movement of air when they danced past us. It was intense!

And there was no better musical for me to have chosen at this point in time than “In the Heights.” I had briefly read about it on the internet – I liked that it was about a Latin American (more specifically, Dominican) community in northern Manhattan and that its music style would be a mixture of rap, hip hop, salsa, merengue, and soul, mixing Spanish and English in its lyrics and dialogue.

I already knew that I would like the performance, but I didn’t expect that I would also be able to connect so deeply with the themes and messages.

1. There was the barrio sweetheart who had the opportunity to go Stanford but came back ashamed about losing the scholarship and disappointing her parents who had sacrificed so much for her to go there. They supported and loved her still.

2. The electricity was out and the heat was scorching, but the neighbours were resourceful. Instead of sitting around and complaining, they took advantage of the moment to have a carnaval – they used maracas and wood blocks for music, set the fire hydrants off like sprinklers to cool them down, and danced salsa in its mist.

3. “When there’s an issue or a problem,” the mother reminds both her daughter and husband, “you go back home.” The initial reaction may be to escape or walk out; the grass always seems greener, but when the family core is strong, we are all individually strong. The narrator, in the end, also decides to forego the lottery money he won and the allure of moving back to the Dominican Republic to stay with his community in the Heights.

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