Castles Made of Tin

23 May

Like driver’s tests and many other formalities, zoning laws don’t seem to exist here. This means that you are S.O.L. if your next door neighbor decides to put a karaoke bar on the third floor of his house (true story, folks- it happened to my mother-in-law). It means you have no recourse if your neighbor is sawing through aluminum all day long. It has all kinds of potential consequences that are really, really ugly.

As with everything in life, though, there’s a bright side, too. What I love about it is that you can build whatever kind of house you damn well please. Okay, well, whatever house you can afford, but nobody’s trying to regulate it. You pay a fee to build on your land, but basically you tell them if you’re building a small house or a big house and pay accordingly. That’s it. Building a house here is the three little pigs in real life, except the materials that each person picks aren’t due to work ethic but rather to economic situation. Thus, we have neighbors with a house made of wooden boards hammered together. We have a neighbor with a mammoth house; it’s three stories, all concrete, fenced-in with concrete, including garage. We have neighbors who seem to have multiple concrete structures and yet still can’t manage (or don’t use?) an inside bathroom. I only know because I sometimes bike past the matriarch in all her nude glory bathing herself in the yard.

I got stoked to write this post because I was watching some neighbors building the other day. It only took about two or three days to get her house livable, not like the months it took us. She put up a tin house with a slanted roof (which is not common at all here- they’re almost all flat roofs). It was so fun to watch her little sisters and other random family members, all over there hammering away at some pieces of aluminum. And that’s that- for now. It’s awesome that you can throw something together pretty quickly when you need somewhere to be. Conan built a quick aluminum structure to have a place to be while our house was being built, and it was a cheap and needed home (that we continued to use as a kitchen for a good while afterwards, too). It’s sweet to see how within-reach something like shelter can be, when in the U.S. building a home is a distant, complicated, super-regulated, long-term affair. But watching this family all help to build this quick structure made it seem as if I could almost build a home for myself, too- not only Conan and all the builders, but little ole me! That feels outrageously cool to me.

house 2

our “garage”- the house Conan lived in while ours was being built

house neighbor1

Different bits of tin pieced together make for a quick home when you need it

The downside of this kind of housing is that any passing hurricane or serious earthquake will likely destroy it completely. That, and the lack of bathroom regulation, which is a health problem for all of us, are the major rain on my parade. Granted, most people have some kind of decent bathroom situation, which is enough. Maybe it’s an outdoor commode that you have to pour a bucket of water down to make it flush, but it probably goes to a septic tank. The shower might be a curtained-off area outside where you pour water on yourself in lieu of a shower, but it works just dandy in this heat. (Why can’t my neighbor get a curtain at least? Geez!) Those situations are fine, but when there’s not even a septic tank, it’s a problem- for the person living there and for the rest of us and our gardens. Oh, well, at least there’s disinfectant for fruits and vegetables.

Whatever you can get together is home, and if it’s just a temporary throw-together, at least no mortgage shark is out to take it from you. Instead of paying mortgages their whole lives, people work on improving the home that they’ve got. As Conan pointed out the other day, “Rich people are the people who finish building their houses before they need to live in them.” For everyone else, home is a work-in-progress. It’s common to see, for example, one story of a house made of concrete and a second story put together with wood or tin.

Our house continues to be a work-in-progress, too. We have two indoor bathrooms but only two out of eight of our house’s window frames have windows that you could close. (Don’t worry- the others have mosquito netting and bars.) We still need another layer of concrete and a paint job on the outside before the rain can stop seeping in when it’s windy. But our house is big, and made of concrete, and it’s ours, ours, ours. It’s a work in progress that belongs to us, and I love it!

And I love that if you have the money for paint and want to paint your house a vomiting-cosmo-cocktails pink, nobody will say a word about it. Everyone will mind their own business and let your home be your castle, no matter what it’s made of, no matter how it looks. Just like it should be.

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