The fifty mile diet is a novel concept. Consciously picking through the array of imported goods and selecting those that originated within fifty miles of wherever you live. Buy local is the progressive persons mantra and practically a religion in my home town in the pacific northwest. You can still technically acquire whatever you want or need, you would just do so knowing that when it is outside the scope of “local” you eat the karma that comes with the global market place. Farmers markets, pea patches, backyard chickens and eating what’s in season are also hugely popular in the name of being “green”. As are clothes lines during the warmer months. All of these lifestyle choices make people feel better about themselves, but they can still drive to Safeway or the food coop and pick up that extra item that really sounds delicious in the moment. And if you just can’t find the thing you want, Amazon offers one click shopping that delivers anything you could possibly desire, straight to your door. With all of the choices, the obvious solution to life’s many problems, is to just buy something to fix it! Couldn’t be any easier. Oh, that’s not working…? You know you can just get a (fill in the blank)! Well why don’t you just get a (____)? You know, they make blah blahs that would take care of THAT, and they’re cheap!
Now imagine that you didn’t have a choice. Amazon doesn’t deliver and the stores only sell things that were sourced locally (or in China as the case may be), because the local economy is so poor that it can’t sustain the high price of importation. Really dig into this possible reality. So many items you have become accustomed to suddenly disappear. Your natural toothpaste. Organic coconut oil. Essential oils. Books. Seeds. Quality clothing. You are not running around naked, by any means, but the only thing available to cover your body are disposable made in China sweat shop garments. Fabric that is purely 100% natural fiber has also disappeared, so making your own is not an option either. Cross-contamination is huge, you have to be vigilant and choose wisely. Safe food handling is unheard of as is refrigeration. The Wal-Mart is the only source of safe dairy products for miles. Are you ready to go vegan? You have not only entered a world where there are very limited choices, but you have also become part of an economy that is barely scraping bottom. Your visa card or cash money are no longer viable tools to gain necessities, as your reserves have long since disappeared.
If you have survived this far, lets take a look at the water. First thing you need to know is that you can’t drink it. The large concrete tanks where it is stored are rarely cleaned. Birds, snakes and squirrels accidentally get inside and drown. Then this water flows through miles and miles of above ground pvc pipe to your home. Unless it doesn’t. You have to walk the line daily looking for leaks and disconnections. Sometimes a beetle will plug the hole. Perhaps a stray horse or machete cut your line… And maybe there’s just no water. This is a reality during the long hot dry season. The little river is an even less suitable option, but sometimes used out of necessity when the water doesn’t flow for too many days. This is where the women wash dirty dishes, diapers and laundry. So what do you do? Sure you can collect rain water 3 months out of the year. But the other nine months? Some people use microdyn drops. Or you can boil it, and constantly have a large pot of drinking water on the stove. And FYI, you still have to use that romantic outdoor clothesline during the three or four months of heavy rain…
Am I describing the apocalypse? Sort of. Some fictional land that survived armageddon? Nope. This is where I live, in the heart of a third world country. The fact is that many things just are not available here. Simple things that seem so normal. For people who have never visited a place like this, the reality is inconceivable.
I live on a nameless dirt road, in a house with no address, miles outside of a small village that does not receive mail. The nearest shopping area/city experience, is a 45 minute drive on a windy road that is full of hazards; donkeys loaded to the sky with firewood, motos, young children, unmarked topes and potholes that will swallow you if you’re not paying attention.
The lack of access here is confounding. When I want to buy dairy products, for example, I have to go to the city. Buying cheese in our little town is asking for trouble, as these items are never refrigerated. Eggs are salmonella in a shell. And if you wait until afternoon to buy your chicken, you can be assured that it’s been sitting out on a stump under a towell since early morning. Information and connection to anything outside of these hills is unnecessarily complicated. Usually I use the WiFi that I had installed at my mother-in-law’s house. Though this is technically the closest, most convenient spot, it is also terrible. To connect with my friends and family, or find information, I have to subject myself and my children to a battery of passive aggressive bullshit, that usually goes unnoticed by V or anyone else. She can cut you with a smile or stab you in the back and make it look like she was offering you something to eat. I keep my guard up and I always leave her home exhausted and in a foul mood. The other internet option is to wait for our bi-weekly trip to the city and use my smart phone to connect while driving in the truck through crazy city streets, with one hand on the phone and the other handling a wild toddler who would rather be climbing than sitting. No carseats. In this situation it is extremely difficult to focus and I usually end up dripping with sweat and covered in some kind of food by the time we get to where we are going. Not a great choice either, but at least it comes with more autonomy. In home Wi-Fi is not currently offered in my remote area, unfortunately, and so I make do rather than lose touch.
Receiving items by mail is expensive and unreliable. It’s excruciatingly slow, if it makes it to me at all. In the past 15 months, I have successfully received two packages by mail. One at a private residence and one at a DHL location, both in the city. Several other parcels have been lost along the way.
I am relaying this strange reality mostly to give you all back home a sense of what I’m dealing with and insight as to why these seemingly avoidable problems occur here. When you offer well intentioned advice on how to cope with these bizarre issues, understand that I am not shooting down all of your remedies because I am a pessimist or don’t think your ideas would be valid if I lived someplace else. But here… Everything is different. While part of me enjoys finding creative solutions and not strictly relying on westerner purchase power, I’m getting worn out. At some point, I just need something to be straightforward and easy. I need something to work. I’ve been teetering on the edge of sanity here for a while now, hoping that life will smooth out a bit. But with every solution comes ten more problems. For every $500 I have, I need $1000. It’s exhausting. Most days I just want to order a damn pizza and watch TV (neither of which are an option). Or ditch the kids and go to that Chinese buffet on the Guide by Costco. Get fat. Depend on unlimited convenience. Maybe the good old USA ain’t so bad after all. One click instant life… Yeah. Why not?