So in case any of you are wondering, we still don’t have a house but we are getting close. After a lot of soul-searching, we decided that it’s important to us to be walking distance to school. I am still a bit nervous (OK, very nervous) to drive here and it’s just so much more pleasant to walk to school past little fincas (farms) and cows, sheep, horses and donkeys than deal with a hair-raising drive. Plus, we are always grateful for any extra time to sleep.
We also really like the area where the school is located. It’s on the outskirts of town and has a very small town/almost country feel. It’s very close to the mountains and just feels very quaint and very Colombian (as opposed to Club Med which felt like it could be a fancy suburban development anywhere in the US). There are little stores and bakeries, with smiling and chatty shopkeepers, where you can get freshly made empanadas (yummy meat or chicken filled pastries) and tamales and freshly baked bread and pastries. There are also vegetable stores and meat stores, although I try to stay away from the latter. The smell of freshly slaughtered animals mixed with the smell of bleach to disinfect is more than I can stand. I was a vegetarian until recently after all.
So wanting to be near school has basically narrowed down our choices significantly. There aren’t that many conjuntos here and they are all quite modest. There are some really beautiful stand alone houses (and we even looked at one) but Esteban just doesn’t feel comfortable living in a stand alone house without security, especially since he will be traveling about a week every month. So after some searching we came up with two options: 1) our nanny’s house, which is too big for her and her daughter so she wants to rent it out and move to a smaller place or 2) a small house in a conjunto nearby. There are pluses and minuses to both.
Our nanny’s house is in a relatively small conjunto (37 houses) and is located in the back corner of this conjunto so it feels very private. It’s just the right size for us – four bedrooms, 3-1/2 bathrooms, good size rooms, a couple of balconies and fireplaces and best of all, it has lots of windows and a wonderful view of neighboring houses, fincas and the mountains. As I look out the window from the spacious third floor, which would be our bedroom and my office, I see people going about their business: sweeping their porches, feeding the animals, doing their chores as the children play. It feels so “authentic” and I just feel so excited to be in Colombia and be able to be a part of this life which is quite different from the more urban American life that I have grown used to. The artist in me is inspired to write. So why are we even hesitating and not just moving in?
Well, the downside of our nanny’s conjunto is that there is a very small public green space. And with the way things work here, kids basically play in the common green areas of their conjuntos. This conjunto’s public space is about the size of an average American backyard, except you are sharing it with thirty-six other families. Siena loves to play soccer and while I am sure most of the kids in this conjunto like to play soccer too, I am not sure how it is going to work out because most of the kids in this conjunto are boys. It’s hard to imagine Siena getting in there and playing with the boys. Although as I write this, I realize that this would be an opportunity for all of us to live a more community-oriented lifestyle, a.k.a. we would have to learn to share.
As for option two, it’s a smaller house in a conjunto that’s about a 10 min walk to school. The house doesn’t feel as good as our nanny’s. The rooms are a lot smaller and feel somewhat cramped and there is less light on the main floor, which is where we would spend most of our time. There are also bars on the window which doesn’t feel as great and the kitchen is dark and a little depressing. What this conjunto does have though is a huge forested green space, a full size soccer field, two tennis courts and an indoor pool. The pool is a little bit grimy with peeling paint but the water is clean. But no question, the green spaces are ample and there would be plenty of room for the girls to run around and swim and learn to play tennis.
So what do we choose, a nicer house or nicer outdoor spaces? To complicate matters, there is a significant rainy season here where we could be stuck inside for long periods of time. Not so appealing in the cramped house with bars on the windows. But in nicer weather, it would be great to have the green space.
And if I am honest with myself (and with all of you), part of what’s at play here is my internal battle over values and what I want to teach my children. By choosing either of these conjuntos, we are choosing to live significantly below our means. We would be choosing proximity to school, less stress due to less driving, living amongst the Colombian middle class and participating in small town life over a bigger house with a huge kitchen and our own back yard in an upper class conjunto with lots of amenities like the Club Med option. (Social class, something we don’t like to even discuss in the States is a big issue here in Colombia, but more on that later.) And while I am for the most part comfortable with the choices we are making, there is a little part of me that feels a little uneasy knowing that by making these choices, we are precluding for the kids easy access to a nice pool (or at least one I personally want to get into) and tennis lessons and all the other trappings of an upper class lifestyle that we could easily afford here. Plus, I think my husband has less issues with the trappings of an upper class lifestyle than I do so he wouldn’t mind convenience, comfort and nice amenities. He agrees with me in principle and is willing to go along with my desire for a simpler life, but I do feel like I am pulling the whole family along.