My Energy Crisis

by Terry Oliver on April 2, 2011

In a few days my birthday will mark the three-quarter century point. I have been wondering what changes I will notice as I edge towards becoming an octogenarian. One thing I have noticed already is the discrepancy between what I want to do and what I actually can do.

In the enthusiasm of carrying out some plan or activity, I get overly ambitious, deciding or agreeing to do something only to discover I haven’t got the energy to carry it through. These little defeats seem to occur more frequently since I turned 70. Now that I’m facing 75 squarely, setbacks happen more dramatically.

And more embarrassingly. I had discovered a local project here in Mexico where we are wintering for a couple of months. It seemed like the perfect solution to my agonising over whether I could continue to justify my existence down here as I outlined in my last blog post.

The project involves joining a group of gringo expats to construct basic adobe homes for the poorest families in the countryside around where we’re staying here in San Miguel. Inspired by a video and a talk at a fund-raising dinner, I announced I would turn out the next day as another volunteer on a work party.

At the site, work on the current house had reached the last two weeks of construction, so a group of us retired guys were set to work clearing away all the scaffolding materials and loading it onto a truck for the next project nearby.

So far so good, although I did smile to myself at the sober pace at which we tackled the job – well, it was a hot morning after all and none of us looked under 70. We ambled over to the new home site, following the truck and glad of the opportunity to rest before unloading all the heavy awkward scaffolding.

The owner of the property emerged from his tin shack all smiles to see us. He was a small Mexican probably in his mid-60s and looked tiny beside all these lanky old gringos. But for every one or two planks or metal bars each of us picked up he grabbed three or four and moved twice as fast. He wasn’t trying to show off I decided, he was just happy to see his family’s new home being started. And probably that was his normal working speed. The truck was unloaded in half the time it had taken us to load it.

I mulled this over on the walk back to the other site where we set to clearing the soil and digging a trench for the drain from the outside toilet and shower. The land the house was built on was formerly a landfill site. To call it soil was an exaggeration. We spelled each other off with pick and shovel, hauling out broken adobe bricks, rotting clothes, shoes, rusted car and bike parts and gladly relinquishing our tools to the next volunteer to take over. I sat gasping and nauseous from the unaccustomed hard labour, feeling by turns sick and embarrassed.

My enthusiam for joining this project waned as the reality of what I’d let myself in for swept over me along with the waves of nausea and sweat. I had to admit to the others it was too hard and bowed out to let them finish the trench. The Mexican workmen smiled at each other but said nothing. I was given some scaffold boards to de-nail and stack to save face for the rest of the morning shift and at noon I scuttled back home with my tail between my legs.

So now what? Will my pride allow me to continue in some reduced capacity – say sweeping and tidying the site? Or should I resign myself to making a financial donation and attending fund-raising events?

All very humbling for someone who has always been a ‘hands on’ kind of person.  But as I return to Canada I realise I have  a year to puzzle over my next move before I return to Mexico. There is probably a lesson to be learned from all this – but at present I am too exhausted to figure out what it is.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Camilla Morrow April 9, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Terry, I really appreciated your honesty and candour in this article, and I had a good laugh picturing you and the other gringos biting hard into a reality sandwich 🙂 And, at least now you know – leave that heavy slogging for the youngins; there are always a few gringos in their 20’s and 30’s who want to do that kind of volunteer work…I think you could find (or create) something mid-way between the slogging and donating…and I hope you do!

Terry Oliver April 10, 2011 at 10:40 am

You’re right, Camilla. I need to stop pretending I can do what a 20 year old can. But just what that might be I’m not yet sure – don’t fancy doing paperwork as I like to be involved directly with the local families. If you have any bright ideas, let me know.

Camilla Morrow April 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Terry, what comes to mind, since I know you’re an avid gardener, is getting a plot of land to grow some vegees and fruit on, without pesticides (of which Mexico uses an abundance), and maybe getting kids involved….also, is anyone doing any appropriate tech projects in San Miguel – bio-diesel, bio-gas, solar, wind power?

…Just some thoughts…

Terry Oliver May 2, 2011 at 12:28 am

Sorry for the delay in replying, Camilla. Been mulling over other possibilities – one of which may be going to San Cristobal de las casas – just doing some research on it now but there appears to be a lot of NGO activity there so may find something to get involved with next winter.
Watch this space…

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: