Ciudad del Maíz, in the state of San Luis Potosí, México, is a four-stoplight town. Posted at the first light is a sign that says, "Espere su luz." That is to say, "Wait for your light." As a Quaker, I read this as a philosophical reminder to wait for an understanding of the will of God or the flow of the Universe. I open my mind and heart to the possibilities that the Spirit presents, while doing what I can to move my goals forward. It seems that we are a team.
My husband, Steve, and I recently moved from Vermont to a rural community within an hour’s drive of Ciudad del Maíz, translated from Spanish as "City of Corn." This physical and spiritual leap of faith was powered by our goal of learning to live as neighbors with our friends south of the U.S./Mexican border.
Espere su luz. The Spanish verb esperar implies hope as well as waiting. Esperanza is a common girl’s name and one that I can understand parents wanting to give to a newborn child: someone whose life is all possibilities, as she could become anything; she could be great. By the way, "to give birth" here is expressed poetically as dar a luz or to "give to light."
We live in a camper that has a small solar panel to charge its batteries. Over an average week we use a little more power than we collect. When our lights are getting too dim, we run a series of extension cords to the home of Rosario and Hector, our closest neighbors, to fully recharge the batteries from the power grid. We have been using the computer on its own battery because we can easily recharge it through the cigarette lighter in the truck as we drive to Ciudad del Maíz.
At least once a month, the electricity is out all over our village. When this happens our friends say, "no hay luz," or "there is no light," even on the sunniest day. But Steve and I still have power and lights because of the batteries in the camper. Usually Rosario and Hector come over to watch a movie on our computer after the sun goes down on those dark and quiet evenings.
We are building a small house on rented land in the village. We want to keep our power use to a minimum when we move from living only in the camper to also having the added space of a small house. It simply seems like the right thing to do for our planet. Before leaving Vermont we gave away our kitchen appliances (toaster, blender, food processor, rice cooker, electric mixer, toaster oven, microwave) and most of our power shop tools. We did bring a circular saw and jigsaw to help with the construction of the house. We’ve realized that our neighbors here have few tools, but have multiple uses for each one. They take time to do things by hand and take pride in their work. We follow their example.
The other motivation to minimize our power use is the three-tiered billing system of the Mexican Federal Electric Commission. The basic rate is federally subsidized at the equivalent of 5.7 cents in U.S. dollars per kilowatt hour (kWh) for the first 150 kWh metered each month. The intermediate rate applied to the following 100 kWh is about 9.3 cents. The final level is excedente or excess power use and costs 19.8 cents per kWh, around three-and-a-half times the basic rate. Thus, economic incentive is built into the fee structure to encourage people to use less power. (More information is available in English at the electric commission’s website http://www.cfe.gob.mx.) It is interesting to compare the average residential power rates in the U.S. at 10.52 cents per kWh. For more details see the Energy Information Administration website, which lists official energy statistics from the U.S. Government at http://www .eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm /table5_6_a.html.
This week we drove into Ciudad del Maíz to make arrangements for electrical service and water service to be installed for the house. In the center of the town there is a cathedral and a plaza with paths, benches, tall trees, and a gazebo big enough for a 12-piece band to play to a crowd. Next to the plaza is the municipal center complete with a jail and rodeo arena. There is also a cell phone store, furniture store, some restaurants, an Internet café, the one bank in town, and an ice cream shop. La comisión de agua (the water commission) office is a half block uphill from the plaza. There we can pay a woman named Luz what we owe for our water bill.
Then Steve and I entered the electric commission office and waited our turn at the window. The electric commission is just past the rodeo arena. I kind of expect the woman there might be named Agua, but I haven’t yet asked her name.
We had spent most of the past week doing everything we could to make the way ready for us to receive power: following a neighbor’s detailed directions about how to build our own concrete power post, buying the needed materials for doing the wiring, and getting ready to sign up for service. Steve spent an afternoon digging a waist-deep hole during a driving rain storm. He was so dirty by the end that we went over to the pond next door, stood him in the muddy water, and scrubbed him down with a brush to get the caked clay mud off his pants.
The next day we prepared the reinforcing bar, or castillo, that would support the center of our ten-foot power post. Manitas, our neighbor, came over on Sunday, his one day off, to help mix and pour cement for the footing of the post. Monday, we borrowed four motor-oil-soaked boards from another friend to use as forms for the post. It took us all day to get the forms in place and to position the receptacles for the meter and fuse box. By the time Manitas got home from work we had everything set to again mix the cement with his help and pour it by the bucketful down the inside of the forms from the top of a handmade ladder. After the cement hardened we removed the forms and finished doing the wiring necessary for installation of electrical service.
Everything was ready. Now it was our turn to talk to the woman I think should be named Agua. She was all business: name, address, actual location of the installation, cost, billing procedures.
While she was entering information on the computer, her co-worker sauntered through the office humming "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." At one point I sang a line and they both looked up and laughed, and Agua said, "She knows it!" Then her co-worker played it on his cell phone. That was a musical highlight for the day. After that, she told us the installers would come out within the week.
We thanked her and let the next customer have his turn. Our attention was drawn to a detailed drawing of how a post should be installed with precise metric measurements for all the various elements. Yikes! Our neighbor’s advice was not the same as the actual requirements. As in life, we hadn’t gotten an instruction book, and we’d made decisions as best we could with the information we had at the time. Standing in the office, we studied the drawing long enough that the humming co-worker came out and handed us a copy of the requirements—this would have been very useful a week ago. We left the office hoping that we’d done a good enough job so we could get power with the post as it was. Espere su luz, I reminded myself. It was both the waiting and hoping versions of esperar.
It often seems that the better prepared I am, the more I can make of openings that the world offers. Coming to our little village is an example. We had a dream. Steve and I talked a lot about our hopes; we took Spanish classes and visited many different places in Mexico. Each visit taught us more about what we were looking for and about friendship. The day we first came into this valley, we were ready to recognize that this was the place for us. We were ready for divine inspiration to move us out of the car and into friendships with the people here.
As it turned out, the electrical service installers came at 4:30 pm on Friday and were eager to finish their workweek. They didn’t quibble about how many centimeters high the meter was or the tin can we had opened up to serve as a roof over the fuse box. The will of God was, apparently, for us to have electrical service now. I ran for a cold chisel and hammer so one of them could remove enough cement from around the meter receptacle to allow the meter itself to be attached. They slammed their fancy extension ladder up against the metal conduit that juts up (technically too far) above the cement post.
Once they had strung the cable to the nearest power pole, they pulled it up nice and high. They flipped the switch on our fuse box, and the fan we had set up to test the system started to purr. They picked up their gear and headed toward their weekend plans. We thanked them and plugged in the camper.
When the signs in life tell you to wait for the light, have the way prepared and be ready to use the power given to you.