And We’re Back!Posted: September 24, 2012
Where did we go? Well, I have been wandering around in a fugue state, watching too much Breaking Bad.* The boys are in school and Andrew has been running a business, hiring people, finding an office and taking care of almost every detail of getting us settled here.
If our last few months in Takoma Park were about dismantling our life there, the past six weeks have been about putting it back together here, in a place where we have no credit history, barely speak the language and don’t know anyone. There have been some challenges. Here is where we are in that process, in a nutshell: we have a car, we have a house, and the kids are in school. And that is excellent! We also have a gardener (!), a housecleaner and a babysitter. We do not have heat, our cat Ruby, a low profile, the internet, or furniture.
Let me tell you first about our house, and house hunting. A few weeks after our arrival we started looking for a more permanent place to stay. Our temporary furnished apartment was small, the synthetic leather furniture was all wrong for kids and cats, and the balcony was a death trap.
Andrew’s coworker knew a realtor who was happy to take the boys and me around town to look for a place. Most people in Medellin live in apartments, and there are some really nice buildings with pools, playgrounds and gyms. What they lack are building codes. Before we ended up in the pleather palace, Andrew stayed in two other apartments – one had windows that started a foot off the floor and were made of Plexiglas; he had visions of Sam sailing through them and plunging to his death. The second apartment was a 3-story penthouse– each floor had open stairways with no railings and the top floor had a large floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the city. Except it wasn’t a window, it was A SLIDING GLASS DOOR. With nothing below it! You could literally open the door and step into the air. And plunge to your death. I’m sure thousands of families live happily and safely in apartment buildings like this in Medellin, but we have been too coddled to survive in this environment. North American children assume they can lean on a window, and if a door opens it means you can step out of it. Just like the children of ancient cliff-dwelling Indian families, the children of Medellin must know in their DNA to stay away from the edge. (But I’ve heard they sell nets for balconies, so maybe they’re not more evolved they’ve just come up with ways to deal with the dangers.) We also have fantasies of a yard with tropical plants, and maybe a dog, so we rule out apartment living and decide to look for a house.
The boys and I went out with Martha, our real estate agent, every day in rush hour traffic (the two hour lunch means there are 4 rush hours in Medellin). Sam shut off every time we got in the car and slept through almost every showing, which was probably for the best.
A lot of the places I could have ruled out in seconds if I had seen the photos, but for some reason Martha wouldn’t show us any. (See photo below of a once fancy house next to massive construction site).
We were so excited and optimistic in the beginning; I grew more disheartened with every house we saw. Most of the places are technically in the city but you can’t walk anywhere from them. Every house looks exactly like the one next to it. I can’t do it. These places are lifeless.
Aiden, on the other hand, loved every house more than the previous one. “That’s our favorite one, right mom?! That one had so many rooms, and a trampoline!” That house was full of ornate furniture, larger than life size portraits of the occupants and a master bedroom with a winding hallway, littered with jewelry just lying on the floor, that led to a walk in closet bigger than our old bedroom. It looked like it had been left in a hurry. I asked the kid showing the place where his family was moving. He told me something about them relocating to their finca where they grow tomatoes for export to Miami. Why do I ask questions? Must remember not to do that.
Aiden’s next favorite house had its own pool and playground. It also had a BMW, and a Mercedes in the driveway, and a hot Colombian mom with dyed blond hair and plumped up lips and fake boobs. She fussed about the monos in her house, and demonstrated how to turn the pool into a fountain.
The maid, who lived in a tiny room off the kitchen, showed us around. In theory this house was close to what we were looking for, but it was in a weird neighborhood and the place had bad narco mojo. Maybe it was the his and hers toilets in the workout room with the bubbling fountain. It was too much.
After a week of this, I was burnt out. I told Andrew to go on his own with Martha and the boys on Saturday. She had a McMansion to show him on the top of the mountain. I declared I wasn’t going to live there, and frankly I needed a few hours to myself.
Of course, they loved it. I noticed an email and some missed calls from Andrew. He was gushing; it was so great, beautiful countryside, people riding by on horses, dream house, etc. I had to take a cab to the top of the mountain to meet them at this amazing place.
Here are the things that made it seem right:
- The area is beautiful; rolling green hills, hydrangea farms, horses, and only 20 minutes from downtown.
- Carlos, the owner/builder of the house is Andrew’s new soul mate. They hit it off instantly.
- Carlos took us on a walk down the road to meet the neighbors. Our closest neighbor is a little store that sells eggs, arepas, snacks, beer and wine. All good things.
- The next closest neighbor is Marta. Marta has cows and sells milk and treats us like her new best friends. She gave the boys snack and took us to meet the baby cows. She told us how relieved she was that we’re not narco-trafficers; she was really worried about having narco neighbors. Marta has a little cottage on her property where Jane lives. Jane is the librarian at Aiden’s new school and she happens to be from Canada, from the same town as Andrew. The Universe is obviously sending a message.
- And finally, there are two chocolate labs, Chispas (Sparky) and Brownie, who belong to a neighbor but essentially live at the house. My dad had a beloved lab named Brownie. The dogs give us kisses and try to come home in the car with us. And that seals the deal.
The house also has a pond, lots of room for the kids to run around, and extremely high ceilings; after 5 years of ducking and smacking his head in our (beloved) Takoma Park hobbit house, Andrew is thrilled about the soaring ceilings. They all look at me excitedly. Aiden says, “it’s up to you mom! You’re the only thing standing between us and our dream house!” So, here we are!
The honeymoon, for me anyway, lasted until move in day.
*Dishwashers don’t exist here, so I’ve been washing a lot of dishes. My friend Rachel said she got through 5 seasons of Bones when she had newborn twins and lived in a house with no dishwasher. She would prop up her iPhone on the windowsill, wash dishes and watch streaming Netflix. So I am well into season 4 of Breaking Bad… although I’ve had to stop now that we’re in the new house and don’t have wi-fi. Andrew’s not sure if we have an unlimited data plan on the iPhone, so seasons 3 and 4 may turn out to be very expensive.