Next year country or mañana country


February 13, 2014

Living several years in Montana, known as “Next Year Country” because of vagaries of climate and other erratic conditions, was good transitional training for relocating to Mexico, “Mañana Country”.

Consider mail delivery. Anyone in a small town on the north-central Montana plains will tell you that a letter from either coast takes four days to arrive. Overnight or express delivery also takes four days. That’s just the way it is. One learns to shrug and compensate.

Last week, I received my first two pieces of Christmas mail. Was I ever excited. I checked the postmarks and did the math: four days to leave Montana, two days to arrive at the border where the mail is transferred to the dusty saddlebags of the man holding the lead rope of a burro. The saddlebags are slung over the back of his true-footed pack animal, along with provisions for two months. Man and beast pick their way through cactus on dry desert trails and slog over treacherous mountain passes. When they reach the coastal city where I live, the mail is sorted for delivery by a man on a scooter. By the time an important letter is delivered, urgent mail is no longer urgent. Maybe that’s a bonus.

Last week was a busy week. Lupe transferred to Los Cabos to work for the next month, possibly two. So I had to learn to do all the things that he had been doing for me. One of those chores concerns my internet company. For four months we have paid for wireless internet, a service we do not receive. Why not? A shrug, “No modems; come back next week”. This time we were told, “Come back February 26”.

So early on the 26th, I will climb aboard the Sabalo Centro bus and ask the driver to let me off at Lola Beltran on Olas Altas. From there I will walk downhill about eight blocks to the Megacable office. I will probably be told, possibly in sign language, “Come back in April.” I’ll go through the motions. Likely I will trudge empty-handed up the hill to catch the bus home.

The hardest thing for me to deal with is the water heater, which has only worked sporadically since I moved here in November.

I admit I don’t have a degree in plumbing. Mostly I avoid anything to do with electricity or natural gas. Necessity is the mother of learning. When I remodeled my house in Harlem a few short years ago, I learned to change a light fixture. I replaced several fixtures without killing myself. When I moved here, I had to re-learn to cook with gas. I quickly mastered lighting the burners and oven and have lived to tell it.

But the water heater was in the final stages of a slow death. The pilot flame had to be re-lit every couple days. In the beginning, I waited for Lupe to be home to light the pilot so I could have hot water. He would take the key, a flashlight, and candle lighter and go around the corner to the water-heater room. In an hour or two I could shower.

Now I had to learn to do it myself. I unlocked the door and swung it wide for the gas fumes to disperse into the open air. Holding my nose, I reached in and twisted the control to “off”. It’s in Spanish, but no matter. Starting from way outside, I approached the room slowly, holding my arm rigidly extended, and triggered the candle lighter several times to make sure it didn’t shoot four-foot flames from escaped gas. Once I deemed it safe, I entered and turned the control to “pilot” and held down the red knob the requisite fifteen seconds or longer. Then I turned the control to “max”, which means what you think it should. With good luck the burner under the heater ignited. Sometimes I had to repeat the process four or five or six times before the burner caught flame. I got pretty good at it. I mastered my fear. Mostly.

Last night I spent half an hour repeating the routine. I am well-acquainted with the line going to the pilot. That line has a hole in it. No wonder it doesn’t work. The real wonder is that I have not blown myself into a crispy critter. I got my neighbor Frank to take a look. After a few more unsuccessful attempts to light the burner, we murmured R-I-P and locked the door on the carcass of the dead, leaky heater. Frank phoned our landlady. “She’ll order a new electric heater. She’ll arrange an electrician to install it.”

When? Mañana? Or maybe next year?

(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little different. Now, she's headed on a new journey. She's moving to Mexico. Keep in touch with her at


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