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Saturday February 24 2018
Building a Casita, -A Good Experience-

John Cawood

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In the luxury of retirement, I overslept and was awakened by strains of ‘I wanna hold your hand’....’ The Beatles ! It was surreal ! With this music playing in my ears, I was waking up to a new life in Mexico; but the music seemed starkly out of place. It came from a crackling radio at the bottom of my garden where a father and five sons had begun site excavation in preparation for building a casita. The youngest, aged 14, had brought his radio to work - now tuned to a Guadalajara station that aired everything from American Rock to Mexican Banda.

My partner and I, new to Mexico, had talked of building a casita. We were hungry for advice, and soon found it in abundance – what we should do, and what we should not do. We were warned about the unreliability of Mexican workers. We heard stories of delayed completion - how “time is elastic here”; how months might stretch into years; how contracted budgets had ballooned; “Expect the unexpected”, they told us.

We were daunted; however we decided to proceed on the sound advice to engage a qualified Mexican architect/contractor. This we did and are left with no regrets - only praise for the streamlined management of the project and the excellent work accomplished – on time and on budget !

Most impressive has been the exemplary way that these highly skilled Native Mexican builders have applied their intelligence, their hands, their muscle, their sweat, to the work at hand - always quick to improvise where innovative thinking called for unconventional solutions. No matter what the difficulty, the answer was always, “No problema!”

During the progress of construction (as well as the plumber, the electrician and cabinet-maker - all skilled professionals) the architect brought in three successive teams of builders, each with its own specialization - all family groups well known to the architect who had worked with them over many years.

The first team, a family of seven (source of music on that first morning at the bottom of my garden) from Guadalajara, specialized in site excavation, foundations and reinforced concrete support pillars.

The second team, a family of five from San Juan Cosala, specialized in brick-laying, roofing and boveda brick ceilings.

The third team, a family of six from Guadalajara, specialized in plastering and tiling.

Without exception these men, in all three teams, would arrive every morning waving happily to us and calling “Buenos dias !” - not exactly conversation but it was our first lesson in Spanish ! More than this, it was our introduction to the innate warmth, charm, grace and resilient strength of the Native Mexican people. These men never missed a day. They worked through rain or sun, in wet clothes or dry, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. without rest - except for the traditional one hour mid-afternoon siesta - always talking, sometimes bursting into spontaneous fragments of song, often joking and laughing, while applying themselves to the work (sometimes physically punishing since it is all done by hand) with focus, competence and pride in what each was accomplishing – an example to us of excellence, grace and quiet dignity – a way of ‘being’ in the world.

Never before, in Africa, Britain or Canada, have I seen men work more consistently with such a will to work, and with such markedly good humor – never an argument or cross word spoken amongst them. Life is fully lived in the moment and celebrated in the company of one another – even in the workplace !

We will miss them when the work is finished and they are gone from our lives; but the building will stand – their Monument to Excellence.

Building a casita has been an eye-opening, even educational, experience of Mexican men at work. Newcomers who wish to benefit from our experience, may contact:


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