Something Is ALWAYS Breaking — April 1, 2011

Yesterday I answered the doorbell to find a gentleman from CFE, the electric company, waiting by the front gate with a clipboard full of documents. He came to tell me the electric meter on our house was broken and it needed to be replaced right away. Oh by the way . . . I needed to sign documents agreeing they could chisel out the cement front wall of the house around the old electric meter in order to install a new meter (the electric company’s responsibility) and I must agree to pay the cost of back electricity charges during the time they “estimate” the meter was broken. Could they tell me when the meter broke? “No” Is there a way to tell the kilowatts consumed since the last reading when the meter is opened? “No” Then what would I be agreeing to pay? “Ah . . . it will be calculated.” He was smiling and very helpful though and invited me to go immediately to the CFE office to meet with representatives to review and sign the legal documents if I had any questions or doubts. ARRRRGHHHHHHHHH . . .

My initial reaction was “OK, who’s playing an April Fool’s joke on me?” so I quickly looked around outside to see if I saw any snickering “friends” who thought I was gullible enough to believe this scenario. However, after checking for CFE idenfication and reviewing a printout he provided I realized it was just SOMETHING else that broke. Let’s see . . . in the past 10 days our water pump caught fire and had to be replaced, a new wooden pushbroom handle stripped out and is no longer usable, an electrical power surge caused a lightbulb to pop tripping the breaker shutting off power to 1/2 the house 5 minutes before dinner guests arrived; the electric meter “died”, the laundry area gate rusted in place so won’t close, and the kitchen door fell out of alignment so doesn’t shut. And to think we pride ourselves in keeping our home well maintained!

Coping with “something always breaking” is one of the prices to be paid for living in “paradise”! The humid, salt drenched ocean air and harsh sun breaks down materials quickly and replacement parts available here are often less quality than in the US or Canada. Although the constant need for repairs is merely inconvenient for those of us living here as guests, it creates a hardship for many Mexican families and organizations we support through Friends of Cozumel.

Volunteer repair projects may be shall we say “less than glamorous” but so important in helping local organizations focus on what they do best . . . helping children and families. For example, last month we discovered the float in NUAFA’s tinaca (roof tank holding the water supply for the daycare) had been broken for over a month. The water didn’t fill automatically and NUAFA staff had to manually start a pump and wait for the water to overflow the roof tank to know when to shut off the pump . . . thus wasting water, a valuable resource. They hadn’t called anyone to repair it as NUAFA has no discretionary money to pay for parts or labor, nor did they know who to call with the tools or expertise to fix it. Steve Peterson, part-time resident, was visiting NUAFA to plan a Mission Project to build a cabinet when he heard of the problem and volunteered to repair it. It was a 20 minute repair that he and Larry did with a nominal cost to purchase a new float. A couple of weeks later Steve returned and fixed a weight that had shifted on the float, then the following day or two he reported the same thing happened in his home’s tinaca. . .it’s a way of life here. THANKS to Steve’s generous offer of help, NUAFA now has a consistent water supply.

NUAFA and Vida Abundante Church both had broken toilet handles for months. The organization leaders didn’t know how to fix it so they coped by taking the top off the toilet and manually flushing it every time it was used. Can you imagine operating a daycare and trying to potty train children with a toilet that doesn’t flush? Or not having a fully functioning toilet for your church congregation, especially with a number of young children who can’t manage to lift the top off the back of the toilet? Mission volunteers repaired these in a few minutes with parts costing less than $2US.

Having a few basic tooks, the expertise to diagnose problems and do repairs makes THE difference. The cost of buying the parts locally is often not the greatest barrier. Volunteer offers to help out with these type of repairs is a wonderful resource and something either residents or visiting volunteers can do even for a short time commitment. Friends of Cozumel has extra sets of tools we’re glad to lend out to willing volunteers!

A new idea . . . A couple of months ago Eloisa Buenfil, President of NUAFA, surprised us by requesting a donation of a used electric drill. She said she wanted to learn how to hang a shelf and repair a gate. We started thinking about Eloisa’s request, the simple repairs done during our recent Mission Trip as well as our goal to help families and organzations become self-sufficient. Our new idea is to use volunteers to teach a basic repairs class for women, then perhaps offer repair classes to others. We’re looking for donations of basic used and new tools to use during the class and will provide participants with a small set of hand tools at the end of the class for their home or organization’s facility. We hope to launch the first class during our Fall Mission Trip, October 23-30.

Want to help by contributing tools? Do you know people who have extra tools they would like to donate to a worthy cause? Spring is a great time to watch for tools at garage sales and auctions. There are always specials on tools around Father’s Day in June. Donations needed include: channel lock pliers, small hammers, misc. screwdrivers (slotted & Phillips or combo screw driver sets that have multiple bits), tape measures (must include metric; shorter lengths fine of 10-12’ or 3-4 meters); misc. masonry bits (1/4” & 3/8”); 3-5 electric drills. Also needed are 10+ small bags for sets of tools. Note: There is no problem bringing hand tools or electric drills on flights. Hand tools are specifically listed as accepted items on the Customs forms. –Karen

Contact us if you have questions or would like to become involved in helping with this effort. Email:

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