Living Here

If I look out of my bedroom window, I can see my neighbor’s house. To describe it generously, it’s bungalow with an indoor living room and a screened-in porch.

To describe it specifically, it’s a concrete block covered with a large slab of tin that extends off one side. Hanging from the tin is a wall of chicken wire. The family relaxes in hammocks in the outdoor bit and when they’re ready to sleep, they string a pink sheet in front of the chicken wire.

This is not an indication that I’m living in a slum. I am living someplace where the classes aren’t segregated.

There are the desperately poor. There are the less poor but making it work. There are the middle class. And there are the well-to-do. And they all live next door to each other in a town that smell pleasantly smoky, sometimes because of barbecues and sometimes because people burn their trash.

In addition to the tin-roof houses there are the pole/thatch huts, one of which you can see at the top of this post. These are traditional Maya and I’m not sure in Carrillo social strata if they indicate more or less income than concrete and tin.

The Maya houses are modest but really functional, staying cool when it’s 90 degrees and humid. If you look inside—which you will accidentally because people tend to leave their front doors open, even when they’re right at the sidewalk—you’ll usually see a hammock (often occupied), a TV and not much else.

Perhaps not a sign of wealth but the Maya aren’t big on furniture. The pole-thatch house of one of my school’s host families burned down a few years ago and now they live in a giant concrete house with a lot of hammocks.

I’ve written about my own apartment before. It’s relatively modern, in a compound with a garden and a pool and I have an outdoor kitchen in the treetops. No tin roof, no sheet. Do I feel guilty about this?

A little. But I’m coming from New York where the “haves” either don’t live near the have-nots or they don’t see the inside of their apartments. On my five-minute walk to the subway in the morning I would pass a least two dozen apartment buildings. I had no idea what it looked like inside any of them.

I really don’t know anything about the people in the pink sheet house either—if they’re happy, if they’re frustrated, if they consider their living arrangement cozy, shabby or just normal. But regularly seeing that their setup is completely different than mine forces me to consider my neighbors’ circumstances in a way that I never do at home.

One thing I’ve noticed is that when people here get a bit of money, they build out and up from their original homes. Rather than raze the thatch/pole house, they add a concrete room onto it or if they started with a concrete room they create a construction site around it, adding onto the back or building up.

As a result, a lot of houses look hodgepodgey, like this:CarilloHouse20CROPPED

This particular house begs the types of questions I ask myself daily.  What exactly was the building plan? Why is there a loose wire hanging near the laundry? And why is there a dog house on top of the first-story roof? Might the dog prefer the front garden?

The more I learn, the more I suspend judgment. Because you really never know.

Around town, here are some of the other housing options.

Center town apartments:


Leafy walls and roof, one of my favorites, near the supermarket

CarrilloHouse11Manicured garden, tin roof


Mostly together but still being built, actual size unclear.




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