Few things focus the mind more than being confronted with the possibility of catching a deadly virus. So when the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases says, “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness” and then the Center tweets that Americans should think about getting ready, it seems like a good time to do exactly that—think about getting ready.
All of a sudden, prudent people are thinking about preventative measures and what they would do if they or their town or their entire city were under a quarantine and they had to “shelter in place,” meaning that they shouldn’t go outside their home. In addition to asking if they have enough food and medicine for themselves and their family, sensible people are thinking about what they would do if the pandemic were severe enough that employees who are needed to run basic services, such as water, electricity and gas, were to get sick or for other reasons stay home. What would happen then?
A few days ago on the radio, I heard that in a very serious virus outbreak a few years ago, Australia had something that the US needed. There wasn’t enough for both Australia and the US, so Australia, an unquestioned and reliable ally, refused to give up their supply. The lesson here is clear: in a true emergency, it’s everyone for themselves; you’re on your own. So, assuming that you would be on your own, what’s the plan?
A Mexican friend of mine asked me today if I thought that, if the coronavirus got worse, all the Americans would flee back to the US. As American expats living in Mexico, my wife and I have discussed this. In this event, would we be better off where we are in the Mexican Highlands, or back in the US, perhaps in Southern Arizona, where we used to live?
I am certainly no expert in this area, but if things got really bad and there were widespread quarantines, I believe we would be better where we are now, in the Central Mexican Highlands. (Some of what I write would be different for other parts of Mexico.) One of the reasons is that, here in Mexico, we are used to disruptions in power and water, and gas is delivered into a tank on our property. We don’t depend on “just in time” inventory or that the grid is up 99.99% of the time like we experienced it in the US, because, frequently, here in Mexico, it’s not.
The benefit of this otherwise not ideal situation is that here in Mexico, we have an infrastructure and a mindset that is more robust when things aren’t working, and we’re better prepared when things don’t happen perfectly.
As an extreme example of this in another country much poorer than Mexico, several years ago I visited a family in the Philippines whose home had in part of it, only a dirt floor. And, sticking out of this dirt floor, right in the middle of what we would call their family room, this family had a manual water pump of which they were very proud. So proud, in fact, that the man of the house was so eager to demonstrate it to me, that, without me asking, he did so. A few strokes later, out came copious amounts of clean, drinkable water, right onto their dirt floor, with the man smiling very broadly. This family’s supply of clean, drinkable, now cost-free water, was essentially limitless.
While in normal circumstances we in the US may view this as a primitive way to live, if you were in the US with no water for a week, I’ll bet you would see it differently, and I’ll bet you would fight to position yourself between the spigot and the dirt and beg the man to give the pump a few good strokes just for you— in the span of a few days without water, your attitude would change from “How terrible!” to “How magically wonderful!”
Here are some other things my wife and I considered:
Of course, access to first-rate healthcare is an issue and the US certainly has a larger quantity of high-quality hospitals for the population at large. However, irrespective of which country you were in, would you go to a hospital in that country in the middle of a virus outbreak? Unless I was close to death, I wouldn’t. After all, almost all the people at the hospital would be carrying a deadly and highly contagious virus.
And even in places like the US, in a serious outbreak, the hospitals would almost immediately be overwhelmed, and it wouldn’t be easy to push past the coughing, sweating, very sick and very contagious people to get your own care, anyway. And even if you did, there aren’t even a fraction of enough ventilators to be of any use.
The comparative quality of the overall medical system between the US and Mexico would be irrelevant to you if you couldn’t gain access to either, which is likely to be the case. (See “You’re on your own,” above.)
Free And Available Disinfectant
Any place it’s sunny is a good place to disinfect. Luckily, we have lots of sun here in Mexico, so high level disinfecting can be done by just placing your items on the entry way to your home.
When we lived in the US, gas was provided by “the gas company,” real time, when we needed it. If the gas company employees weren’t there to maintain the flow such as perhaps after an earthquake, we just didn’t get gas. That’s not the case here in Mexico. We have our own tank (like pretty much everyone here), with enough gas to last us about six months. While in the US, there could easily be gas disruptions, but it couldn’t happen to us here for half a year.
If the water were to be shut off to our home in the Tucson area, people who hadn’t stored water in 55 gallon drums beforehand would be reduced to drinking whatever was left over in their water heater and using a pail to gather what they had in their pool (if they had one) for flushing toilets. I don’t know what they would use for bathing and cleaning or what would happen after that. In short, most people would be pretty desperate pretty fast. You can’t last long without drinkable water, especially if it is hot outside.
Here in Mexico where we live, we don’t have a centralized water system that pumps just what we need to our home, just when we need it. Instead, we live in a development that has its own well and delivers water to our in-ground cistern three times a week. (This is extremely common here.)
The cistern is huge, holding about the same amount of water as a small pool. From there, the water is pumped to our roof, into a container called a tinaco, that delivers it to our house. This has several nice advantages. The first is that, if we decided not to water the lawn and plants, we would have several months of stored water.
The second advantage is what would happen if, in addition to not having any more water delivered, the power also went out. The tinaco holds about three days of normal water use (more in an emergency) and doesn’t need power to deliver water to our home; gravity does the trick. Although at lower pressure, the showers, the sinks and the toilets would all still work, even without power. And if the power went out, we would move water from the huge cistern to the house via pails or to the tinaco.
Electricity goes off much more often here in Mexico than it did when we lived in the US. That’s bad for Mexico, right? Not in this case. Because the electricity goes off more often here, we’re used to it and we have alternatives. Lots of our neighbors have generators and even more have solar power, much more so than in the US. Also, we don’t need that much electricity or gas (see “Climate”, next).
We live at 5,000 feet elevation, on a big lake. Today, with the usual soft breeze, we will experience a high of about 78 degrees and a low of about 60 degrees, which is pretty much perfect. In the middle of the summer, it may go up about 10% (I’ll probably wear shorts), and in the middle of the winter, it may go down about 10%, in which case, I may reach for my light sweatshirt. It’s not overly humid nor overly dry and I can enjoy water aerobics 365 days a year.
All this means that we don’t need any electricity for the air conditioning, and we don’t need any gas for the heater. Reason: we don’t have air conditioning or heating because we don’t need them. If we lived in Minnesota in the winter and the heat went out, we could freeze to death in hours, while if we lived in Phoenix in the summer and the electricity went off, it wouldn’t be that long until we could die of heatstroke. We don’t have any of those issues here. It’s quite pleasant in its natural state here pretty much all year round.
Also, as a result of the mild weather here, our homes and any restaurant I’m aware of don’t have central heating and air conditioning so they don’t have ducts in their buildings. Ninety percent plus of the restaurants here don’t even have walls enclosing them from the elements. Result: less opportunities for virus spread. Even in places in Mexico where it’s hot and they use air conditioners, they tend to use the room air conditioners, not whole house ones, so there are no central ducts.
The climate and soil is so agreeable here, if we chose to, we could even grow crops without much difficulty, and have fresh fruits and vegetables for the duration. As I’m writing this, we have fruits and vegetables that grow wild in our yard, free for the taking.
So, in the event of a pandemic, would all the expats in Mexico flee back to the US? Not my wife and I. I don’t know about the others, but unless something happens we haven’t thought of, we’ll stay right here.
The Mazatlan Post