3 things I’ll never again take for granted

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1. A clothes dryer

In the world in which I grew up, the existence of clothes dryers was simply a given. Even if you didn’t have one at home, there’d always be one in the basement of your apartment complex or dorm, or in a nearby laundromat.

Not in Salvador. First of all, clothes dryers are prohibitively expensive.

Let’s say you work minimum wage in the U.S., earning about $1000/month, and you manage to put away 5% ($50/month) in savings. Clothes dryers start at about $400, so it’d take you eight months to save up for a dryer.

Take the same situation in Brazil – you earn minimum wage (R$625/month) and you save 5% (R$31/month). Clothes dryers start at about R$1200, so it’d take you 3 years and 2 months to save up for a dryer.

…but who needs clothes dryers in a sunny, tropical climate? True, about 80% of the year, drying laundry on the clothesline is a breeze – and environmentally-friendly, too. But in the months of May and June, the environment turns decidedly UNfriendly. It has rained pretty much constantly for the past 7 DAYS, meaning no clothes can be dried and no new clothes can be washed. And if you don’t own a ton of backup clothes, you’re pretty much S.O.L.

If you’re in Brazil on vacation, this is irritating but bearable. But if you have commitments like going to work, which requires certain clothes (in my husband’s case, a uniform) it becomes full-on stressful. Neither of us have gone to capoeira for the past week because of lack of clean clothes, and the other day we hit a true laundry emergency, and had to cave and send Christian’s work clothes to the overpriced, full-service-only, takes-a-full-day-to-get-your-clothes-back laundromat.

I will never take a dryer for granted again.

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2. Running water

If I were living in a remote village where the only way to get water was to lug buckets of it from the river, that’d be one thing – the inconvenience would simply be a given. But when you live in the 3rd-largest city of a rapidly-developing country with wireless internet, air conditioning, and one of the world’s most sophisticated electronic voting systems, you kind of imagine they’d have basic infrastructural necessities like water down by now.

But NO. The water randomly cuts out, sometimes for hours or days at a time. When we first moved in, the shower spent about 2 weeks producing a stream of water thinner than my pinky – that’s all we had for taking showers and doing laundry. And the problem is that there IS no local river where I could go to get backup water.

Oh, and taps for hot and cold water? I’ve never seen those in Brazil.

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3. Freedom of transport

Having a car is practically another “given” in the U.S. (92-95% of households own at least one, and a good number of those who don’t live in NYC, where it’s not needed anyway).

In Salvador, only about half the population owns a vehicle, and for the past 4 days the entire city was paralyzed by a bus strike. By law, during a strike they’re supposed to keep 40-60% of the fleet on the road – but this law was not respected, and there were simply no buses anywhere. All of my classes were canceled, but I’m extremely fortunate that I have work I can do from home. My husband spent 3 hours trying to hail a taxi in the rain to get home from work (they were all full). His coworker has been biking an hour and a half each way to work.

Even when the public transportation is working, let’s compare a simple everyday errand:

Going to the bank to cash a check

With car:

  • 15 minutes drive there
  • 10 minutes wait in line at bank
  • 15 minutes drive back
    Total = 40 minutes

By bus:

  • 10 minutes walk to the stop
  • 10 minutes wait for bus
  • 20 minutes ride there
  • 10 minutes walk from bus stop to bank
  • 10 minutes wait in line at bank
  • 10 minutes walk from bank to bus stop
  • 10 minutes wait for bus
  • 20 minutes ride back
  • 10 minutes walk from bus stop to home
    Total = 110 minutes

If and when we get a vehicle, I am going to be thankful for it every single day.

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Those are my 3 everyday things I’ll never again take for granted. What are yours?

  • Ouch! I think the worst is the transportation issue!

    We have navigated around the bank issue- we joined a credit union which serves members only after 1pm, and we just don’t take checks unless it’s an emergency or otherwise impossible for someone to pay. Transferring money from bank to bank here is easier than in the US, and most people we deal with know how to do it.

  • Julia

    You tend a rope in your bathroom and put your clothes on it. Get a fan inside to MAX and close the door. That will do it. If you can add a small heater to the room, then you have the perfect dryier. I did it every winter in Argentina, 40 yrs ago.

    • Shayna

      Oh, we do have a fan… I will have to try this!

  • Ouch is right. Just the other day I was complaining about randomly low water pressure at my house, then thought – be happy you have running water to complain about!

    I agree with your list, but would add another – my health. I have a couple older relatives who are very sick right now and I’m so grateful I’m well. Motivates me to take even better care of myself.

    • Shayna

      Very true, Deonne! I remember a big eye-opener for me was breaking my leg when I was a teenager and spending several weeks on crutches – it gave me a new gratitude for mobility, and a new sympathy to the challenges for people in wheelchairs, with walkers, etc.

  • Hi Shayna,

    I’d like to add “life”. In my experience, most people (often including myself) forget to truly value life; the life of their own, the life of their peers, and other living things.

    And I’d remove having a car, unless you live somewhere it’s outrageously difficult to move without one 😉

  • We just bought a new washer and dryer, and got stackables so that we can bring the dryer with us to Brasil when we move! I see how much time my MIL spends drying and ironing all her laundry, and I’m so excited I won’t have to do the same. As for the water issue, I used to complain about the pressure in Santos, but from now on I’ll be thankful there’s at least a steady stream!

  • LOL, i’m getting used to having no dryer in France. My clothes come out nice and crunchy. I do miss air fluffed towels and the smell of freshly dired clothes with fabric softener.

    Our city life shopping isn’t nearly as bad as yours. We just don’t have a car and have to use one of those small shopping carts to lug food back and forth to our house from the store. We go food shopping every other day because our fridge isn’t big enough to hold enough food for a family of five for more than a day or two.

    I think i appreciate things more this way. i don’t take things for granted “as much” anymore.

  • I definitely miss clothes dryers! We lived in Germany for years and it was never an issue because we could dry the clothes on the balcony in the summer (lots of sun!) or indoors in the winter (it was always dry then). Here, it’s impossible. We have rain year long and our apt complex won’t let us dry clothes on the balcony, so indoors just makes it worse, ahh!!!

    We don’t have the water issue so much as electricity. It’ll go out for almost an entire day sometimes with no notice of when it’ll be back. The best is when one half of our complex has electricity and we don’t.

    We do have a car (but didn’t at first). Public transport to work=1-3 hours (depending on traffic) with a car=15-40 min (once it was 1.5 but that was really only once). The price of a car here, though, sheesh, it’s a killer! We’d happily take public transport if there was something feasible locally. We actually didn’t even own a car for years before moving here because we always lived somewhere with good public transport. Driving here just gives me nightmares!