Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Two and a Half Hour Commute

Here is a video of me shaving.

After two and a half months of growth i decided to shave my beard.  The humidity here was creating microclimates in my chin area, causing afternoon thunderstorms that hurt my face.  It was also trapping too much food, inspiring the roadside roosters ferociously peck at me on my walk home from work.  I am now the owner of 1 (debatably) pretty mustache.

Here is a joke:

There r 3 baby cows & a momma cow. The 1st cow says "Momma y is my name Rose?" & the momma cow says "Bc when u were born, a rose came down and fell on your head." The 2nd cow walks over and says "Momma y is my name Daisy?" Momma cow says "Bc when you were born a daisy came down and fell on your head." By this time the 3rd cow has walked over & he says "ajfhafkheuugweubgv" and momma cow says "Shut up Cinder Block."

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My new mustache.
Alright.  Enough funny stuff.  Literally!

Here is a link to the newly posted pictures on my flickr site.

I have been doing some more fun and exciting things, mostly having to do with my EWB project here.  Last week, Arturo, one of the community leaders in our site, asked Heath, Lauren, and I to attend the general assembly on Sunday.  At least one member of each household was required to show up, so there were about 300 - 400 people there.  Heath and I were surprised to discover that we were about to be up on the big stage, and were expected to say a few words about our project!  The nerves were going, I'd never spoken to more than a class or team.  And those were always in English.  After Arturo explained the finances regarding our project with the community (for about an hour), it was our time to shine.  We didn't really; more of a dull glimmer.  Wet rust, maybe.  Heath got stagefright and said a few somewhat understandible words, before handing me the mic.  I wasn't really ready for it either, going up there intending to emphasize that our end of this project was all donation money, not our own.  I think I was successful at that, but to be honest I don't really know.   Those 7 or 8 minutes of my life are a memory most similar to those after a night of heavy drinking (I've been told.)

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Limbing up the tree
The next day, we were informed by our local Peace Corps. liason, Lauren, that we were expected to give a little talk at the nationwide Rural Health Convention, where all 40ish of the Peace Corps. volunteers in the country get together and schmooze. 

So, on Tuesday after a long day of cutting down branches that were obstructing the new power lines, Heath and I hitched down to Hotel Alicante, a super swanky resort that Peace Corps. rented out for 3 nights.  We were given our own room with hot showers, and good food in the dining lounge.  The place was enormous.  In exchange for the room and board, we figured it would be best if we put together a professional "seeming" presentation, touching on the intention and goals of EWB, and how Peace Corps. can utilize our services.  It kind of was, but it also featured us with our shirts off on at least three occasions.  Heath and I were thrown into the Peace Corps. social scene that night, and we all went into town to watch the "Noche de Velas," or a candle ceremony thing that was going on.  We made our presentation that night after we got home.

Heath and I giving our presentation
It went really well actually, lasting about an hour and being quite informative.  Here is a link to the slideshow we used, if you care to see it.  One of the many things Heath and I discussed in preparing the presentation is that as engineers, we like to think and solve various problems.  Obvs.  But often times, people would ask us if we could come build them a bridge, or fix some road, or in this case, improve their pump system.  Its all fine and dandy, but many of us really like to start from scratch.  For example, for our next project here we've been discussing coming up with some sort of solution to the lack of recycling, and excess of garbage here.  There is no clear solution to this, but we've come up with a few good ideas, and I find it much more intriguing than simply fixing something more obvious.  Burning plastics, tossing trash everywhere, not recycling, and others, are common sights here and I don't think they're generally regarded as something that needs fixing by the majority of local people.  Obviously, I don't like the idea of "the white man" telling people what they're doing is wrong and dirty, but I do believe that helping a community with sanitation like this would be great.

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New transformer for the pump.
Other than this, I've been working a bunch up at the laguna.  There are only a few buses per day, and I don't always time everything with them.  Sometimes that results in me walking almost 10 km completely uphill, with about a 3000' net gain in elevation.  And then again back down to arriving home just at dark.  Sometimes I can hitch a ride, but more often than not, I do the entire walk without seeing a car going my direction.  I usually stop at Heath's place and his host mom will cook me breakfast and we walk together.  Almost at the top of the crater, we stop at a little spring and pump our drinking water for the day.  Needless to say, by the time i get there to work, I'm soaked in sweat (or sometimes rain) and already a bit tired.

The electrical engineer is just about done installing all of the new posts and has strung up the new power lines as well.  All is ready to give power to the new location, except we're having some trouble getting the final 15 feet or so of branches limbed.  Something going on with not having permission yet.  Supposedly, it will be settled (aka, ignored) and just done next week.

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Heath bending some bars
Heath and I have spent about 5 full days up there gettin' dirtyyy.  There are three other guys working with us.  Chema is probably in his late 40s and is quiet and friendly.  He really likes it when we say dirty things in Spanish, or when we mention beer.  Oscar is younger, quieter, and probably the hardest worker.  I think those last two usually go hand in hand.  Then there is (insert name here).  His name is really hard to remember.  Let's just call him Jabba, cause thats kinda what he looks like.  If you're not into the whole Star Wars scene, Buddah will do.  I only poke fun (think Pillsbury Doughboy) cause he is the ONLY worker there (there are also about 8 electrical workers) who spends the entire day with his shirt off, and I am forced to be reminded of his belly and breasts when describing him.  He's also got a GREAT personality!

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My hands after working.
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Digging a trench for the foundation
Heath and I have learned how to tie re-bar together with wire to make the columns, foundation, and roof structures.  These will be cast in concrete, and take all of the load of the house.  We also dug out some of the foundation.  This is a really cool project, because we don't use any kind of machine or power tools in the entire process.  We have bolt cutters for cutting the re-bar, a saw, some wire cutters, bending bars, hammers, shovels, picks, and a pry bar.  And brute strength, of course.  We used a clear hose filled with water to level the floor of the new foundation, which I thought was really cool.  Chema even carved a new pick handle out of a branch with his machete one day, cause the old one broke.  Working up there is a lot of fun.  We showed up on the first day and said we were there to help with the construction.  I think they thought we were joking because they'd didn't really know who we were other than a couple of giant foreign guys.  Heath and I spend most of the day up there BSing with those guys, but doing the same work that they do, eating the same lunch, and getting just as dirty.  I think its important for the community to understand that we do have some money to give here, but the work isn't about us just giving away a bunch of money.  

I leave the house around 6:20am, and am back around 6pm, and am pretty exhausted at the end of the day.  I've got a bit of a scratchy throat and "called in sick" today, but Heath called and said things were still rollin' up there.  I plan on being back up there tomorrow, unless Lauren gets me sicker.  She's got Giardia, a cough, weird burn, and the barfs.  I'm making sure she stays put in her shed out back.

Other than all this work stuff, I haven't had a ton of time to play around, but I did get a chance to visit Los Chorros de la Calera.  Check them out.  There was a tunnel there that led through scary underwater passageways, and i swam through them.  You can also jump off the cliffs there.  If any visitors come here, its about a 20 minute walk from my place. 

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Los Chorros de la Calera

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

No Border Big Enough for This Engineer

I hope you like my clever post title.  I do.  I am in El Salvador right now, today marks the one week anniversary of my stay here.  Here are my Pics

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Juayúa, El Salvador
This post is broken up into two parts.  Background Details explain why I'm here, and who is involved.  Fuñ Stories are, well, fun stories.

Let me start out with a lesson in geography.  El Salvador is a small country in Central America.  Now, its time for lesson number two.  I will probably learn a little here too.  I am currently staying in a small town sort of near the Guatemalan border named Juayúa, working on a project with Engineers Without Borders.  The project itself is a water pump system for a small village near Juayúa, San Juan de Díos.  Primarily a coffee growing region, San Juan de Díos has less than 2,000 habitants, and uses Laguna Verde as their primary source for water.  Our goal is to replace the old, smelly, dirty, unreliable, and inefficient diesel pump with a nice and shiny, top-of-the-line, efficient Grundfos electric pump.

View El Salvador in a larger map

Wow, I can't believe I was able to put that cool map there.  Hopefully you guys can all use it, if you play around for a little bit, you'll have a better sense of where I am right now.  So, there you have an idea as to where Laguna Verde, San Juan de Díos, and Juayúa are.  Play around to figure out where I am from San Salvador, Guatemala, and your house too, its fuñ.

I've been here for a week so far, its been great.  I arrived last Wednesday, and met up with the rest of the EWB crew.  Jim, Alondra, Kate, Jennifer, Heath, Snigdha, and our Peace Corps contact Lauren were had all been here a few days before me.

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Chicken Bus
I met a guy in the airport who gave me a ride to the bus terminal, and then took 2 different chicken buses to get here to Juayúa.  It was pouring rain, so I jumped off the bus and ran quickly into the nearest open door I could find.  It was a little snack store, so I felt obligated to get some jugo de melocotón (peach juice and favorite word of mine) from a can.  I asked around for directions to the hostel and got here in a few minutes, dantily hopping over temporary urban waterways in the streets along the way.  I hurried in the door, but none of my EWB buddies recognized me with my hood, huge beard, backpack, and apparent can of beer in my hand, they thought I was some bum looking for a cheap room.  I was just a bum with a reservation.

Background Details

I was thrown into meetings and negotiations within an hour of my arrival with a few of the involved parties.  Before I go on too much, I will describe who is involved, and what we are trying to accomplish here.

Diaz:  Electrical Engineer who will be installing power poles, lines, and the transformer to the pump
Caesar:  Engineer with Sagrisa, the pump vendor and installer
ADESCO:  Elected heads of the community of San Juan de Díos (Asoc. de Desarrollo Comunal)
Arturo:  Head of ADESCO, likes to rub his belly
Alcalde de Juayúa:  Mayor of Juayúa
Joel y Juayo(?):  Two guys that work for the water company and are "responsible" for us gringos
Coopertiva Brisas de la Laguna:  Similar to a homeowners association, for the Laguna Verda area
Peace Corps:  USA volunteer agency.  Lauren has been here for 2.5 years and brought EWB here
Alfaro:  Landowner at Laguna Verde

Ok, so as you can see, things are very political and there are a LOT of people to schmooze with.  That is my job here, in a nutshell.  Originally, our plan was to build a new pump house, sump well (hole from which the pump sucks), pipe from the lake to the sump, and pipe from the pump to the holding tank up the hill.  This was to be built where the current power pole exists, as to not spend a ton of money on power poles and lines.  All was going well until Alfaro, who had originally granted us permission, rescinded his offer and said that he did not want us to bury the piping on his land (but the pump house and sump well were fine).  Our only feasible option then was to use the existing pump house across the laguna (on a different land owner's property), but to bring the electricity to it, by installing 7 new power poles with lines and a transformer on Alfaro's property.  We get screwed, he gets free power poles.  Everyone hates him now, and are trying to ensure that he cannot tap into the power poles we're putting up.

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Laguna Verde

EWB, ADESCO, Sr. Diaz, and the Alcalde are working together to accomplish this modified plan.  You might ask, "You're all engineers, why don't you just do it yourselves?"  and that is because EWB promotes local and sustainable use of services and materials.  Local engineers are much more experienced than us in this kind of terrain.

- Sr. Diaz is installing everything electrical, for about $15k.

- The Alcalde is providing Diaz $5k for the power poles, and other workers as they are needed.

- ADESCO is paying Diaz $8k as well as building the Caseta (pump house) with Heath and I from EWB, which will be another $2k.

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The Pump House

- EWB is providing $2,500 to Diaz, as well as providing the pump, another $12k from a local pump vendor, Sagrisa.  They also cover living expenses while the volunteers are abroad.

Business Meeting.  Bert and Lauren have facial hair too.
At the end of the day, this project will probably cost about $30k.  The community of San Juan de Díos doesn't have that much money, or the get-up attitude to put everything together, which is why we help.  We are trying to teach that sometimes its better to spend more now, to save a lot more later.  The electric pump is much more efficient and electricity is cheaper per kWh than diesel.  That, on top of maintenance, will save them a good amount of money.  Plus, its much cleaner.  My job is to live here for the duration of the project and oversee that it gets completed smoothly by making sure that all parties are on the same page.

There was also another part to our work here, which was an education installment.  I was not a part of this group, but Kate, Alondra, and Jennifer taught for 3 days at the school in San Juan de Díos about sanitation, science, sustainability, and why they're important.  They said it was very successful.

Fuñ Stories

Now.  Funness.  Hope the other part wasn't too dry.  Wait.  I'm gonna go get some more crackers and ham.  mmmmmm!

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Playa Los Cobanos

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Lauren playing with death
On Friday, we all had the day off, so we took an EWB trip to the beach.  We hired a truck with a "people rack" in the bed and headed out.  Our driver even went swimming with us!  We found a dead Moray Eel floating in the break.  We played with it respectfully and then returned it to its home.  We also all got sunburned.  Two people got some sort of toxin at some point during the day and had to go to the hospital, but they are alright now.  Maybe that will teach us not to play with dead and poisonous sea creatures.

We went on another adventure on Saturday.  ADESCO leader Arturo took us to a meeting at the Brisas Co-op's place.  This entailed dodging enormous spiders while riding in the back of his 4x4.  Thats also when I got my only picture of the EWB (plus Peace Corps) team.

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Snigdha, Jim, Heath, Kate, Jennifer, Lauren and I take a ride in the truck

On monday, Heath and I were escorted (by hiking) through coffee fields and other forests to Laguna Verde for my first glimpse of it.  We had a lot of fun hiking in the rain and chatting with Joel and Juayo, our "tour guides."  I finally got to see the pump house, and we also chatted a bit with Diaz's workers who were digging holes for the electrical posts.  I think that was the last place those guys were expecting to see two huge white dudes.  Its beautiful up there, I suggest taking a look at some of the pictures I posted on my flickr site.

Life at the hostel is pretty good, I have internet here and have been catching up on a lot of things (like this!)  I'll soon be moving up to stay with one of the families in San Juan de Díos, but I'll still be able to come down here and check things every few days.  So, other than meetings and stuff, no super crazy stories yet... I'll let you all know if I decide to eat any more poo stew.  I think I've had enough writing for a the day now.

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Big Sky Country Pictures

This is going to be quick just so I can get my pictures up here.

I went from Santa Cruz to Ben and Jessie's wedding in San Diego for the weekend.  Then, Elizabeth, Ryan, Angie, and I took off driving to Glacier National Park.  It was awesome.  I may write a little more about it later if I find some time.  From there, Ryan and Angie drove home so Elizabeth and I hitch hiked to Kalispell and stayed with Lauren Casey for a few days at her parent's house.

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After that, due to lack of public transportation in Montana, we hitch hiked down to Darby and met my dad to stay a week at his cabin in the Bitterroot Valley.  That was fun too.

We then took the train from Whitefish to Chicago, where Elizabeth moved for grad school.  We spent a week there and then I went home.

Really boring.  Sorry.