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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