Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A few random happenings...

So, we’re working on the finishing touches for the solid waste treatment plant. We present the proposal to a board at the Peace Corps office this Friday (the 7th) and if/when the project is approved, I think it will only be a matter of time before it is posted on Peace Corps’ website and anyone can donate. That is how this particular program receives its funding, by asking for donations from the private sector and organizations that we have contact with. Imagine if other government agencies had to find funding this way…

The President, Daniel Ortega (El Comandante) was here in Malpaisillo yesterday. It was the first time I have ever seen the president of any country. He came to inaugurate a recently rebuilt highway that passes through our town. It hadn’t been repaired since ’92 and Hurricane Mitch did a good amount of damage to it in ’98 as well. Now is great, with signs, school crossings and all. He came in a helicopter, which was quite a sight for many of the people here. Then he was taken to a stage set up just off the highway to speak, along with our Mayor and some other political figures from the area, and of course the first lady (who many people refer to as La Bruja, the witch. In fact I have been told by more than one person that there is a huge congregation of Central American witches and she is their leader.) who generally does more talking than he does and has been put in charge of various political organizations. The whole show started 1.5 hours late, and by the time that El Comandante took the stage and started talking we were ready to leave. We had to stick around though to hear what he had to say. I gotta say, I can only listen to a President talk about a highway for so long before I start to get bored. Especially after listening to a mayor, priest, first lady, state representative, representative from Central America’s version of the World Bank, and some other guy talk about the same highway for about 10 minutes each. So after listening to the President for 5 or 10 minutes we headed home to eat dinner and go to bed. Luckily, we were all just standing in a crowd along the highway, so not that many people noticed that we left. About 2 hours later, we heard his helicopter leaving, which reaffirmed our decision to cut out early.

That whole scene got me thinking, once again, about how those of us in “first-world” countries take so much for granted. Roads, for example. Imagine if our highways were dirt, or so full of potholes that it was better to drive in the dirt next to the highway. What if the only way into our town was a horse trail that gets flooded during the rainy season? I wonder how productive we would be, and how much we would know about the rest of the world, and how much we would value education. There are so many people here, and all over the world who live that way, and I think it is another one of those things that we never even think about. Roads really do serve to improve our way of life.

We got our cat, Poster, fixed 2 days ago. Our friendly vet came over to the house with a few supplies and did the surgery on our dining room (if you can call it that) table. We helped by holding Poster and also took a few pictures. Cats really make some strange noises when they are under anesthesia and having their masculinity cut off. The whole thing took about 20 minutes and we paid about $7.50. I wonder how much that costs in the US? It was interesting to watch, but I’ll spare the details. So, he is still walking around a bit confused, looking for something that isn’t there. He started eating again this morning, so that is good. During the surgery, when he was making all of those weird noises, Clavo went into big-brother mode and started whining and trying to help out Poster. We almost had to take more care of the dog than the cat that was being operated on.

Oh, one of my schools finally has water! They have always had a very deep well, but a few years ago, during a school vacation, someone came and stole the pump to the well, making the well useless. Somehow, they secured another pump, but not all of it. This particular type of pump basically consists of a crank-wheel at the top and a really long rope that loops down into the well through a PVC pipe out and around the crank-wheel. Every yard or so along this rope are little rubber pieces that have a diameter a little less than the inside of the PVC pipe. By cranking the wheel and pulling the rope and all these little rubber pieces through the tube, suction is created and as long as someone is cranking the wheel, water will come out. So, the pump that the teacher was able to get didn’t come with a rope, and that is the state it was in when I arrived at the school last year. I started talking to the teacher a lot about the need for water at the school, obviously for drinking, but also for all of the projects I wanted to do, like tree nurseries and vegetable gardens. After a few months of me talking about it every time I was there, the teacher raised enough $$ from the students’ parents to purchase and install the rope. That was great, except for one minor detail. The pump wasn’t attached to the well by anything other than the rope, so when the kids crank the wheel, the pump moved all over the place. They devised a method of getting about 5 extra kids to stand on it and hold it down while two of them cranked the wheel, but that only lasted so long before it was evident that if things continued this way, it would all fall to pieces. So the teacher told them to stop using the pump. That was about 6 months ago. There is a Spanish NGO that has a very large presence here in town and one of the things they do is build and repair pumps of all types. I took it upon myself to go and talk to them about fixing our pump. They agreed it could be accomplished fairly easily with a bit of welding and even better, they were going to be out in that part of the country (as in “rural area,” not “nation”) the following day. So they showed up at the school and fixed the well and it was really a cool thing to be standing next to the teacher while all of this was happening and watch her face. The NGO is charging a small fee, to cover materials and transport, but they are giving the teacher plenty of time to raise money from the parents of the kids (around 50 cents per kid for a total of around $11). Looking at that price from my point of view, it seems silly that it took so long to get all of this done and will take a few weeks more to get the money, but I have seen where these folks live and I see what their lives are like and that allows me to understand that this isn’t a small bit of change for them. For a few weeks I toyed with the idea of just paying for it myself, because even though I am a volunteer, I could afford that pretty easily. But I really believe that if they pay for it and it is not just another bit of foreign aid, they will appreciate it more and take better care of it. So, now we can water all of the trees we planted last year that are almost dead from the intense heat of the dry season. And the kids can drink water and wash their hands after recess. That day felt really good.

Speaking of the dry season, the heat is really setting in. It isn’t as bad as last year, but it is really hot. All day long. Last year February was much hotter than this year, but March is definitely feeling as hot as last year. It is getting to the point where nothing at all happens between 11 and 2 or 3 in the afternoon. The rains should come in mid-May, so we don’t have that long to wait, but April is always the worst. I don’t have a thermometer, but I’d guess it gets close to the boiling point of water during the hottest parts of the day. One interesting thing about the heat is that it takes our appetites away. I don’t know what that is all about, but a lot of times we have to force ourselves to eat lunch. I think last hot season is when I started losing a good amount of weight. I think it is because the act of eating makes us that much hotter. Really, just the act of breathing makes us hotter. But, we’re both really trying to live in the moment and not dwell on things we have no control over, so I’ll stop on this subject.

One last thing before I stop with this entry. When we were home for Christmas, we were introduced to a really fun version of the game Scrabble that doesn’t require the board and can be played by 2-6 people. They call it Speed Scrabble, or Take 4. We both liked this game so much that when we returned, I found a piece of cardboard and cut it into 100 square-inch pieces and made us a set of Scrabble tiles. I found the point values and correct numbers for each letter on Wikipedia. We have since passed a lot of time playing and have introduced many of our PC friends to this game. It’s really a great way to pass the time.

OK, that’s all for now. Our camera is broken, so no photos for a while. Enjoy!