Tuesday, June 27, 2006

First hello from Santa Ana

Hello all,
Although I do not have too much time, I wanted to write to you with an update from Ecuador.
In a word, things have been rather amazing so far. Its so amazing to be traveling, but also working on something extremely meaningful. Corinne Duhalde, an anthropologies, the project coordinator for Ecuador Volunteer´s program in Santa Ana, is amazing. We got to spend two nights at her house in Quito...gleaning so much valuable information and perspective on the community, its formal and informal leaders, the four different indigenous nationalities who live together in Santa Ana, and a lot of the greater context of indigenous organizations, etc, and also just staying up late into the night talking about culture, politics, ´¨development¨ and what it means for countries like ecuador and indigenous communities.
We then took a bus to Puyo from Quito... a very active bus ride with people constantly getting on and off.. once a pair of men got on and the first one started with ¨¨I have the secret to all your problem...a cure for cancer, a love potion for you to find your true love, an elixer for you to have children--or not to have children¨¨ he went on like that, all the while making this elaborate tree with newspaper. He passed out his magic chocolates, and by the end of the half an hour everyone on the bus (us included) thought he was the funniest comedian ever and bought a few of his chocolates...it was pretty crazy.
Santa Ana is an absolutely gorgeous little community, the main center is built up high over the big and powerful pastaza river, a tributary of the amazon. Houses are semi open to the outside because the climate is so beautiful -- 70s and 80s during the day and 50s and 60s at night -- and nowhere near as humid as I anticipated. There is an artist named chibolo who sits on the main square under a little shelter and carves birds out of balsa wood. When the clouds clear you can see this huge volcano Sangai protruding high into the distant sky. At night the stars are absolutely unbelievable-- some of the classic northern constellations but also new ones, since we are on the equator. The children are so beautiful, tender, and alive in their work and play.
We are staying with a family of five -- the husband Esteban is one of the main organizers behind the water system in Santa Ana, and his wife Latisia is equally active and concerned about clean water, especialy for her two one-year-old twins Samira and Shirle (and her six-year old sacha). We went on a tour yesterday of the water system, and took samples from all the various places where people get water. We processed them yesterday (basically filtering all the water through a filter paper so the bacteria is caught there, and now we are letting the bacteria grow overnight. This afternoon we should have a much better idea of the state of contamination of the different water sources. The river that they have chosen to pipe water in from, the Santandelo, is much, much cleaner than the pastaza ( 0.96 NTU insead of 14.6 which is the turbidity reading of the pastaza), of course this says nothing about its potability, that we will know this afternoon.
Much love to you all. I will write again in another week or so, though it might be a bit more.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

hi from Puyo

My apologies that this update is going to be rather short... Our bus to santa ana leaves in 30 minutes and we have a couple purchases to make as well.
Briefly, we have done a lot of planning and discussing with Corinne and she is an amazing person, and has really helped us work on how to apply our ideas to THIS community. We have bought a sample quantity of HTH chlorine powder and found out prices for buying it in bulk in Quito. Today we made a really nice chart-plan that I will send to you all when I have a bit more time. We now in Puyo and will take the bus to Santa Ana today. Tomorrow there is the weekly meeting with the president, etc of the community, which we will attend and present ourselves, and plan for a separate weekly meeting time for us to dialog with the community about their water system, learn from them, teach about hygiene, and plan how to implement the slow sand filter, etc. We are also planning on working with kids through the school. There already exists a water comittee in Santa Ana, and Esteban, one of its members is aparently extremely capable, intelligent, and an effective leader. We will hopefully meet him today and he can give us lots of direction on how to proceed.
We´ll be in touch again when we come back to Puyo, about one week from now.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

off to Ecuador

Hello all,

Please let me know if you don't want to receive updates like this from me...

For those of you who don't know, I leave for Ecuador tomorrow for a 10
week trip. I'm going to be living in the tiny community of Santa Ana,
in the Amazonian region, and working with the people there (along with
one other student, Froy, from MIT) on a water treatment system. We
have an advisor here at MIT who has been helping us learn how to build
a slow sand filter - a pretty amazing, simple system that uses sand
and gravel to filter water, removing organic matter, turbidity, and if
it is operated correctly up to 99.99% of bacteria, etc. That is the
ultimate dream goal... we've got a lot in the way of community
immersion, understanding, and work to go before we can decide that
that is the right solution and that we have the means to do it.

I'm so excited about this trip...about living for 10 weeks in a
community of 60 families in the Amazon Rainforest, about putting some
basic science (water testing) to use in a meaningful way, about the
challenge of a real engineering project that if everything comes
together could make a real difference in people's lives, and probably
most of all about all that I will learn about people, culture, the
rainforest, water, science, engineering and myself.

As always, I love to hear from you all so send me an e-mail if you get
a chance : ) I'll probably have internet access about once a week, and
I'll be sending out updates like this one every week or two.

in peace,