Monday, July 24, 2006

pizza in Santa Ana

Hey all,
Were moving right along in our new objectives, with a newly elected water board in the community. The secretary Melida told us in our first meeting how sorry they all felt that they hadn´t gotten together the new water board sooner to take more advantage of our time in the community, and how happy she was that we kept after things and kept talking to people, working with kids in school, etc. She became interested because her oldest son came home and was telling her about our bacteria results and that the water from the source they drink is contaminated and they needed to boil it. Her comments just about made the trip for me... whatever happens we are doing some good.
The community is in the midst of the 3 day party to celebrat their 44th anniversary (3 days of chicha, dancing, drumming, and food). We´re now in the process of working with the contractor and the municipalitý´s social liason to hammer out a manual of administration and all the associated forms, and a manual of operation and maintenance of their system. Definitely interesting and challenging. Right after the party we´re going to round up the community and start the physical construction in the dam, and train the important people in how to manage their respective tasks (and of teach the working sof everything, technical and social, the 6 member water board and a few other interested community members to have a good body of people who really understand their system). A couple of days ago we had another community meeting to talk about the related issues of health and higiene that complement a potable water system to improve the health of the community. Only this time, with the help of another volunteer in thec ommunity, we had a very well planned meeting with activities, cards, etc, and incentives. We visited every house to give a personal invitation the day before, and almost every family came : )
I just love, love, the community and the atmosphere - imagine a community of handmade wooden houses, some with corrugated metal roofs and some with palm frond roofs, gathered around a large plaza/ soccer field, overlooking a broad and rocky river, with layers of hilly rainforest fading back to mountains and clouds. Its breathtaking. And the atmosphere... . Its a different attitude of work and organization... much more ¨traquilidad¨ and waiting to see what happens, which is hard for my american demand for solutions, plans, timetables and results, but also really relaxing once you get into it. The trick is to rally the organization and drive that they definitely do have, and work in their terms.
Lots of fun stories to share, but I´ll close with one. Our family asked us a couple of times if we knew how to cook pizza. We said sure, but who knows how it will turn out when the only source of heat to cook with is a fire. (Think about it most american kitches have have an oven, 4 burners on the stove, a toaster, and a microwave... thats 7 places to heat things up). Actually, it turned out rather delicious... We made some dough with water, salt, and flour (they don´t really use yeast around here), rolled it out with a nalgene bottle, and then fried it on the lid of a pot with some vegetable oil. We flipped it over, and on the toasted side put precooked sauce complete with tomatoes, meat, and vegetables, and then some shredded mozerella cheese (the flavor is something else here, i´m not a huge fan, but at least its cheese for my wisconsin blood). Back on the fire it went, covered with another lid of a pot, and once the cheese melted, off again. And wonder of all wonders, it tasted delicious--not all that far off from real pizza--and our family loved it.
Ciao for now,

Thursday, July 13, 2006

quick hello

I´ve got to be super quick... too much to do in our day in town : )
Froy and I have had many adventures since the last update, most with beaurocracy, communication, and organisation of development projects like this water project. We have pretty much uncovered the past and present of the situation, and putting together a new plan for the future. In short, the water project (though the world bank, a quito office, a municipal office, and a contractor) DOES include a slow sand filter already. No one in the community knew because the communication and involvement is so bad. The project is rather delayed so they are all cutting corners, and they have neither the money nor the time to do the community education component of the project (absolutely essential so that someone will clean the catchment, adjust the valves, run the pump, etc) nor are they going to fix the dam in the river that is in the process of breaking. Our new plan is to do these two things... the community capacitating to ensure that there is a large body of people in the community who understand how the whole water system works, how to run it, and how to fix problems, and also work with them to do some cement construction up in the river to improve the dam and catchment.
Other adventures abound--bathing in any of the plethera of rivers of different sizes in the community, learning some of the traditional ceramics, stories of cousins eaten by anocondas and relatives crippled for life by a boa and an insect whose venom is so poisonous that you will die within the hour ... and the only folk remedy is that you have to make love with someone... if you look at the snapfish photo album I sent out in another e-mail, its the yellowish insect floating around in a plastic bottle... Esteban, the man we are living with, grabbed it off a light and preserved it in paint thinner.
overall, life is beautiful and froy and i are really happy, and learning more every day.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

6 days into the summer in Santa Ana

Hey all,
Just a quick hello from Ecuador. Aside from a cold that Í´m recovering from and a sore back from hauling and sifting sand, I am extremely content -- I love the style and pace of life here. After rising with the sun with the morning, eating some tea and a breakfast of rice and bananas, or fried potatoes and eggs, with the family, working until the mid afternoon when we eat our major meal around 3 or 4 pm, and then working some more, bathing and washing clothes in the river, chatting with the grandpas and playing with the kids, we are so ready to sleep after the evening tea and snack at around 8:30pm.. a little different from MIT, but really nice.
going to the riverAs today is saturday, it was six days ago since we arrived in Santa Ana, and a lot has happened. Santa Ana is a gorgeous, friendly, fascinating community and people have been extremely welcoming and interested in our project. We are staying with a family that lives right on the main town center field with soccer goals, a volleyball net, and a communual meeting place. This is extremely convenient because we easily run into a lot of different people - kids going to and from school, grandmas and grandpas sitting around in the shade with grandchildren, women carrying vegetables in from their community garden, men learning to carve birds out of balsa wood from the resident artist, etc. Some of the most rewarding time has been spent just sitting and talking with these people, about their life, their culture, and of course, water. Froy is especially equipped for this sort of informal support-building, as people are always eager to hear about food, life, family in Mexico, only one or two steps removed from their lives in Santa Ana, as opposed to life at MIT which is an easy ten steps removed...
I mentioned in my last e-mail that we did some bacteria testing of the water... we have found that more than the information it gave us, these little filter papers make an amazingly valuable visual aid for conversations with people about their water. They are all really interested in knowing how safe their water is, and know that some of their diseases come from unsafe water. Everyone knows that the Pastaza is contaminated and although they bathe and wash clothes in the river noone has ever admitted to drinking the water straight from the river. What was surprising to us, was that the community sources of water which appeared to us as well to be clear, clean water, were actually far more contaminated than the Pastaza. In retrospect this makes a lot of sense given all the human and animal activity, latrines, chicken coops etc, and that the water must run very shallow beneath the earth to surface so frequently as it does. The level of contamination in the school rainwater system was also surprising, and one of the topics in our upcoming community meeting will be what to do about that system-- clean, well maintained rain water systems are generally relatively safe, but never free of contamination. Options include a throrough cleaning and inspection of the system to try to improve it, sending kids to school with boiled water in bottles, boiling the water at the school, etc.
The river Santander is percieved to be very clean, and it is, relative to the pastaza, but our results mean that it is essential that this water is treated before distribution and consumption, especially by children. Its rather amazing to sit around in the evening with whoever happens to be hanging around the balsa wood carving shop, or drinking tea in someone´s kitchen, and show them their different sources of water. We always save the boiled water for last - two examples of filter papers stained blue with bacteria food and some sooty marks of tweezers, but not even a single point of red or blue bacteria. The women suck in air and show it to their mother or friend sitting next to them. Doing the testing, we were actually berating ourselves a bit that we didn´t have sterile water as required to do a control at the beginning and end of the processing, and we used water from my water bottle instead (that had been boiled that morning) as the best we had -- actually it has turned out to be the best teaching tool we have. Its rather powerful for them to see the bacteria from their own water options, and then see the difference that boiling the water makes.
After a couple of days of sorting and sifting sand and gravel we have now constructed our prototype slow sand filter which is sitting in the town meeting place, and one of our daily duties is to feed it more rain water or source water. Maturation of the filter should take about a week or so, after which point we will test water before and after to see how the filter is doing.
Tomorrow, Sunday, at 9 am we have organized a community wide Agua Junta - water meeting, sending out invitations through children in school, and we will also be announcing it once again today when we return from Puyo because all the women will be gathered to make Chicha - the local alcoholic beverage made from yucca root - cooked and then chewed by the women of the community to add the bacteria to ferment the yucca... Add water, and you´ve got the milky, chuncky, slightly sweet beverage with a wide range of alcoholic content depending on its age. One of these times we´d like to snag a sample, to test if the alcohol content is enough to kill all the bacteria in the water they use to make it...
Last night we met with one of the presidents of the community, an amazing leader and craftswoman, to get her suggestions on our activities and agenda for the agua junta. We will have open meetings like this every sunday, both to continue the discussion of water safety and hygiene habits for good heath, as well as plan the next week of construction on the filter.
Until next saturday. Much love to you all and hope you all are having a wonderful summer,