Wednesday, August 30, 2006

here in Quito

HI all,
I´m here in Quito, our flight leaves at 10pm tonight. You´d think we´d be hanging around with plenty of time to chat... instead we´re doing our utmost in this last time we have to leave the best archive of the water project that we can, and also working with Francisco, Esteban and Corinne to re-vamp the Ecuador Volunteer program in Santa Ana...creating forms, rewriting the webpage, writing up information for volunteers in Santa Ana etc.
This summer has been incredible in so many ways... i´ve soaked up a little bit of perspective on everything from the petroleum industry, logging, pesticides in agriculture, to some gritty details of water systems, the mess of beaurocracy in develpment projects, and the beauty of a day in the community of Santa Ana.
I´ll be writing up some more formal summaries and reflections as closure on the project for the Public Service Center that I´ll pass along to you all. I know I´ve gotten really short in these e-mails, my apoliogies for that. I´ve got lots of stories and photos to share...hopefully i´ll be able to put it together a bit on the plane.
Much love to all,

Friday, August 18, 2006

Tungurahua -- we're safe and sound

Hello all,
I don´t know if the news of the volcano eruption reached the news for any of you, but I wanted to say first of all that we´re safe and sound here in puyo along with the majority of the community.
Yesterday was a pretty crazy day. Another one of those days where I woke up 24 hours ago with a completely reality context than what I have now.
We attempted to build the wall yesterday.... despite our fears that few community members would come we had a good turnout and were all set to build, except froy returned empty handed from his quest for cement... all the stores had sold out and hadn´t gotten their new shipments because of the eruption of Tungurahua the night before took out the road between here and the cement factory.
We passed a normal afternoon and then firefighters and national guard trucks started coming with messages of increasing posibility of alarm.. Basically kilometers upstream from us the lava entered the Pastaza river and dammed it off in 3 places... causing the water level to rise 200 meters... crazy....
they are apparently going to try to break the dams with dynamite so that they dont break all at once and cause a huge flood of water downstream. Santa Ana is almost 100meters above the pastaza, and a good 100ish kilometers downstream, so the chances of anything happening to the community are miniscule.... It was a really surreal experience last night at the farewell party for some other volunteers, listening to the eclectic music they play around here, looking around at the half-lit faces of these people that I have come to know so well, knowing that a tremendous flood is within the realm of posibility. I think it made me really understand this latin american culture froy tries to explain to me... that this life is crazy, so many things to be worried about in our project, the village just might flood, the volunteers are leaving as volunteers always do, and the only natural thing to do is eat some heart of palm toasted up in a banana leaf, dance to old mexican reggaton, and gaze up at the stars.
Then, at 11pm or so, the national guard came again with a huge truck and this time a good half the community (including us) decided to go with into Puyo, just in case. It was a crazy experience, that 2 hour ride to puyo in the back of this huge truck, literally the refugee evacuation sort of truck... pitch black except for the ocaisional volunteer´s flashlight... women and kids and blankets all piled up along the walls and a few in the middle of the truck. Me with 6 year old sacha asleep in my lap, half leaning on froy, and the little girl that the man on my other side was holding also half resting on my arm... I felt just a little bit of the raw warmth and unity of humanity that people must experience in real war, flood, refugee situations. They´ve got set up here a really nice sort of temporary shelter thing, with individual matresses, blankets, and 3 meals a day. We don´t think we´ll be here long, another night at the most.
As for our project... that´ll be another update...
Much love. Miss you all and ww´ll be very careful and take care of ourselves here.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

quick hi

Hello all,
We´re plugging away here, with lots to do and the days we have left dwindling. We had a bit of confusion with the materials being dilivered at the wrong place, etc, putting us a bit behind in our construction, but after all that´s the part that the community really knows better than us how to do it, we´re just putting in a bit of organizational impetus to get it done. Hopefully the materials will come monday/tuesday and away we´ll go.
We have our operator candidates, and are going to start training them today when i get back with materials printed. The contractor is coming tuesday and claims the system will function when he leaves... from what we know, this is possible though i´m not quite convinced. There are about 8 other volunteers here right now, and i´ts pretty fun to see other people´s projects and how they are getting along.
Much love to all,

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

things are looking up

A quick quick word to you all saying that things are looking bright and wonderful...

Two days ago froy went with a few members of the water board to the president of the community´s house (an hour walk from main Santa Ana) to try to convince him that the community really needs to select and pay an operator, not have a rotational community system as he wants because based on our experience when only half of the beneficiarias come to the meetings, we don´t really think t´hey´ll walk 2 kilometers to go clean the captation in the river, etc... The president isn´t married, doesn´t have kids, and for that has his mind much more in the past than the future, and didn´t budge in his view. Then he said he didn´t have time to come the next day to the meeting of all beneficiaries...

So yesterday we had a wonderful meeting with the community. I didn´t actually attend much of the meeting because I was running around to people´s houses and up to a trail building project about a kilometer away trying to get the majority of beneficiaries to come to the meeting. I did : ) and they agreed to a salary of $60 a month for the operator and $20 a month for the treasurer (effectively almost tripling their tariff to about $5 a month per family (depending on use... $.63 per meter cubed) but assuring a successful system). Wahoo...

Other great news is that we have 4 new volunteers from spain (we had been told they were americas and were thrilled they are 4 college students from spain because they can SPEAK SPANISH, and they are here for 2 weeks working on sub projects of ours. I went with the secretary and president of the water board and one of these able, intelligent, hard working new volunteers Ana to the municipality where we cleared up our questions about the administrative end of things, so Ana and Ines are set to set up a simple system of accounting, book keeping, etc for the water board. The other two will be helping us continue our health and higiene habit campaign.

In other news... the other day the family hen was searching for a new place to lay some eggs and found ... our bed.... it was quite the funny incident, and later, a woman in the village said that it indicates that we´re going to have kids... hehe... we are ¨married¨here after all to avoid confusion or unwanted offers...

much love to all,

Thursday, August 3, 2006

quick hi from Quito

Ah the rain... just when we´ve got our provisional dam build we get two days of rain and the river grows a meter... crazy stuff. But that´s the way of the rainforest. A week of sun and it´ll be dry again and we´ll be on our way.
We continue to be happy, healthy, and working hard. So much to share and no time, but i´ll try to get something better out next week.
Love to all,

weekly update plus

It is so hard to sit down and sumarize what we have done and learned each week... it is so much more than fits in these words and my time in front of the computer...
Last sunday we had an extended and extremely fruitful meeting with the community water board in which we planned to work every sunday to set weekly goals and work plans, and then have a meeting with the entire community every monday. We also went through the mothly costs of running their water system in order to revise their budget and the monthly tarriff that the families will have to pay for water. It came out to about 4 dollars a month per family, which they at first said was way too much, that families wouldn´t pay that. We talked around it from other directions, how if just once in that month you have to take your kid to a doctor in puyo because he drank contaminated water it costs more than 5 dollars, how much would you pay for 500 liters of pure and clean water, etc, and they (the water board) realized that it was actually within reason, and prepared themselves to present the budget to the community the next day. We also taught the water board members how to serve as facilitators for the activities we had planned for the meeting the next day.
Monday meeting: many fewer families came this time than last time, which was a disappointment. Even the president of the community didn´t show... we had great sucess with our two group activities and a game at the end (they were remarkable in how much they had absorbed the material and knew the answers), but ran into problems with the more administrative decisions we wanted to make--form work groups to work on the dam project, select candidates for operator, and see what the community thought about the budget etc--because we didn´t have a majority of the families.
Tuesday: it rained like crazy... we were all ready with a good group of people to divide into two group`s, one working on the extension of the distribucion line out to the farthest houses (not part of our work, but part of the community´s responsibilty to the contractor to help in the construction) and the other group to fix up the temporary dam and start excavating the foundation if it was dry enough. INstead we spent the day on the technical manual, and also Froy went into town to get the ball rolling on the production of a booklet we want to produce with excerpts from where there is no doctor.
Wednesday: it continued raining, but lighter, so we went up to the river with a group of people from the community and discovered that the river had risen about a meter, maybe 10 times the flow of water from the day before... it is the rainforest after all, these rivers grown and shrink an incredible amount on a daily and weekly basis. Our temporary dam actually held admirably well, except one hole due to the force of the water. We created an addition to the dam, and cleared out a good path for the water to drain out from where we are going to construct once the sun starts to shine and the water level drops. In the afternoon we sat down with a few key members of the comunity, including the president, who told us that the community had decided back 3 years ago that the community couldn´t afford to pay an operator and that the operation of the system was to be done by the community water board.