Saturday, June 20, 2009

Progress...and my unappreciative community.

We have made alot of physical progress with our projects.  

Disclaimer: At the time of writing this blog, I am in the city, after flipping out on my neighbors and leaving the community.  I awoke today to people talking badly about me and about the project rules involved with my aqueduct, right in front of my house, at around 6:45 AM.  The rules say that until you have paid everything(1 dollar a month, 15 dollars for the right to your faucet) and worked all the work days(one day per week for the duration of the construction, or 7 dollars for each missed day of work) your faucet stays locked up.  Yesterday we put up around 20 faucets and 18 had locks on them.  What can i say.  People don't pay the 1 dollar a month, people don't come to work, in general everyone wants an aqueduct given to them for free.  They think me doing this work is what they deserve.  It is not that they cannot afford these fees.  They decide to spend their money on the lottery, beer, new clothes almost every month, and many other non-essentials.  Where do these fees go?  To my pocket?  Nope, all those fees go to the water committee bank account that is there as a fund to employ a community member as plumber and any materials he may need to maintain and repair the aqueduct.  Who trained this plumber and organized this whole system?  Roberto.  How much did Roberto get paid for this?  $0  And now that the day has come to pay up, what do they do?  Talk shit about Roberto.  So what did I do-although not proud of it?  I flipped out, told them off, threw some PVC pipe pieces i had in my house outside, and walked out of town.  With that said, I am not in the most verbose of moods, so here is a quick summary of the things we have done recently, with some pictures.  If you think that this is cool or worthwhile, feel free to post a comment.  Give me strength to finish this, when everywhere I look there are reasons to stop.  No one seems to really care about the work I have done here.  They are pissed off at the fact that they owe $2 to their water committee or that all of those weeks missing work-days is coming back to bite them in the butt.  

-Finished 1000 gallon ferrocement water tank
-Finished 500 gallon concrete block tank
-Constructed 45 foot suspended cable bridge for pipeline
-Constructed 82 foot suspended cable bridge for pipeline
-Constructed 167 foot suspended cable bridge for pipeline
-Constructed 170 foot suspended cable bridge for pipeline
-Installed 4-55 Watt solar panels and solar water pump
-Pumped water up to upper community and filled 1000 gallon tank
-Installed 3-55 Watt solar panels and 4 6 Volt deep-cycle batteries in newly constructed community center

Monday, June 8, 2009

El Porvenir has water!

So even though I have very little to do with the project being actually completed-check out the link below.  My senior-design project at Bucknell to get water up a mountain to a coffee cooperative in Nicaragua ended with me installing the pump at the bottom of the hill.  A couple of steps from running water at the top huh?  But luckily Bucknell and the Center For Development In Central America has followed through and kept the project going.  And now it is done!  There is running water at the top of the mountaintop, and the pump that we bought and installed works!  Who woulda thunk?!  I can't wait to get back there soon and see and talk to everyone about it.  For now, this picture of running water from a pipe does me just fine. :)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Coming to a close...and a change of pace, location...everything

(Above: me with the pump mount I had to fabricate out of stainless steel rod, some piecess from a hardware store, and multiple trips to back-alley garages to get it all welded together.  THAT calls for a cigar.)

I've got more time than usual to post this blog, as I decided to loiter in the wireless-enabled reception area of a hotel for the afternoon.  I think they assume I have a room because I just sad right down, and because im white.  So hopefully this blog will be a little more coherent than the rest.  Maybe not.

First of all, for those that might be following my time here and haven't talked to me in a while-I won a NSF Fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh and will be starting classes August 31st!  Yea.  I can't believe it either.  Its still surreal to me.  It is a fellowship for a PhD in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on Sustainability.  So after all of my negative thoughts on leaving Peace Corps service early, I will be becoming the ultimate hypocrite!  I applied to the fellowship assuming I had no chance at winning it, and was shocked when I did.  So anyway, I am really looking forward/worried about going back to the USA and getting back into classes, more frequent social life, good food, and the general fast pace of things I remember from about two years ago when I left.  I have to say that I am sincerely nervious about this change in my life.  Although it is different from when I left the US for the DR because this time around I know what to expect, the feeling is very similar.  Just like before, I don't know for sure if I have made the right decision, and know I just need to close my eyes and jump.  It'll probably be fine.

So with that said, I am still kicking my butt every day with the big projects we have going.  I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with the aqueduct getting wrapped up.  We have all the tubes in the ground!  Woo!  that feels good to say.  Actually...we are missing about 3 tubes, but those will be put in by the time most people read this blog.  We have recently been working double speed because this past week I hired a local mason from the next-door community to come help.  It doubled the amount of work we did because I could tell him how things should go and leave a group of workers with him while I went off with another group.  So this past week we finished two small tanks, both a part of the solar pump-portion of the aqueduct.  The first tank done was a 1000 gallon ferrocement tank placed about 20 feet above the highest house in the upper community. 
 The foundation and rebar work took about 4 full days but then the rest went quickly.  It looks great and everyone has told me so.  Feels good.  The second take we just finished yesterday.  It is a small ~500 gallon block tank that will house the submersible solar-pump.  Just this morning I connected the aqueduct to it and filled it with water.  It felt great to have such a key part of the project done, with water in it.  When everything is functioning, water  from the gravity-fed aqueduct will fill this smaller tank.  The tank will be maintained full by a float valve at the tank inlet.  From there the water will be pumped up an elevation of  approximately 120 feet to the ferrocement tank above.  This tank will also be maitained full by an electronic float valve at the tank inlet, which will communicate with the pump to tell it when to pump more water and when to stop pumping due to a full tank.  All that is left to be done now is connect up the solar panels, pump, and controller.  All of this will be coming up this Friday with an installation visit from a Renewable Energy company based in Santiago called RETECSA.  They will be helping us install the pump, bury the cables, install the solar panels and solar controller, install the electronic float valve, as well as set up two ground connections.  As I have spent hours and hours in their store designing the project and talking to them about the struggles, I would almost consider them friends of mine now and it will be cool to show them how my community lives and what I am working for.  They will also be (time-permitting) installing the solar panels on the community center and hooking them up to batteries and an inversor.  And as if that wasn't enough, they are bringing up 9 more solar panels and 9 deep cycle batteries for our solar-lightbulb project.  Phew!  Everybody cross your fingers for me that the road holds up another week.  If all goes to plan I could have water in the upper community by....who knows...Saturday?  We will see.

Ok, concrete and sweat talk apart, I have to admit that all of this hard work has really put a strain on my relationship with my community.  I find myself constantly asking a lot of them, the majority of them not working really hard or bickering about their neighbor working 5 minutes less than them, and it makes me lose motivation.  I get fed up, lose my cool, and finish the day exhausted physically and mentally, thinking I am a fool to work for people who want to work so little.  I recently have had to tell myself to finish the project for me, rather than them.  The reality is if I left all the decisions up to them they would postpone, half-ass, steal, and bicker the project into an incompleted standstill.  It's hard to deal with as a volunteer.  I question whether I am doing the right thing.  Is all of this worthless because when I leave all of the rules and sustainability will fall by the wayside, the infrastructure will degrade or be stolen, and the project will fail?  I hope not, but I see it as a very real possibility.  And now being so exhausted in the last leg of my service I find myself unable or unwilling to be creative to try to keep convincing them of the importance of the aqueduct rules, payment, and water committee meetings.  People have told me that once I am gone no one is going to pay their monthly fee anymore and no will enforce any rules.  I understand but am dissapointed when I hear things like that.  In a country where corruption is the norm and every worker in some postion of power abuses it, I find myself sucumming to this attitude as well.  Just the "whatever, it'll probably fail" type attitude that is the reality of the poor and marginalized.  So with every step towards completion and the satisfaction of finishing another piece of the puzzle there are the questions in the back of my head-Was this all for nothing?  Did they even want this?  Will they appreciate and maintain it?  Big questions.  And there are no answers.  Only time will tell.

But when it all comes to a head, sometimes you just have to laugh at the rediculousness of it all.  As much as the culture here tells me things will get stolen or broken, sometimes you just have to throw it right back in culture's face.  Below, see the finished roof of the small pump tank that will be locked down like a jail cell.  On it's roof I wrote in english, "There's a pump in here.  Just TRY to steal it!"  If anyone wants to learn english, climb up to my mountains, buy a lock cutter, and carry the 30 pound pump back down the mountain, probably all at night,-well, then I guess they will have earned it!  Hey if they learn english I did my job as a development volunteer, right?!