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?!

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