Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sara-Ma Hue From Santo Domingo

Hey All!

I have some internet time today, so I thought I´d try to catch up on blogging (after reading my 40 emails! No, I´m not really THAT popular...half of them were from facebook and the Obama campaign) I have about 20 pages of journaling from the last, what?, five days so we´ll see how this goes. I apologize in advance if this ends in a cliffhanger :-)

So, I´ll try my best to go chronologically.

September 16
We at breakfast in the hostel where we met a British gapper named Ross. He had just arrived in Quito the night before and was planning on staying at the hostel for eight months and teaching English in a school. And traveling, of course. He didnt´know anyone and didn´t really seem to know what he was supposed to be doing, but he seemed excited (although he said his plan was "a little mental, really." Gap year students from England that end up halfway across the world tend to have a bad reputation for not being particularly hard-working because, since so many people in England take gap years, it´s the stereotypical lazy, rich kids that end up in places like Quito. That´s the stereotype we TBBers are fighting against, or so I´ve been informed. Ross seemed nice, though, and I hope to see him when we return to Quito next month to see how it ended up working out for him.

After breakfast, we took a van to the public bus station. We´v ebeen warnexd several times about pickpockets and thieves who will slit open our bags, so we were on our guard. We got on our bus, put our big bags in storage, and took our little carry-ons with us, all our valuables in them. I wrapped my bakcpack around my foot and made sure that I knew the people sitting behind me in case it slid that way. Before we left the station, an armed police officer in a kevlar vest boarded the bus and made the guy sitting diagonally behind me get off. I have no idea what he supposedly did wrong, but I doubt it was your normal visa check because the guy seemed to be Ecuadorian (as most everyone at the bus station other than us was).

After about an hour on the bus, a movie started playing on teh flat screen TV at the front. It was loud and in English with Spanish subtitles. "What classy movie did they choose to play?" you ask. Superhero Movie of course! For those of you not lucky enough to have seen this cinematic gem, it´s a spiderman spoof along the lines of Scary Movies 1 through 3 or Not Another Teen Movie. Apparently, though, the movies they normally play are incredibly violent, so I guess you could say we got lucky.

We got off the bust in Santo Domingo. Alexandra grabbed her carry-on only to find that it had been slit open. Although she´d had her feet on it the whole time, someone in the row behind her managed to slit open the side and grab out her nice camera. Everything else was still there, including the point-and-shoot camera she´d brought which, luckily, had the wrong memory card in it (the one with all her photos, which she´d taken on the nice camera). The guy who likely took teh camera had gotten off at an earlier stop. She´s reported it to the police. That´s about the end of that. You´ve got to be careful, but sometimes things happen and sometimes it sucks.

We were met at teh bus stop by a Bua man dressed in dark grey slacks, but with only a red piee of fabric drapd across his chest. He had his hair traditionally done: buzzed on the side and dyed red and flattened out on the top so that it looke das if he´d put a leaf on his head. We alll piled into the back of a truck, the kind with a big flat bed and wooden sides that reached about chest height, and hung on for out 20 minute ride to Bua. That seems to be the preferred method of transportation here, other than motorcylces, which we aren´t allowed to ride. That´s how we got back to Santo Domingo today.

Bua is really jsut a lot of houses spaced out along the road tha tcomes from Santo Doingo. Your address is the number of the kilometer your house is on. For example, the school is at kilometer 15 and the cultural center, where we headed first, is at kilometer 21.

Once at the center, we ate our bag lunch sandwhiches provided by Yanapuma (the organization we´re working with here in Bua). The had of the center, Alfonso, welcomed us, first in Tsafiki, then in Spanish. He was very emotional and very kind. He looked almos teary thanking us for coming from so far, telling us to be sur eto ask if we needed something, describing his hope for our cultural exchange and expressing pride in his village that has come so far in the last five years. We were shown their small cultural museum and introduced to our homestay fathers. Mine and Isabel´s is Wilson. Initially I thought that our family had sent a son to pick us up, but no, he´s the dad. He could possibly be 28, but at first glance I would have guessed 21. He has already hoste dthree volunteers which is why they put Isabel and I with him. Although we both said we´d eat anything, they had us down as vegetarians and actually, Wilson thought we were vegan. That would be rather difficult in Bua. You would eat a LOT of rice. He was very relieved to find out that we´ll eat mostly anything.

After a little hike through their ¨reserva¨ (not easy in flipflops...I fell twice...very gracefully, of course...and picked up about 50 bugbites along the way) we hopped back in the truck and got dropped off at our respective homes. Isabel and I were dropped off first, so we didn´t know where anyone else was living. We, however, are right next to the school, and I have since discovered that Liz and Noah live across the street from the school, two other pairs live down the street, and then the other four groups live in a little family group about a 10 minute walk down the road and then another 10 into the woods.

Isabel and I actually have our own house! Our family built it to house volunteers, although at first we were worried we´d kicked them out of one of the family houses. It´s basically a cement block with a corrugated metal roof. There are two bed in little side rooms, but we share a bed so that we can both benefit from the one hot pink, butterfly bed net. There aren´t doors other than to the outside, so when the kids in the family come to play, they get very curious about our stuff. There are 6 different calendars on the walls, one is even a little scadalous, being used as decoration. There are also three or four family photos.

When we arrived, Wilson introduced us to his three kids Anderson (almost 8...his birthday, I´ve since found out, is October 23), Magdalena (6) an dBenicio (2), as well as his wife, Germania. They all left us to unpack which took about 1 minute since there arent any drawers or shelves, but soon Andy and Magdalena were back to play. He´s very rambunctious and not particularly talkative; she, on the other hand, seems really smart and talks almost non-stop. She´s that kid that tells you all the awkward family secrets her parents don´t want you to know and in addition to being adorable, that makes here rather useful. (She already let us know that her mom is pregnant, which we found out again from Germania only yesterday). Out front, a volleyball game was going on. It looked like a bunch of 20 year old guys, so I was surprised to realize that Wilson was one of the jugadores. Benicio showed up a little later to hang out and I ended up kicking a soccer ball around with Andy for a few minutes.

It´s becoming apparent to me that I will never finish this post in my alotted time since nearly everyone else has vacated the internet cafe and we have to be in groups of four, so I´ll try to hit some high points and summarize.

The family speaks Tsafiki among themselves and Spanish to us. Our first night, Wilson spent time with us translating some basic Spanish phrases to Tsafiki and the Grandpa, who I think lives in the family house, teaches us a word every time he sees us. The title of this post, Sara-Ma Hue, means something like ¨good morning¨although I´m sure I´m spelling it wrong.

The first night we bathed using water in a little bucket in the back yard because it was already late, but since then we´ve been bathing in the river. It gets about thigh deep at its deepest and it´s a brownish color because of the dirt and moss that gets kicked up, but clean has quickly become a relative term and ¨there is dirt on me¨dirty is preferable to ¨disgusting and sweaty¨dirty.

Before dinner our first night, we were talking to the grandmother and she asked us how old we were and if we had boyfriends. We said 18 an no and she asked if we met someone, would we stay in Bua. We tried to explain no, we were on a schedule, and we would only be here for a month anyway. She said that most people have two kids by 18 although I´ve since found out that our host mother is almost 30, so she didn´t have kids until 22. Then again, I think our family may be a little more progressive than most. Wilson helped make breakfast one morning and when Isabel mentioned that she hurt her foot, he rubbed lotion on it and wrapped it in leaves he had Germania warm with a candle before replacing the Ace bandage.

We generally eat breakfast at about 7 and head to the school about 7:45. The project has quickly become an interesting lesson in international development. What we´re bascially doing is building six ¨banos secos¨to replace the eight year old septic system at the local school. The problem is twofold. First, the system was built to be used by 70 students and the school has already grown to 250. Secondly, there is no way to clean out septic tanks in Bua. It has already overflowed into the field, although an engineer came last year to put in a pipe so that now it overflows elsewhere. We´re basically manual labor. I have moved dirt from one pile to another and then respread it over the field, I built some stairs out of rocks put into holes we dug in the dirt (becuse the field is about 10 feet below the level of the school), and I dug a trench three feet deep into clay (not alone, but with the group). We get work done really quickly, which is good, but it´s starting to look like this project may only last one more week.

The really interesting part though, is the organizational issues we´ve been having. I´ll try to summarize, but before I do, I´d like to say that everyone involved is incredibly generous and well meaning. Basically, the problem is this: Yanapuma is a two year old NGO that has been working in the community for about as long as it´s been in existance. They talked to the director of the school, Guillermo, to see what kind of project he´d like done and he said some toilets would be great. So then Yanapuma called up the Portland chapter of Engineers without Borders (an organization that is itself only about 8 years old) and had them design the project. They sent down an advance team in March and asked good questions (example: Do your cinderblocks have holes in them? Answer: Yes. Problem: It turns out that the wholes don´t go all the way through.) They raised funds and headed down here on accumulated vacation time, making their airfare their donation to the project. When they got here they found that a local construction crew had been hired. Then they began to argue with the crew about materials and design because first of all, Ecuadorian buildign stadards are way more lax than those in teh U.S. and thus much cheaper and secondly, as evidenced by the cinderlbock prolem, the plans had to be changed and no one agreed on exactly how. I´m sure it doesn´t halp that all the engineers sent down here are electronics or water research engineers adn not actually people with construction experience. The engineers seem to be getting frustrated and demoralized because teh constrction crew builds better than they do and even seems to know better regarding some design issues and they expected this to be THEIR project. Also, when Cathy, one of the engineers, introduced herself to us, she said she was project manager and then qualified that with "Ï don´t know what that means, exactly.¨ There is a leadership void which is leading to miscommunication. Yanapuma has one plan, Engineers without borders has another and the construction crew has a third. Then of course there´s TBB. As I said, we´re basically being used as manual labor. Since we move so quickly, it sounds like we might build some wells in this and other Tsachila communities during out last few weeks here.

One more fun fact and then I have to go. We´ve dropped into the middle of a family crisis. My host mother´s sister left her husband and child and ran to Santo Domingo. They were looking for her for a few days, but have since found her and she may or may not be the new girl that started living in our house yesterday. She´s supposed to be fifteen and has a 14 month old daughter. The girl looks about our age and has been carrying around a little girl. Ian and Katie are in the family she left. Somehow though, no one seems particularly perturbed. Everyone is happy and nice and apparently very easygoing.

Anyway, I´ve got to go. Everyone is waiting.

Much love!

P.S. Again, I don´t know when I´ll be back on the internet...Sorry!


Marianne said...

Thanks for the updates Becca. Wow. You're on one of the great adventures of your life.

Elkindz said...

Rebecca, we enjoy reading your blog! Clearly as well as helping there - U R geting the education of a lifetime.(FYI: The truck U rode in sounds like the Green Cove "cattle truck" of yor..all they had to transport campers in, in my day.)
- XO Aunt Carol

friend Nancy said...

You give great update, Rebecca!
I have a vivid picture of Bua and its fun to hear there are soap operas going on even there.... reading your blog was my treat for the afternoon..... loved to hear Confessions book is real... can't wait to read more.... hugs,