Today we were up at 6:30 to make it out to start the Guayahualco water project. As we arrived, we were prepped to shake every villagers hand look them in the eyes and say Buenos Dias-out of respect. If someone offered you a fist you shake their wrist because they feel there hand is to dirty to shake.
The villagers were all ready to load the pipe in the truck and take it up to the springs. So was I. I worked so hard loading the truck in the 1st 20 minutes my hands started to bleed, but I came in much use because I was the only one tall enough to get the final piping loaded.
We got in the truck and drove up to the springs at about 12,000 feet to start laying pipe. The community was ready to go and had already dug the majority of a 3 foot deep trench going from the springs to the holding tank (approx 2 miles). The engineer worked out the connection from the springs and we started an assembly line mode of connecting the pipe.
After about 30 seconds of digging and laying pipe I had to stop to catch my breath. My breathing became heavy and I had a hard time returning to normal. I began to wonder if something was wrong until someone explained to me that breathing at altitude is like breathing through a straw because the air is so thin, and this makes working at altitude much more difficult. I didn’t care and after realizing I wasn’t dying I continued digging and connecting pipe for 4 hours took a lunch break and continued for another 4 hours.
I may have overworked myself this 1st day but I believe it was all with good reason: We didn’t know the people in the village of Guayahualco upon starting this project. From a cultural standpoint we could be from different planets. It was important for us to form relationships with the people to work effectively, bridge cultural barriers, and create a meaningful production. Since none of us speak Quechua and we had to go through the Quechua translator before the Spanish translator, communication was a huge challenge.
Working side by side with them was the best way to form this relationship, but this meant keeping up with the gruesome pace of the “Minga”. This worked and by the end of the first day everyone was less skeptical, friendlier, and knew we meant business. We even spoke of our differences and shared laughs while cooking our guinea pig dinner (no joke)- just a side note Guinea Pig (or “Qui” as they are known) tasted exactly like I would imagine…. like a domestic rodent.
We cooked these Guinea Pigs over an open fire in front of one of the villagers’ houses. We boiled about 100lbs of potatoes and had the entire minga over to eat with us. About 40 villagers and us took turns standing around a table picking food from a few plates of Guinea Pig and potatoes, and slopping it in our mouths. Up to this point this was the best day of my life.
- When talking about differences with people from other cultures I have always noticed everyone loves talking about relationships (in a husband-wife dynamic). Christina spent the afternoon talking to the Guayahualco women about our relationship differences and Kelly had to explain to them why she wasn’t married in her mid-30s.
- Everyone’s favorite food in the village is Qui.
- The children are endlessly energetic and very endearing, but they will always grab you and hold on tight when you tell them you are leaving.
- Minga is the name of a communal group that comes together to achieve a common goal.
- Some villagers thought it would be funny to hold potentially lethal smelling glue in under my nose while we were connecting pipes together. It took me 30 minutes to realize and we all had a good laugh about it (and I had a good headache the rest of the day).
- Using nearly no vocal communication the Guayahualco people work together more efficiently than any people I have ever seen.
- Relationships are the most important thing in this world. The relationships you have with the people, the land, and your god are more precious than anything else.
Today we got to the project after the minga had already left the village and headed to the pipes. Yesterday, after we finished around 4:30 the minga continued working until around 8 at night and made it to the road, which was their goal (about 2/3 the way to the holding tank). We met up with the minga past the street and started working. Everything started smoothly and we continued connecting pipes at a vigorous pace. We worked our way across the rolling mountains and down into a valley.
As we neared the bottom the rain came on strong, which brought a flash flood of mud down the trench. Everyone in the minga who had worked so hard knew this could possibly mean an extra day or two of delay, as we had to clear the trench of mud to lay the pipe. No one expressed an ounce of frustration. They laughed as the flood came and continued to laugh as we dug endlessly to clear the muddy trench. (Note to self: using a hoe to clear a muddy 3 foot trench is like using a fork to eat soup). I followed suit and laughed with the men as we slowly cleared the trench. Finally we got the mud cleared and worked our way back up the mountain.
We decided we were close enough to the tank that we could make it before lunch. At the tank a problem arose. The engineer realized we had been using new piping when we should have followed the old pipes to the tank. Everyone argued in Quicheua and Spanish for nearly an hour before coming to the decision that everything was fine. We cheered and took a 3 o’clock lunch.
We had lunch on the side of the road facing the water tank. I tried to talk to a villager as he came over the hill we smiled and exchanged pleasantries (as well as we could) and talked about the day’s work. After talking to him for a few minutes he took off up the hill and as I looked behind me to my surprise Kevin had a huge camera in my face for the conversation. Ha! I am still getting used to this whole production thing.
After lunch we ran up to the springs and realized we still had a lot of work to do. We had to attach the piping to 3 different springs all about ¼ a mile away from each other. After the 1st my fatigue started to kick in and I laid on the side of the mountain for awhile with Christina and others from the minga as we watched the clouds roll in a picturesque manner.
The minga started yelling at a man and a women walking into the distance holding hands. This was the customary way a man and a women could “get to know each other” in privacy and this time away usually resulted in dating, and then marriage. The man usually asks the father before doing this. (I am not sure if there is a dowry).
We finished connecting pipes and the water was turned on at the springs before nightfall. As we made our way to the holding tank we got word that one of the pipes had burst and watched as a man rode off into the distance on horseback with a 12 foot pipe in hand to fix the problem.
We sat on the holding tank and waited as 20 children from the village surrounded us and started using us as vessels to get their playful demands met (mainly swinging them by the arms and lifting them onto the tank as they jumped off the back for us to lift them up again). The funniest part was once the minga walked along the trench, through the fog and to the holding tank one kid saw and told the other kids and they all ran off at the same time down the other side of the mountain before they were seen. My assumption is they were supposed to be in school or helping in the house and if their mothers and fathers saw them they would be in trouble.
As dark took over we got word there was another burst pipe and we decided to walk back to the road. Taylor and Eric were going to get there jackets and follow closely behind but an hour past and they were nowhere to be seen. As we waited we heard tons of shouting in the distance. I yelled “Eric!!!” And there was a pause and then a shout came from the distance, “Agua!!!” The water had reached the tank.
- One of the villagers’ favorite things to do is talk money. The continually ask how much everything costs when they see an iphone, camera, boots, gloves, etc. I have been reluctant to tell them how much everything is because I feel like it would make them think of us as millionaires and ruin the bond we have created. I say “no se” and tell them it was a present. Camera guy John said he was doing the same thing and they asked how much his camera was. Once he told them he didn’t know they talked amongst themselves for a few minutes and decided the camera must cost $2,500. They were surprisingly accurate.
- The villagers ask many questions. Never passing judgment they are genuinely interested and believe it is polite to do so because it shows they are interested. No topic is off limits- sex, religion, and politics- why not?
Today was a great day. We arrived to the village and since the water was flowing to the tank there was little work left for us to do. The guys did some interviews and final tapings and then we went to the school where the kids had arranged a going away ceremony for us. We played with the kids for awhile and decided now would be a good time to bust out the Frisbee. They loved it!
The children at this point were in love with us Gringos and made us feel like we were the life of the party. We sat down across a basketball/soccer court from the children and proceeded to watch their show. A boy sang into a microphone as 2 girls danced behind him. We all cheered and I still have this song and dance stuck in my head. Then the boys and girls line danced in a very orderly fashion (they must have spent a lot of time practicing this song). It was amazing. They grabbed our hands and we all joined in for song and dance. Even Ian looked like he was having a good time! (Ian was the director of Free The Children Ecuador. Although he is a great guy I think our unconventional ways raised his blood pressure a little bit, and he seemed stressed most of the time up to this point).
We played games-three legged race, musical chairs (which I let Taylor win), and of course run with a spoon and egg in your mouth. John mentioned it felt like a field day in school. It was interesting how identical our games are to theirs. Maybe we are not so different after all.
We said our goodbyes and I thanked the teacher and gave him the Frisbee to give to the children (as we left it was easy to see it was the new coolest toy on the playground). As we walked away and the rain started to fall harder and I watched as the children continued to practice their song and dance in the shivering cold. At this moment I realized the amount of time and effort the children spent working on this production to make sure we enjoyed it, and their devotion brought much warmth to my heart.
After lunch we met with the minga to test the 1st tap in town and it was a success. Although a lot of the taps in town were not working because of old piping, busted meters, or the water had not arrived there yet. This would be easier for the villagers to fix now that they had clean water and a reason to fix their individual piping. Although the Gulahuayco people are normally very stoic people it was easy to see the gratitude in their hugs, handshakes, and smiles.
We left the village and stopped in town before heading back to our place. The guys wanted to pick up presents for everyone. Our superb cooks each got a bouquet of beautiful flowers (which the store clerk sprayed with cheap cologne for some reason), and Ian got a bottle of scotch.
We asked the cooks eat with us after we gave them a round of applause for all the outstanding meals they had prepared. We ate drank and had a wonderful last night exchanging many stories and laughing often. I am going to miss my friends, but I am excited that another adventure is just beginning.
- The Frisbee idea came from Cambodia. John and I spent a lot of time teaching and volunteering in different areas of Cambodia the past few years and for some reason John brought a Frisbee with him. We initially were using the Frisbee for our benefit, but when we realized how intrigued Cambodians were by the Frisbee we started using this as a tool to break down cultural barriers. Upon meeting new Cambodians we would start a game of Frisbee and within minutes it was like we were all old friends. Frisbee also came in much use when situations became sketchy (Battambang). I realized a Frisbee was a necessity on this trip and bought 3 before leaving the states.
- There are trucks that go through the Andean villages of Ecuador on market days looking to buy wool, produce, etc. The way they do this is by driving through the villages slowly using a microphone attached to a speaker in the truck and yell their demands. People will stop the truck and sell their products if they have any. I thought what a funny way to go shopping. I want to try this method when we get back to the States.
- Despite our best attempts to say otherwise the villagers thought we were volunteers from Canada (FTC is a Canadian based organization). This would not have upset me as much but I believed it important for them to know we were from the States.
- Taylor decided to bring a hoe (farming tool) we used in the village back with him to the U.S. as a souvenir. We had a good laugh about trying to clear U.S. customs with that and we all agreed that in the area of the declaration document that ask “have you been exposed to any farm work, animals etc.” We will check no to avoid a 4 hour long cavity search.
- At dinner the final night I was intrigued by Maria’s story about her sister and the stories that followed. Maria’s sister had paid $14,000 to get to the U.S. from Ecuador. By boat, train, bus, and cayotes (people smugglers). As the conversation continued it got more interesting. Ian had worked on the U.S. Mexico border and Kevin had previously worked on a documentary about the topic.