Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Home, Finally.

You haven’t heard from me, due to some Self-Induced Writer’s Block (do not try this at home). I spent months overcoming it, and here’s what has passed since.

Panic and nausea, fear and self-loathing, confusion and despair. Today, I finally take up the pen (keyboard?) again, and I am paying dearly with my feelings for a mistake I made. My trip was completed back in May, and for over half a year, I’ve left faithful readers hanging with the story unfinished. Upon returning to the U.S., there seemed to be too much to do! Besides, I convinced myself, writing a dazzling and accurate conclusion meant time was needed to organize my notes. So I deliberately induced writer’s block, and put off writing for reasons that seemed permissible at the time:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Part 3 - How the Day was Saved (by a drowning fly)

 “Glass, china, and reputation are easily cracked, and never well mended.” – Poor Richard

When tested against all other vendors, the water from our system is the safest to drink. And at 25 cents for 20 liters (approx. 5 gallons), it is by far the most affordable. Money earned goes back into maintaining the system, and nobody makes a profit. Though these are facts, they are easily trumped by stubborn ignorance, which puts our reputation in peril. The reputation of Agua Muisne is something to be guarded with constant vigilance, especially in small towns where gossip is the only thing that travels quickly. A simple scare story could deal a significant blow to public health. In one instance, the day was saved by a drowning fly:

Monday, June 27, 2011

Part 2 – Men of Estero! Where are You?!

One problem we faced was getting the local men to volunteer. Interestingly, this was never a problem in China. I tried to get to the bottom of this.

The Foundations of Agua Muisne and Yanapuma were determined to partner in building a water treatment system in the town of Estero de Plátano. This determination was a mistake. The decision to build should have been conditional on the townspeople’s understanding and commitment to the project. On Day 2 of construction, I noticed these were both lacking in the community. But it was already too late: materials had been purchased and work had begun. Nik and Allie were long term North American volunteers established in the community, and together we hastily created a presentation and held a village-wide meeting to remedy the problem. I cannot say we were successful. We may have called to attention the importance of clean water and garnered a few volunteers, but if we could have halted the project right then, we would have. The money was there, the ball was rolling, and we could only forge ahead and deal with the fallout later, sure to come.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Social Challenges
Part 1 - Grappling with a Colonial Animal

Please excuse my one month hiatus. I trust you'll believe me when I say it was for good reason.

To understand the challenges of working in Estero de Plátano, you must first understand something about small towns. The following two paragraphs come from Steinbeck’s The Pearl:

A town is a thing like a colonial animal. A town has a nervous system and a head and shoulders and feet. A town is a thing separate from all other towns, so that there are no two towns alike. And a town has a whole emotion. How news travels through a town is a mystery not easily to be solved. News seems to move faster than small boys can scramble and dart to tell it, faster than women can call it over the fences.

Friday, May 6, 2011

In Four Weeks

In four weeks, we built this water purification system for the town of Estero de Plátano.

I made the design and was in charge of all construction, testing, and promotion. Workers included the two maestros we hired, volunteers from other organizations, surfers, my visiting fiancé, and various men, women, and children of Estero. Funding came from Fundación Agua Muisne and Fundación Yanapuma.

Enjoy the photo report below; I'd be happy to answer your questions!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

You Know You Love Your Work When...

Due to a hard to come by internet connection today, this post and the previous one combine for a first time ever DOUBLE POST!

Tucked away in a little cove is a small town called Estero de Platano, population 400, where  I am charged with the task of implementing the first water treatment system.

I spent a week and a half planning and designing the system, and have since worn many hats. On site, I am the design engineer and construction manager. From there, I frequently switch between plumber, construction worker, community organizer, and educator. I saw a lengthy YouTube video (which I can't find right now) that hits the nail on the head: "beyond simple tasks, for work to be enjoyable and productive, money ceases to be a motivator. Interestingly, it has been shown that an increase in money earned results in a decrease in productivity. People are actually motivated by 1. Being Challenged, 2. Feeling Useful, and 3. Having Self Direction."

Those factors are quite general, so to be more specific: You know you love your work when… 

New Settings: Time, Place, Etc.

Filling jugs of water at Agua Muisne in Cabo San Francisco
I had loose plans to work in Guatemala for my 3rd and final leg of this hydrophilic mission, but the project wasn’t right – too short and not sustainable. I respectfully declined, and trusted something better would turn up. Turn up it did in no time at all, with help from my observant girlfriend and a stroke of luck. Following a chance sighting at a bulletin board posting and a few emails, a volunteer placement for me was devised. It is with a foundation called Agua Muisne and turning out to be a perfect fit

We learned in English class to lead with the setting.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

6 Ways to Deal with Shock

Long distance travel by flight is a relatively recent phenomenon. Certainly the human being never evolved to deal with the changes that happen when he or she magically spans three continents within a week. All sorts of shock can happen in such a week, so I’ve prepared this guide for you.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tale of Two Villages - Part 5 (Final)

If you've made it this far in the series, I'm thoroughly impressed. Posting weeks later from Ecuador about China (and America), it’s definitely time to wrap this puppy up.

Where Yuan Jiang is dark and in a cloud, Mo Jiang is warm and bathed in light. One place is foolish and full of despair; the other wise and full of hope. Where one is incredulous, the other believes.

So what accounts for the obvious disparities between the two villages? Again, causes of observed effects can be difficult things to pinpoint, and impossible to say with certainty. But we can hypothesize!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tale of Two Villages – Part 4

For the second time, Mo Jiang was a wonderful change. I first noticed that the drive up the mountain was quick and smooth - roads had been filled in and flattened since our last visit. The villagers had been hard at work.
Our moods lightened immediately. Jokes flowed again, and the way we were received let us be ourselves. It seemed every villager we spoke to trusted that we had their best interests in mind, so discussions never became arguments. At some point on our trip, my guys made me their leader, and the villagers treated me as such. The nights we stayed, Village Leader Zhou gave me his bed and I felt honored.