Recently in Chad Category
My second project for the two week visit started several days before with a car ride from Huarmey to Casma and Casma to Yautan, where we stayed the night in the labor and delivery room of the posta (the health clinic). We woke up at 5:30am and within minutes we were dressed and packed and ready to leave (this always amazes me). We drove for a little more than an hour to Cacqui, at least until the road became too narrow and we had to walk, which we did with the students from the local school who had run down to meet us. In this village we installed a solar panel and hired donkeys for the hike to the next place, Canchirao, probably about 12,000 feet. When the donkeys still hadn’t come around John and Sarah hit the trail, to get a head start, and Eduardo and Oscar and I waited. It took another hour, though, to get blankets and bridles and ropes and then to pack, putting the three of us on the path pretty late in the afternoon. We also soon realized that leading donkeys (we didn’t have any other guide) is a pretty difficult thing to do. Almost ever five minutes they tried to stop and eat, as the climb got steeper and steeper, forcing us to yank and cajole and push, adding another challenge to the walk. Also, after the first two hours, the sun went down and the moon wasn’t yet up, so we switched on head lamps. The moon eventually lit our way, fairly brilliantly, but we had another three hours to go. The only thing that made it bearable was when I gave up hope, remembering all the Camus I had read, particularly the Myth of Sisyphus. Once I no longer thought about reaching the summit, it was a little less difficult. Except we did reach the village, tied up the donkeys, and went into the clinic to meet John and Sarah, to rest, and to eat dinner, orange juice from a box, water, soda crackers, tuna fish, and chocolate bars. When we went outside to see about feeding the donkeys, though, they were gone. I heard dogs barking on the other side of the village and ran over (who knows how, with what strength or wind) to find one donkey cornered. I chased him back toward the posta where Eduardo finally caught him. The other one, we figured, had managed to get back on the trail to Cacqui
Anyway, the next day we went over to the school and the team started on the installation while I filmed. There was plenty of interest in this on the part of the kids (we seem to pretty much undermine any lesson plan for the day when we arrive to work) although it took some time for the girls to get used to my camera. At first when I pointed it their way they scattered and hid, chattering in quechua and squealing and giggling like any silly kids would do. They were dressed the way you might imagine, in the boldest colors, a few with bowler hats, even more odd for the fact that the boys wore plain pants and shirts and sweaters. Well, by afternoon we were finished, had a quick lunch at the school director’s house, and packed for heading out. The other donkey appeared then and so we led that one with us, descending the other side of the mountain toward Tumipampa, where we would have a taxi waiting. It was certainly easier going down than coming up except much, much harder on the knees, and a four hour hike is still a four hour hike. Again we had to do part of that in the dark. Unfortunately, Oscar also convinced us to take a “shortcut,” a lot more steep, extremely narrow in places, with a long drop down on the side, slippery for the fine dust and gravel that covered it. Somehow we made it and got in the car, which ran low to the ground for all the weight and kept hitting big rocks. We got a flat tire as well and we walked more while the driver fixed that. He picked us up and after we got the rest of our gear at Yautan we hit a paved road, which apparently had no real speed limit (we were going nearly 100 miles an hour for long stretches). In Casma, after midnight, we checked into a hostel, went out for a later dinner, and got our showers.
That’s a chronicle of events, of course, lacking anything like reflection or interpretation, the kind of commentary and observation that would begin to make sense of the journey in all its parts and as a whole. The work exhausted me (I’m still tired, even after sleeping on buses and planes, as if the tiredness settled deep inside me) and I’m going through the shock of being back. Maybe in the next few days I can sift through the memories and add one more final post, including some pictures.
To get to the school we rode a bus to Quishuar for eight hours, and stayed the night there. The next day we talked with the folks in that village about possible collaboration with the Village Empowerment Project, first in a formal meeting with the community leaders and then in more informal conversation, after which they treated us to crackers and Inka Cola and a bit of guitar. Then we put our gear on donkeys and made a trek across the valley to Copi, which you can see from Quishuar but which is really not so close. It made me think of a line I read in the Wisdom of Donkeys book, only turned on its head, to speak to the ‘distance of nearness.’ In any case, it was a struggle at times to put one foot in front of the other on the ascent, trying to catch some air, fighting dizziness and the tingling in our hands and cheeks, realizing how steep a mountain can be. We made it, though, and immediately went to work on the installation, finished the next day, yesterday, in the afternoon.
Once the panel was in we ate a late lunch/early dinner and left for the journey to LLaclin, where we could catch a bus to Huarmey (since the bus from Quishuar only comes twice a week). The hike took us four hours, almost half of that in the dark, but we had a guide, a thirteen year old boy named Wauker (an old Quechua name), who also led a donkey packed with equipment. At one point he told us there were some “wild” dogs ahead, guarding goats, which would probably be a danger. When he picked up a rock I picked up one too, then he picked up another and I did the same. The dogs came up, but Wauker’s dog held them back for a bit, we made it around them, and then Stephanie ran at them, chashing them off for good. Well, between that sort of thing and the walking by the time we hit the town we were absolutely beat. There was no place to get a real meal so we bought canned tuna and crackers and ate that before sleeping in a room above the store (you don’t know how good tuna and crackers can be until you’ve had them this way). During the night we slept little since there were a lot of dogs barking and fighting on the road below, and we had to wake up at 3am for the bus. So we came into Huarmey dirty (probably smelly), very tired, and a little hungry.
Now that I’ve been making notes and keeping a record of events and observations in my head, as well as on this blog, I realize there’s a great temptation to emphasize the foreign and unknown about Peru. This is partly because the attitude belongs to the “travel writing” genre and partly because, in fact, there is plenty of difference all around me, constantly. Just crossing the street here in town is an encounter with a flood of contrasts to what I know and expect. But for the rest of the trip I’m going to make an effort to notice the universal, the things that allow us to connect across what might otherwise separate.
This morning Dimitrios, Maia and I did an interview with Jacinta, the mother of Javeth. She has a stall in the local market, selling fruit, and of course she had heard about the leg. But Jacinta has troubles of her own, some kind of eye ailment, maybe a cataract, and Maia had done the work of finding a free clinic in Lima that she needs. For whatever reason, the hospital here is not a place that could help her access that care, even merely to tell her about its availability. I mean, it’s not that hard to get there. Later in the morning, a few of us walked over, to check on the hospital’s communication radio, and I decided that would be as good as place as any to interview Sarah and Maia about their work on the leg, which we did. Then we easily walked back to the church.
So that’s where we are now, at the parochia, a church in the middle of town, between the market and the main plaza. Someone has turned a radio on and the packing for leaving for the mountains is happening to a salsa beat. There are tools, rolls of cable, and all manner of other things on the floor, to be divided up between four different crews. One will go to the Casma valley, another to the Huarmey valley, a third to the Culebras valley, and a fourth to an area somewhat between the Huarmey and Culebras valleys. Dimitrios will be in the second, filming Kevin and Ricky working on their passive solar adobe house, and I’ll be in the last, following Steve and others taking batteries to certain villages still off the grid, possibly requiring a bit of hiking (if that’s how it goes, we’ll carry our own packs and put the 100-lb batteries on mules).
Otherwise, the town is full of Sunday sounds, with so many people out sitting and talking, kids playing, and the ever-present sound of various mototaxi (three-wheeled motor bikes) and car horns. Also, voting has been going on through the day, the country teetering on the edge of going left or right, selecting either Keiko Fujimori (daughter of the imprisoned, former dictator) or Ollanta Humala (son of a general famous for advocating indigenous empowerment). Judging by most polls, Fujimori will win, helped by a propaganda campaign associating Humala with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. More on that later.
Just as I finished this, it turned 4pm, and the results are coming in on the radio, with Humala the likely winner, contrary to all the earlier predictions. Amazing.
I spent part of the time on the plane the other day reading a book, The Wisdom of Donkeys, and came across a couple of lines that fit well as a description for the Village Empowerment Project. The author had made his own journey through France (leading a donkey of course) and described that traveling as ‘a door opening out to chance, with only vague plans,’ most of which ‘were subject to change. ‘
At packing day on Wednesday (when every one going to Peru gathered at the solar lab to pack gear) and in the airport today (when we sat together during the three hour layover), we did finalize “to do” lists. But those tasks will be governed by the rules I learned from past trips to Peru (thanks Diana and Cheryl). One is that the best answer to many questions (when are we leaving, how are we getting there, where are we going, what are we doing there, where will we sleep, what will we eat) is often “depende,” or “it depends.” The other rule is the fact that things happen here “poco a poco,” little by little. And already I`ve seen both of those play out.
Today we delivered a prosthetic leg to a clinic in Callao, an area of Lima, with Dimitrios and I tagging along to film. At first we thought the event wouldn´t happen, because there was a mix up in trying to find Javeth, the young woman who was supposed to get the leg. We were about to leave, to try again tomorrow, when I saw Javeth, her husband and daughter in the hall, and told Maia. Then, the doctor wasn´t ready to do the fitting but accommodated us anyway. Two (or more hours) later, in a crowded rehabilitation room (full of sublime light coming through the windows), the thing was done and Javeth was in tears, beyond happy.
So Saturday we continue. We’re off to Huarmey, a long bus trip up the coast (including a few spectacular views of dry brown hills on one side and the Pacific ocean on the other). In Huarmey, at a church that serves as our base, we’ll pack and repack and divide up into crews, figuring out transportation for each, and then do still more hours of traveling into the mountains, to finally get to work in the villages. Then we’ll see.
The words in the title above belong to Kelly, a member of the January 2008 Village Empowerment Project (VEP) crew. At the time, she was an engineering student and hoped to actually install the bio-digester that she and a partner had designed “on paper” during the previous semester. With the system, people could compost animal manure (mostly from ubiquitous guinea pigs) to create fertilizer and cooking gas, both quite useful byproducts. But Kelly came to understand that the VEP was about much more than bringing a technical fix to a technical problem. The human interaction and connection across cultures that had to happen, and that did happen when the bio-digester installation started in a place called Laguna, was another equally valuable dimension to her “capstone” experience. It revealed the larger, social significance of the manner we make our way in the world and demonstrated that this is no less a consideration for engineers than for anyone else.
I was with the January 2008 crew too, filming for a promotional video, and I had a chance to observe Kelly and many others close-up for hours and days at a time. It did not take long, I noticed, before they were forever changed, pushed harder in a direction they might already have been going but forever changed nevertheless. This was prompted by the reality of the poverty they saw, by the kindness and modesty of the people they met, and by the varied beauty of the landscape. Even before going down Kelly had plans to join a convent, which she did right after graduation, yet I’m sure her vocation was more grounded and continues to be grounded by the time she spent in
As I get ready to leave for my third trip to
Following this post, then, before we actually leave, others will join in, some of them VEP veterans like me and others new to the venture, each reflecting on the moment at hand. During our trip, when we have access to an internet café (in
Professor, History Department
Professor, History Department