September 22, 2009
it’s so hot and humid here that:
1) the tops of your hands sweat;
2) if you are writing, when you lift your arms, the papers come up with them;
3) the women have stopped using moisturizers and hair conditioner – they are totally unnecessary.
4) Floridians will appreciate this one: there is more water on the table around your glass than water in your glass
5) NOBODY bitches about taking cold showers.
Us trainees spent five days last weekend at the site of another volunteer. Gary and I stayed with Laura, a 27-year old woman completing her third year with the Peace Corps. She has been working with a youth coop at the high school, as well as teaching several computing classes each week. She is now working with a committee whose long-term project is completing a park in her community.
Laura built her own house for about $600. Or rather, she supervised its building, which was done by her community members. It has a bedroom, an office, and a combination living room/dining room/kitchen. The roof and two walls are corrugated aluminum sheets. The other two walls, on the sides where the rain doesn’t blow, are made of pinca, dried palm leaves. She says there are toads living under her bed, but she doesn’t mind, as they eat cockroaches and scorpions. She gave up her bed to Gary and I and slept on a cot in her office. I didn’t see the toads, but didn’t look for them, either.
Her house is quite comfortable, despite the fact that she has no running water. She built the house about 50 feet from that of her host family, and chose to continue using their kitchen to wash dishes. She also shares their latrine and their shower, both constructed of sheet metal and about 60 feet from the houses. OK when it is not raining. When it rains, the ground between these four structures gets really muddy. The soil is red clay, so it sticks to everyone’s shoes. Staying clean is a real problem. She has a long-haired dog and two cats, so before you know it, your clothes are full of red paw prints!
Laura’s house does have electricity – that is, there is an exterior extension cord coming from her host family’s house. When it gets to Laura’s house, it plugs into a surge protector, from which several other cords extend to the three rooms. Unfortunately, the day we got there, there was a terrible thunderstorm and the electricity went out until the next day. As Laura said, if she was living somewhere where there was no electricity, she would be prepared, with kerosene lamps, candles, headlamps, etc. But as it was, she had a couple of candles and a couple of flashlights. As usual, everyone made do – people here go to bed by 9 pm every night anyway.
Bumping up against Laura’s house is her rancho – a traditional pinca-topped hut. Some poor people, especially indigenous, still live in these, as they have for hundreds of years. Some people live in tiny concrete block house with an attached rancho serving as their kitchen. The rancho often has a dirt floor. There may be a gas stove with a propane tank, there may be a sink, there may be a refrigerator or stove. Many of the poor still cook in fogons, huge pots over open fires, in the rancho or outdoors.
Wealthier people have concrete floors in their rancho, although Laura doesn’t. Most people hang out there in the heat of the day, dozing in hammocks. Others use them as a garage, to store their grills or cachevaches (the stuff you never use but can’t bear to throw away). Ranchos owned by the wealthiest people have vinyl roofs, metal beams, painted concrete block posts and a concrete floor. They maintain the traditional square or rectangular shape and roof line. To us, they look like square gazebos.
While at Laura’s, we visited an old man who makes very cool utensils out of gourds, watched a soccer game at the community playing field, and talked a lot about the Peace Corps. Our trip was only about 4 1/2 hours to her site. Some of the volunteers had a 16-hour ride, some including rides to indigenous communities in dugout canoes. Everybody enjoyed their weekend, although some changed their opinions about where they would like to be placed. That was the purpose of the visit, of course–to see how far into the boonies the trainees really want to be. Our visit didn’t really change our minds about anything – we’d already told our program director that we need a cooler climate, electricity and running water. He has interviewed each trainee twice now, and has pretty much matched each trainee to a site. We find out Wednesday where we will be for the next two years.
Training continues to go well – four hours a day of Spanish and four hours of various things like Community Analysis, leading groups, developing leaders and project design. Sprinkled in are days when we get medical information and shots – so far, I think we’ve had 3, with one or two more to go. I have completely gotten over my anxiety about shots. The nurse who gives them is amazing! Friday, the doctor spoke about very exciting topics like diarrhea and intestinal parasites. She actually brought some worms in formaldehyde that she said came from a volunteer. Also had some photos of really nasty sores on ankles, etc. Yuck!! But she is a hoot, and makes those icky topics very funny.
The progress that some of the trainees are making in Spanish is also amazing. They are determined and work very hard.
All for now – we find out our sites this Wednesday. Keep your fingers crossed that we will be somewhere you might come to visit!