Sunday January 28 – Rob and I woke up around 4:00 AM to bring the Fox’s to San Pedro Sula airport. With plenty of time to spare, we headed for Tegucigalpa to meet our country director Maria. Our objective was to introduce her to the local staff and help us deal with the challenges in Danli. At the bus station, a lawyer was accompanying Maria for our trip. Being a very developed site, issues in Danli are extremely complicated and hard for a foreigner to understand. As a local Honduran, Maria would be able to delve deep into the matters at hand. On our way to Danli, we discovered Maria had some very important people on her side. Eager to make it on her own, Maria had failed to mention her relationship to the President of Honduras. Without even knowing it, Pure Water had hired the most significant man in the country’s niece. Rob’s goal to finally meet the president of a country suddenly became one step closer to reality. A little in awe, we arrived in Danli for meeting with some of the workers. In short, our reason for traveling all this way was to find out exactly what type of things were happening. During our recent trip, it was obvious something was going on between the staff and the managers of the project. Agreeing to meet at one of the workers houses, Rob and I came as a liaison between Maria and the workers. The meeting was completely in Spanish, stopping only briefly to clarify things with Robert in English. As always, I reverted to body language and tone, to try and get a sense of what was being discussed. It was obvious there had been some sort of wrongdoing and the staff was extremely nervous about telling us their side. As the new country director, Maria will have her work cut out for her trying to meet all of the parties involved and do her best to salvage the current situation. In addition to labor issues, some of the workers told stories of community members buying three or four filters and then reselling them to other towns for a profit. This sounds terrible, but it can be a great thing. The communities of the Danli area have discovered the importance of the project and started to exploit it. With this being the case, I feel it is safe to say filters will continue to be built in Danli, with or without our presence. In the closing of our meeting, Maria asked the staff if they were willing to be relocated to another site. Some of them agreed it was time for a change, leaving Maria with a great opportunity to start up a new project with some incredible gifted and dedicated workers.
With the rodeo due to start at 3:00 PM, we rushed to the fair grounds. Wendy was waiting for us when we arrived, ushering us quickly to the man in charge. Making my way past the bulls sent my stomach churning, but soon I was standing before the real head honcho. Apparently, I didn’t look like I knew what I was doing and the small man soon started questioning my ability. I told him I had only ridden a few times and didn’t have any equipment with me. The fact that he even paused before saying no, furthered my positive view on this country. Well it was worth a try I guess. Plus, I still have a month left here and any broken bones would surly affect my ability to toss these filters around. On the way back to La Ceiba, we got to drive through the middle of Tegucigalpa, dropping off the woman at their homes. The crowded streets were only the start of our exciting journey home because as soon as the sun went down, we noticed one of our headlights was out on the rental car. With four checkpoints between La Ceiba and Tegucigalpa, two gringos trying to make this trek at night was bound to cause issues. However, we only got pulled over twice and Rob did a great job posing for me. I guess all white people look a like (Rasa had his driver’s license). The best was when Rob called Rasa and pretended he was talking to the ambassador. “He wants to know your name and badge number,” Rob pretended to convey. I guess if you can stand someone flashing machine guns in your face, they will eventually let you go. La Ceiba felt like heaven after our intense day and wild week. Our crazy schedule was sure to continue though. Rasa had stayed behind to welcome Dick Thompson, a member of the Londonderry Rotary Club and co-author of our grant here in La Ceiba.
Monday January 29 – With Dick Thompson eager to see the project, we set out to El Recreo for our scheduled socialization with the community. I enjoyed seeing his excitement as we made our way up the treacherous road. It took me back to the day we had set out for the community, reminding me of how taken back I was by the scenery. Glad to see the community was expecting us, we wasted no time setting up our education materials. Making their way down the dusty footpaths dressed in their best close, the local schoolhouse began to fill with chattering mothers and curious children. Keyla and Enelida, fresh off their CASWT training, dove right it to the situation employing their extremely interactive style. When the crowd became restless, the two utilized simple games to help focus them on the material. Following the two hour lesson, we double checked our list of people receiving filters, making sure everyone had the chance to sign up. With everything ready for our first delivery, we headed back down the hill to remind the mayor of his promise. Our surprise visit to Mario, the director of MAMUCA and mayor of Misica, was sure to catch him off guard. His agreement to provide transportation to the communities in his jurisdiction would now be under direct supervision from Dick Thompson. Completely unaware of whom Dick actually was, Mario scrambled to make good on his word. With our filter transportation now scheduled, we made one more stop at the taller. Much to our delight, the workers had been busy during our absence, painting all of our filters and bagging the aggregate needed for installation. What a great feeling to have everything going so smoothly, especially with a visitor in town. To celebrate the day’s events, Dick decided to take all of us out to dinner at a restaurant down on the beach. I was glad Dick decided to invite the girls along. It meant even more to them that he went out his way to recognize their hard work. Enelida and Keyla have lived here their entire lives, without ever having a chance to eat out at a restaurant of this scale. Enelida hardly sat in her chair the entire night, gleaming at menu items and the fact she was being waited on. Reflecting on the day, made me wonder about how people view us as volunteers. Everything went very smoothly with Dick standing by our side, but without him, I wonder if we would have had nearly as much success. In talking with other volunteer’s in country, similar situations have been encountered. People here have a negative connotation of the word volunteer, reasoning that a person must have been a failure to be working for free. Robert and Rasa have decided to dodge the term, referring to themselves as consultants. I guess it is another cultural barrier, just a little more personal than the others.
Tuesday January 30 – With our day set aside for the delivery of filters, we set out early to introduce Dick to the filter construction process. Our plan was to spend most of the day at the taller letting him build his own media casing. If by chance the truck never ended up arriving, our day would still be effective in providing Dick with another aspect of the project. Luckily, Mario came through and after only an hour at the taller, a truck was backing up to our stockpile. Normally, I would have to wonder exactly why a person would send a dump truck to transport bio-sand filters in the first place, but an even better question developed when no one else seemed to care. Picture the hardest truck imaginable to load something by hand, and you are left with a ten-wheel dump truck. First of all, the tale gate had to be propped up by a stick, setting a mousetrap style guillotine for anyone who accidentally bumps it. Secondly, the truck is about two feet higher than a normal truck, making it impossible to lift the filters up onto it without a ramp. Thirdly, the volume of the truck is designed to carry its weight vertically, leaving very little of the usable payload for any orientation we could possibly stack our filters. On a positive note, Rob and I seemed to be the only ones who cared, with everyone else in shock a truck had even arrived. The next hour of my life, I witnessed some of the most dangerous acts of production in my life. I am by no means an experienced veteran, but I did work with Zaluzny Excavation Corporation this summer and some the stuff these Hondurans managed, would have put Zaluzny on the phone to OSHA. With two rotten boards nailed together for a ramp and another used as a post to hold up the tailgate, the workers managed to muscle eighteen filters on board. A little bark mulch here and a little sand bag there, bam we were ready to go. I was speechless. All of the times I have complained about how hard it is to get things done in Honduras and this couldn’t have been easier anywhere else in the world. Given the same situation in the US, it would have never happened. Ingenuity, strength, determination, and the will to risk your life got those damn filters on the truck. Still worried about how exactly we were going to unload the truck when we arrived at El Recreo, we rushed to finish off Dick’s filters. It was quite a site to see the truck weaving through thick jungle and around sharp mountainside cuts. People lined the road as our caravan bumped its way to El Recreo. Drawing a huge crowd upon our arrival, I again felt stupid for questioning the logistics of the situation. No matter how many people it takes, the task was very simple to comprehend. Honduras doesn’t need people to build, deliver, load, and unload filters; they need business skills, management aptitude, and higher education standards. Not quite sure what to make of our success, we made our way back down the hill excited to start our first installations.
Wednesday January 31 – There’s nothing like a dozen Dunkin Donuts to start your day off. Catching our selves off guard with our extreme progress over the past to days, we used the morning to buy our installation supplies. Four buckets, two pales, two measuring cups, and a dolly readied us for our installation premier. After six months of hard work for Robert & Rasa, I could feel their excitement as we neared the village. So much of a Pure Water volunteer’s job focuses on grueling, frustrating, and intangible tasks, making one day of physical work installing filters, essential for moral. The process of giving someone something that can change their life in such a way that clean water can, makes all those hard days fad away. After every bump in the road, “All I want to do is put filters in houses,” Rob would say with a sigh. Through crooked politics, labor disputes, beat up vehicles, scorpions, and ever more; with this mindset, they had made it happened. When we arrived, it was great to see the community was as eager to start the project as we were. To top it off, our dump truck had already come and gone, giving us more than enough work to do. We split up into two groups. Enelida, Rob, and I set out delivering filters and collecting payment, while Rasa, Dick, and Keyla followed with installations. At times it was hard to even get a hand on the filters, as the community members muscled the three hundred pound casings into place. By the end of the day, we had delivered twenty filters and installed seven, a modest amount for our late start. Cheerful and tired, we bid farewell. We celebrated Dick’s last night with a dinner at his hotel. Dick’s cheerful personality and great sense of humor made it easy to look back on the week’s failures and successes.
Thursday February 1 – I woke up from a dead sleep around eleven o’clock, just in time to bid farewell to Dick. His trip could not have happened at a better time for us. His three-day expedition included many the grant aspects, highlighted by the first filter installation in all of Atlantida. The rest of the day was more or less uneventful, but gave us some time to catch up on a lot of the things we have been pushing aside. Rob and Rasa worked with Enelida and Keyla on balancing their budgets and how to account for the filter construction, education, and installation. I spent the afternoon eating baleadas and trying to copy a set of Robert & Rasa keys. A five minute task in the States, but worthy of an entire afternoon in Honduras, at least for me anyway. For dinner, we shopped at a grocery store recently purchased by Wal-Mart. I have mixed feelings about the corporation, but at least the store has back up generators now to keep the food from spoiling. For dinner, Rasa threw together another wonderful meal. It seems her time spent in the Philippines has done wonders for what she can prepare with the bare minimum.
Friday February 2 – Eager to continue with our work in El Recreo, we spilt forces, sending Robert, Rasa, and Enelida to Colorado Barra, while Keyla and I went back up to continue installing filters. Making an effort to conserve time, Rob dropped the two of us off at the bottom of the hill. Deciding not to wait for the nine o’clock truck shuttle, we started walking up the long dirt road hoping to hitch a ride with passing cars. After a half an hour of walking we finally heard a vehicle coming. He agreed to take us as far as he was going and soon we were hiking again. An hour later, the second vehicle was slowly approaching us. A truck filled with military personnel, wearing full camouflage and toting machine guns, agreed to take us the rest of the way. Glad to finally be back in our community, we got right to work installing filters. This is the most rewarding part of our work. Going into people homes and meeting their family, knowing that you are helping them receive something as essential as clean water. No matter what type of hoops we have to jump through it becomes worth it on days like today. To give an example, every home we go into it becomes harder and harder to leave. Today alone, I tried about six fruits for the first time as well as many other local Honduran dishes. Everyone feels obligated to give something in return for his or her filter. I would feel a little better about reaping all these offerings, if I could send some of these fine foods back to everyone else involved in making these days possible. Keyla and I were invited to lunch at one of our recipient’s homes. I talked one of the teenagers in the house into letting me tag along to one of the local swimming holes. With a new incentive to finish the rest of our day’s quota, we quickly installed the available filters. After borrowing a pair of shorts from my new friends, we headed down to the sandy riverbanks. It was great to spend the afternoon lounging around, jumping off cliffs, and spear fishing with a few very comical brothers. I was sad to see Keyla appear at the riverbank, marking the arrival of Robert & Rasa. I bid farewell to my amigos, ensuring them I would be back on Sunday to continue working. On our way home, I was happy to hear everything had gone well at the meeting in Colorado Barra. According to Robert & Rasa, the village is in dire need of water and seemed very excited about a project. With a meeting scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, we stopped by to remind MAMUCA. Not to my surprise, no one would be able to attend the meeting, opening up most of our day. Rasa whipped up some tilapia for dinner and we had a great discussion on Peace Corps and what it has meant to their life.
Saturday February 3 – I slept as long as I could, determined not to let the extreme heat pry me out of bed. By ten o’clock the Honduran sun had one the battle and I dragged my sweating body over to my suitcase. Our “day off” seemed to be doomed from the start. Despite all efforts to remove ourselves from the meeting scheduled for noon, we gave into the Rotary’s requests. After grabbing a quick bite at Church’s Chicken (Not sure if this is a US chain), we headed over to Gustavo’s office. As simply as possible, the meeting had been called to resolve any questions or conflicts pertaining to MAMUCA. Before my arrival, many of the issues hindering the success of a partnership between Pure Water and MAMUCA seemed to have been fueled by the turn over in management. We have encountered many hurdles with the organization and wanted to try to resolve them in an open discussion. Curiously, our list contains the hardest communities to reach and we have taken on MAMUCA’s job managing the taller. Having the chance to meet the often hard to contact manager, furthered my preconceived impression of him. Not exactly a master of the Spanish language, I have resorted to tone and body language as an indicator of sincerity. As we informed him on things he needed to do and drilled him with hard questions, he managed to go the entire four-hour meeting without writing one thing down. Over and over, he agreed to follow up on things and carry out tasks with the utmost sincerity, but little clues in the way he was acting carried more weight than what he was saying. Completely fed up, we decided to use the rest of our “day off”, to catch up on e-mails and paper work. For dinner, Susan, a fellow Pure Water volunteer from Canada, stopped in on her way back home. Using Robert and Rasa’s house as a resting point, she would continue on her way to the airport the next day.