The Corp’s predecessors of more than half a century ago must truly think of us as wimps. Not for having a concrete floor instead of brown, tamped earth. Not for bucket flushing toilets instead of the dig-a-hole-and-squat methodology of old. Not for complaining when the luz se fues, when their neighbors had never even seen luz in their lives. We are wimps because none of us have really let go of our old lives. We walk the tight rope, steadying ourselves with an acrobat’s balancing stick, putting half of our weight in the lush palm covered hills around us, and the other half in a fantasy world with snow and Big Mac’s and nostalgic places. Our predecessors had no choice but to dive right in to the darkness. Communication with their old lives was hand written letters that would have taken months to arrive, if at all. Now look at me, shaking with rage because some punk tiguere stole my $10 cell phone in a carro publico, and I felt for the first time how isolated I truly am, when I couldn’t call anybody to complain. Not a single day has gone by in this country when I do not spend at least 20 minutes on the phone with Kati or Tal, or on Skype with family and friends back home. The time I spend chatting with them is as much a part of my daily schedule as brushing my teeth, and just as important for my health.
After a boring morning of running errands in Cotui, I was homeward bound. I was exhausted from traveling, so my heart sank when we stopped to pick up an additional three passengers. I was riding shotgun, and would lose the little bit of comfort I had. I must have left my cell phone on my seat as I stowed my backpack in the trunk, and that’s when the tiguere who sat next to me must have slipped his pitiful plastic prize into his pocket. In a five seat car, we fit four adults in the front, four adults in the back with a toddler and a few bags on their laps, and one unfazed dude seated on our luggage in the trunk with the hatch wide open. Ten people, a new record for me. While still within the city limits, we passed three horses running loose where the double painted line dividing traffic should have been, one of whom had the bottom half of its leg barely dangling on. Nobody commented on the ridiculousness of this situation, and I realized only afterwards that there are no limits to the absurdity of this circus. All I can do is just keep juggling and try to remember why I once thought situations like these amusing, and not tragic.
I didn’t realize that my cell phone was missing until I was back home. My motortaxi friend, Tito, called my number several times, and actually got into several conversations with the thief. Tito tried to appeal to the void where this punk’s sense of guilt should have been, explaining that I was working for the communities to bring them water, and all of my work contacts would be lost if I didn’t get my cell phone’s SIM card back. My neighbor who sells me internet wasn’t home until 10PM that night, so I had a full 10 hours to ponder how truly isolated I was, before I finally got into a late night Skype conversation with Kati. The tiguere had been texting Kati, and had a 5 minute conversation with Tal, who pleaded with him to give me my phone back.
The phone meant nothing to me, but I had been robbed of my only escape from the world around me, my ability to call my friends so I could vent my self-righteous rage. This punk found a way to entertain himself at my expense, by texting my girlfriend and talking with my friends, when I couldn’t, and when I needed them most. I have never felt so violated. I can feel a monster in me fighting to get out, the bizarre creation of toxic amounts of stress slowly being injected into me for over a year and a half now. So many volunteers say they are more patient people than they were before they left. In many ways I am too, but when I see people deliberately making our lives more difficult, and I know too many volunteers who’ve cried themselves to sleep in frustration that their projects might not be making a difference, I feel this monster of mine crawling in my rib cage, wanting to burst out. I’m scared of it, and I want it to go away, but I don’t know how.
My first week of work started the next day, so I wouldn’t be able to go to Cotui to buy a new phone. I would have to go a whole week without talking to people when I wanted to, a terrifying prospect. Tito told me the tiguere would sell me my SIM card, but not my happy meal quality phone, for a grand total of 100 pesos, the cost of a jumbo sized beer. I told Tito to go for it, but told him to bring the town sheriff with him, packing heat, to put this kid behind bars. Instead, the tiguere didn’t allow himself to fall into the trap by coordinating the hour of the tradeoff, instead he sent his own friend to Tito at a random time when the sheriff wasn’t around to ambush him. I paid the 100 pesos, and used Octavio’s old phone to call my friends and work contacts the entire week.
Work was long and hard, but satisfying and productive. I awoke from my sleep each morning feeling as motivated as could be. I slipped on my rubber boots and pumped out a few pull-ups while Eye of the Tiger played on my Macbook. I even washed my dishes after eating dinner one night! I was ready to work. The main goal for the week was to cross Arroyo Vuelta (Turn Creek), which is more of a tiny river that divides Tres Bocas into what many might consider to be two separate communities. I had known from the beginning that crossing this river would not be easy. The bridge they have there is relatively new, and already has broken culverts, cracked supporting walls, and 1/3 of the road completely washed out from flood waters. I had toyed with the idea of burying the pipes on the side of the road that wasn’t washed out, but realized that would just be sloppy engineering. I could have run several galvanized pipes along the side of the bridge, but that would have been extremely expensive and would not last very long when a large storm floods the bridge. Iron pipes can bend like horseshoes with a strong enough current. The only other option was a cable suspension crossing, which would have to be enormously long due to the unfavorable topographical conditions I was left to work with. The bridge soars across the river 180 feet from column to column, carrying two pipelines instead of one, and will be the most visible and impressive part of this project when all of the other pipes are underground and the water tanks lay hidden on distant hilltops.
My tight rope…
Kids in Tres Bocas going to bathe!
As I was trying to convince a brigade full of workers to carry river rocks to the top of a hill above Arroyo Vuelta, El Corozo was impressing me once more with their unwavering dedication to their project. Two months ago, I told them in a water committee meeting that an organization called Enda Carribe could provide them with seedling trees to reforest the mountain above their water source, and a man named Salvador, the treasurer of the water committee, organized everything. Reforesting the mountaintop will not only enhance the quality of their water, but will augment the quantity as well. Salvador understood the importance, and made the reforestation project a community affair, bringing teachers out from their school with over 30 of their students each day. In three days, they succeeded in planting over 2,000 trees on the mountain top. I wanted more than ever to see this miraculous community led endeavor with my own two eyes, but I couldn’t leave my work in Tres Bocas. A PCV living in Corozo Abajo decided to attend so that we could document this beautiful story with photos. In the meantime, I tractor trailer is en route to Corozo with $15,000 worth of pipes to begin the project this week. I am not worried about overextending myself because the community plumbers, under my distant supervision, will direct this work on the many days when I can’t attend. In Corozo, I am all that I should have ever been in these projects, a facilitator and technical counselor, not a cheerleader having to lead them along one baby step at a time.
Waiting tables, studying for tests, biking to work in the snow- it all seems so very long ago. When did so much time pass? I’m done in six months! I’ll be back home for Christmas break in less than one month, and I’m thrilled to see everyone, but at the same time, I feel like I’m leaving home to go on a trip, rather than returning home after a long absence. I know I complain a lot about the ongoings of my life here, about how I’m always looking for an escape, but there’s always just enough magic left in this tropical atmosphere to make it totally worth it. If you added a few faces to my life here, and a vehicle for private transport, it would be as good a home as any. I hope I never forget the joy of riding on the back of a motor through mountain roads, merengue pulsing through the streets, and yes, even the crowing of roosters early in the morning, in this place where I first learned how to live with courage.