Living with a hungry amoeba in my gut has been easier than organizing construction this week. Before delving into the details of my muddy adventures in the mountains without food, followed by a two hour horseback ride home, I’ll regale you with a tale about the birth and death of Andy the Amoeba, who terrorized my digestive system for 12 days before meeting his end. A faulty filter and mountain water brought him to me, but it was my own wishful thinking that delayed his demise. After a few days, I reasoned that I was already on the path to recovery because I was no longer throwing up and spending the entire night running between the toilet and my mosquito net. Progress to me was that I could eat half a pizza on my green card trip in the capital, even if I struggled to eat my fourth slice. The depressing truth was that I was losing weight and hadn’t felt hungry in almost two weeks. Two days after buying powerful over the counter pills that my doctor recommended, Andy was dead, and I was suddenly craving rice and beans.
Andy made everything ten times more difficult, in one of the most difficult weeks I have had on this Caribbean retreat. Despite the parasite, the first two weeks of construction were fantastic. All of the pipelines, clean outs, and respirators in the mountain section of construction were installed on schedule with no major difficulties. At times, however, the third and fourth weeks have been soul-crushing. My efforts to prepare the intake structure and build two pipe bridges have been repeatedly thwarted by communities feuds in which I have strategically placed myself on neutral ground.
The root of the problem is that prominent members of the water committee in Dos Palmas feel that Tres Bocas is not pulling their weight and Tres Bocas feels that they are pulling too much weight. While on the theme of he-feels, she-feels, I might as well take the opportunity to say that I feel that only two visits to the beach over the course of the past year is not nearly enough. This is especially depressing considering the fact that the paradise beaches that many of cold footed Americans dream of can be found 100 miles in any direction from me. The only thing separating me from those sandy stretches is the real Dominican Republic.
Dos Palmas claims that they had been spending their community funds for over the past year to secure the Peace Corps volunteer (I feel like a carnival prize), to secure the food donations (actually, that was me), the pipe donations, masonry blocks, the money from FOMISAR, and the backhoe which is still theoretically going to help us. They say that Tres Bocas joined this project at the last minute without investing much of their own resources, and to make up for it, they must now provide cooks and seasoning for the raw rice and beans that were donated when it’s Dos Palmas turn to work in the mountains. On top of that, they need to be responsible for finding my transport to Tres Bocas during Tres Boca’s work week. Finally, Dos Palmas is very far away from the current, mountain construction site, so it is only fair that Tres Bocas donates the majority of the mules and horses needed to lug the gravel, sand, and blocks up the mountain. When all of these conditions are met, the hostages will be freed, and we will be free to live in peace once again. Perhaps listing the conditions in bullet form might have been more concise. Oh, how subtly I sneak in my bias.
Needless to say, Tres Bocas is not very happy about all of the demands being placed on them. When it was Tres Boca’s week to work, and the only thing that we needed to do was lug the materials up the mountain, basically nothing was done. The people would not donate their mules and horses to travel up a muddy slip and slide with 200 pounds on their back. They said that this job is different from digging ditches, and the risk to their animals needed to be shared equally with Dos Palmas, despite the fact that it was Dos Palmas week to rest. The two communities agreed to move all the materials up the mountain on Saturday, but there were 11 mules from Tres Bocas and five from Dos Palmas. I heard that some angry Tres Boquerers went home early to balance things out.
Up to this point, I have been the point of contact for both of the communities, purely because I see them both every day. It is only natural that the water committee in Tres Bocas will explain their concerns to me, tell me that we need to find cooks for the next week, and X number of mules, and that Dos Palmas needs to transport me to work. Naturally, after spending 10 hours on my feet skiing in mountain mud, the first thing I want to do when I get home is start up a provocative conversation about mules and food with my neighbors. I realized I had made a huge mistake. Despite all of the progress that we’ve made, we had still not had a joint water committee meeting between the two communities. I had been conveying the main information back and forth between communities, and it had worked well – up to this point. It was time for a big, really uncomfortable meeting.
The most intimidating meetings are usually the most important meetings, and this meeting was the most feared one that I have had in a long time. Despite my concerns, they met, they argued, they sorted out their differences, and I thought we had all reached an agreement with respect to food and mules. I explained that I can not take sides, that I would barely say a word during the meeting, and that they needed to sort out their differences. We were in this together, so if we needed to stop construction for two weeks to reach an agreement, it would be necessary. I told them that under no circumstances should I ever have to seek out my own transport to Tres Bocas, look for mules, or discuss the seasoning for rice- while I am planning the construction of a $43,000 aqueduct. The presidents of the respective water committees needed to hash out those details on their own. As I said in my previous post, delegation is the only way I can survive. So when I tell the Tres Bocas coordinator that I need to move seven cubic meters of gravel up those slippery red slopes, he needs to figure out how to divide that work between his community and Dos Palmas, and I can go to to my house and continue planning construction for the next couple weeks (planning for construction usually consists of Kati and I taking turns venting on Skype).
The meeting ended with everyone agreeing that the problems we had had were just one big, painful misunderstanding, and that we should’ve been meeting on a regular basis months ago. It looked like Tres Bocas would help us more with food and that Dos Palmas would help more with mules. I left the meeting with high spirits and blind optimism (a perspective that one should always hold just to spite reality).
In reality, the trail up the mountain was paved in mud and fallen mules, and not in gold. We’ve slowly been getting all of the materials up the mountain, but Tres Bocas is still not happy about Dos Palmas commitment with the mules. When Dos Palmas showed up to work on Monday, there was no one to cook for us. On top of that, we had hours of rain. Not just a little rain – I felt like I had just taken a three hour shower. After a half day of work, I sent my 15 man brigade from Dos Palmas down the mountain without food. Barrick Gold mine had graded the ruts out of the road to make it more ankle-friendly, but they didn’t throw any gravel on it. This means that when it rains, a truck full of 15 men will most likely end up with its nose stuck in a ditch off the side of the road. There was no way around it, our guagua couldn’t retrieve us. We were on foot without food. From the construction site, we walked about an hour and a half to arrive to our houses in Dos Palmas. Being the engineer has its perks- such as getting a bola on the back of a horse, even if I was mounted on the horse’s sweaty, saddleless, bony ass.
I finally reached my front door, and couldn’t find my key. There, in the rain covered in mud, I grasped the metal bars of my door and fell to my knees with a quivering lip. I didn’t care about anything except the Oreos on the other side of that locked door. I have developed a frightening addiction to Oreos in the past two weeks. They taste like America, and they are the only thing that can drag me out of my pre-dawn slumber each morning, sending me to my kitchen like a zombie with a saliva filled mouth. I was at rock bottom. The only thing that separated me from this last little joy was my spare key. The spare key was in my host family’s house, which was also locked up. Tona didn’t realize we would be coming home early from work, so she closed the doors and went down the road to eat with a family member. I went into the village club with soggy underwear and no Oreos and knew what it meant to be totally defeated. Half an hour later, I found my missing key in my back pocket. I think I was more angry than happy. I finished the box of Oreos and went to bed without a shower.
In the Peace Corps parasites are probable, Oreo’s are few, and underwear is soggy (for one reason or another)- but perhaps the most overlooked difficulty in the numerous, exhausting trials you endure is the fact that you can scream and cry in your native tongue, and no one will understand you. The inexplicable twist in this story is that there is nothing else I would rather be doing with my life right now, and I am perhaps more optimistic than I was when I arrived here a year ago.