If we could move the rock, 50 families might have running water by sundown. Water was powerfully jetting out from the disjointed plastic elbow, in a dozen different streams fanning out horizontally, spewing uncontrollably from one side of the gulley to the other. Santos and I had already been up and down this mountain a dozen times together, and this was our second time today. I entrenched the tips of my rubber boots into the mud slopes, and we continued pushing. Sometimes when I mess up, there’s an anticlimactic wait at the mouth of an open pipe, and a small crowd of people goes home tired and unsatisfied. I usually spend those nights on the phone with Tal, well beyond frustration, trying to understand what went wrong. Other times like today, you find twenty foot tall geysers and tiny rainbows hovering over your work. It’s certainly a more entertaining problem to encounter, and I couldn’t help but laugh as my feet danced in place in the mud like Scooby Doo, and I finally slipped into the stream of water spewing across the creek!
My mind drifted back to the early years of grade school, to a certain clay filled creek bank in Burke Virginia. I had spent many afternoons toiling in the water and mud, carefully molding my mud ball ammunition into perfect spheres, and stockpiling them for the inevitable day when the big kids down the street would raze my fort to the ground, which if I remember correctly, was a large pile of carefully placed sticks that I could hide behind. I would come home wet and muddy, and because these were the heavenly days before dirty laundry existed, I could never understand why I would get in trouble. I explained to Santos how when I was a kid, I would incur my mother’s wrath for coming home covered in mud. Almost 20 years later, I was still playing in the mud. I guess I still don’t do my own laundry. Some things will never change.
I need to take a moment to tell you about Santos. Santos is… special. Now you’ll be wondering what that not so subtly placed ellipsis means. When I first met Santos, he was wearing sunglasses in the rain (only certain people can do that), had spurs on his rubber boots, had half a dozen braids hanging down from underneath his bandana, but the thing that I remember most was his fearless exploration of the limits of tigueraje. He was using a leather cuff on one wrist fitted with a metal plate inscribed with his name, and on the other wrist was a fork bracelet looped around with two prongs completing the loop, and the outer two prongs hooked backwards as if it were some kind of weapon. I guess you could simply say that Santos is a kind of role model of mine.
Santos is one of the plumbers I work with in Corozo- check out the fork bracelet and the leather cuff- QUE TIGUERE
Santos has been an enormous help the past two months. He’s a very intelligent guy who has had a small amount of training as a plumber, and any time I need something done, all I need to do is make sure he has the tools he needs and a handful of workers, and the water system essentially builds itself while I am scoring a 66 at what is most assuredly the only bowling alley on the island. I have been fairly scarce in Corozo, only visiting once a week to check on construction, but I feel like it was this very scarcity that has created a sort of power void in which leaders like Santos can rise from nothing and flourish. If I was there every day, and a pipe broke, Santos may have waited for me to talk to the water committee to organize a trip to the mountain to fix the pipes, but I am confident that Santos would do the work himself now- because he has! He feels empowered, and he is doing a great job.
Eventually, Santos and I put the rock in place on top of the joint, and cancelled out the enormous amount of water pressure that had dislodged the pipes from the elbow. The rock was a temporary fix because we were missing the piece we needed to truly repair the break. All I really wanted to see was whether or not water could flow to the tank site in Corozo, which would give me enough confidence to begin planning the logistics of the construction of the storage tank. In addition to the peace of mind I would feel seeing water at the tank site, it would give around 50 houses significantly easier access to potable water, a victory that would be important enough to me that I could temporarily forget my troubles with FOMISAR and INAPA.
I had spent far too many days working in Corozo without seeing water at the tank site. Deep down I had been biting my fingernails, hoping that my Canadian friends had done the land surveying correctly- because it was a very delicate balance of elevation, with only 8 extra meters of elevation difference between the intake and the tank. It was too late to think about that now, if the surveying data was incorrect, then I would have a lot of extra work to fix the intake line. The more probable problem was that there was trapped air in the pipeline’s higher points where I had neglected to put air valves, a problem that I had not yet encountered in Tres Bocas. The air valves that I have in Tres Bocas seem like they’re hardly necessary most of the time, but from my work in Corozo, I learned that opening a critical air valve with a lot of pressure can be one of the most exciting things that happens all day.
The first time Santos and I had gone up the mountain, we thought we had released all of the trapped air in the system. On our return trip, I hadn’t even thought to open the air valves a second time because I was almost certain that all of the air had been released. When Santos opened the valve, it was done casually, just to ease our curiosity. It turned out that the gradually increasing water pressure had forced several other pockets of trapped air to this particularly exciting air valve. An enormous amount of highly pressurized fluid was launched through the half inch wide orifice, like amoebas on a mission, and Santos and I mechanically crouched to the ground as if it were a nearby strike of lightening. I couldn’t hear anything that Santos was saying, but after the initial shock, it we were both laughing. After all of the air exited the valve, an enormous geyser launched into the sky up into the tree branches above us, and yes, there was another rainbow, maybe even a double rainbow. Lesson learned, air in a pipeline can completely disable a pipeline- I will never forget it.
We haven’t brought water to the houses yet, but several hundred people in Corozo are already enjoying the leisure of a 15 minute walk to fill up their buckets, as opposed to an hour long trek on horseback. Some people fill up their containers and carry them back to their houses by hand, others arrive on horseback, some use motorcycles, and today I saw a pickup truck arrive with enough storage containers for at least 200 gallons of water- a weeks worth of water for the family. The family blasted their merengue from their truck, and I watched as mother and daughter carried bucket after bucket back to their truck for over half an hour, while the father took a few swings at the storage tank site with a pick axe- a bizarre sort of family outing.
This woman was filling up buckets in Corozo for a half hour, stowing a week’s worth of water in the pickup.
My life has never collided so profoundly with other people so much as it has now. I’m glowing at this very moment, reflecting and writing about this success story that began with no money, no options, a doubtful design, and yet it somehow merited a village’s collectively absurd confidence. The massive leaps that this project has taken in the past few months make it a truly miraculous achievement for the people of Corozo. My next blog post will delight you with a photo of many smiling, sweaty people standing in front of 16,000 gallons of cool mountain water. Then the real fight will begin, to channel it through 12 kilometers of pipes to their houses.
The past several weeks have flown buy with several friends’ visits. First I had an unexpected guest, Paul, a fellow PCV who stopped by for a day or two to see what I’d been up to. In the same week, Tal came by my house with a fresh off the boat Peace Corps Response volunteer named Kerrie, who after spending two years serving in Peru’s Health Sector, decided to spend an extra few months building a water system in the DR, in a water system that Tal had been developing on the side. When I found out that Kerrie served in Peru, I told her that when reading our invitation letters that say we will be serving in Latin America (and the Caribbean, in very tiny font), every single volunteer firmly believes that they will be living in the Peace Corps paradise of Peru, going for morning jogs on the mystical slopes of Machu Picchu, eating a lot of Ceviche, and exploring lost jungles on the weekends. I was happy to know that in the short amount of time that Kerrie had been in the country, she told me that the DR’s mountainous vistas were breath taking, even for someone who had spent two years in Peru. And the same sort of things that volunteers complain about in the DR drive volunteers nuts in Peru.
The day before Kerrie and Tal left, Kati and one of her best friends, Phuong, visiting from the United States decided to turn a small visit into a veritable campo party- so naturally Phuong played Octavio in chess about three times, which somehow evolved into a dramatic soap opera, or a duel over personal honor. Phuong got a crash course in useful phrases for chess in Spanish, such as “check and checkmate”, as well as various obscenities. The language barrier was shattered. Afterwards we had Octavio teach our visiting compatriots bachata and merengue. It was hands down one of the best parties I have hosted in my humble campo house. The secret ingredient was unsurprisingly good friends, and keeping my spider and cockroach infestation well hidden when the luz se fued.
I have been searching for an antidote for the epically long wait for money from FOMISAR, so I soon found my way back to America for a vacation. All I had to do was ride an escalator up from the infamous chaos of Santo Domingo’s gringo trap laden streets, to a bowling alley with arcade games, cheese fries, a trampoline, and spoiled squirts popping hundreds of balloons like it was their job- which in fact it was, because the birthday party was ending. After finishing up our seasonal volunteer workshop, Corps Forum, I joined the rest of the PCV’s for the after-party, which was surely the first Beer Pong tournament that Santo Domingo’s night life has ever seen, curtsey of some nostalgic frat boys. After spending many nights in the campo just waiting in a hammock for my watch to tick to an hour that is reasonably late to fall asleep, I guess you could say my recent adventures with friends and bowling alleys has been rather uncharacteristic of my service, but a welcomed escape.
After the adventures ended, I decided to take care of some unfinished business. My front yard had turned into an impassible jungle, a product of the rainy season, my callous free machete hand, and maybe a hint of stubbornness. It took me three days, and maybe two and a half hours, but I have tamed the beast- and I am proud as can be. When my peers stopped by to see the gringo trying to machete his yard, they told me that I should pay someone to do it. My response was sincere, that every single male in this campo, age 16 and above, knows how to machete their front yard. It may take me three days to do it, but it’s done. By the third day, I had developed enough stamina to keep going for more than 5 minutes. I am ashamed that I have neglected my yard for so long. I don’t want to be thought of as the lazy or incompetent foreigner who turned a nice house into a dump. This is my first time taking care of a full sized house, I guess there is a little bit of a learning curve to it.