Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Construction & Juntas

Construction is rampant!

1. Composting Latrine project is continuing (2 more to build)
2. A pit latrine suddenly appears
3. My house gets a make-over.

1. Last April my community received materials to begin construction of composting latrines at 4 different sites in town. The work has been continuing slowly ¨poco a poco,¨ so slowly that the weather has mocked our progress and decided to take away 2 meters of sand. So many rainstorms have been in and out of the community that a significant amount of sand has been reunited with the river.

This week we were lucky to have a few days of semi-sunshine and the road into town dried enough to allow a truck to drive in. Now we have our sand back and are ready to get going, again, with construction. This week is also important since an aspiring PCV will visit me and, guess what, that means said PCVT gets to learn some construction skills - haha!

2. This is a very good time for me to boast about my Community Counterpart. Román Chávez is a very active community member and has been watching step-by-step how Peace Corps Volunteer Beli Cudobu has been instigating projects. Well, maybe I can´t take so much credit, but he suddenly decided that the church had gone long enough without latrine services that, de repente, a pit appeared plus materials to cover it as a bone fide servicio.

He planned the ¨juntas,¨ got the donations, helped dig the pit, and said to me: hey volunteer, want to help build a latrine?

So I joined in, gave a little advice about rebar (hopefully not misplaced) and cement mixing, and helped build the slab for the church´s pit latrine. There was quite a bit of stress when we realized there suddenly wasn´t enough sand or rock to continue - who´s counting shovel-fuls of material?! and almost had to leave the slab like this until more material arrived:
What an engineering snafu:
Would there have been any hope of using this slab if this had sat for a week, waiting for more mix for the gaps?

I don´t know the answer, but I guess I made enough crinkled-nose expressions at the junta because suddenly sand appeared over the hillside and we were in business again. Okay, maybe I shouldn´t take much credit here either: there was a guy helping us that knew the school had excess materials and ample to share with the church, so...
so I should plan my retirement, these people don´t need a PCV to get them to act!

As for the plan for the plancha, the slab was also a bit kapakahi. For anyone interested, this is how the sketch-plan looks:
We had a significant donation of rebar for the project but unfortunately, the pit was dug so wide that most of the bars couldn´t cross the gap, for this reason, we decided to criss- cross and use a ton of wire to connect this web together.

So there it is! The slab was poured and we all celebrated with a mass of photo-ops:

3. My house has been drying up and getting bug-eaten ever since it was built (last December), so my neighbor, the super-human Román, organized a junta for bringing in new penca and bijau (sp?) leaves. Reconstruction began with the shower stall.

Apparently it was clear that the PCV is quite taller than anyone else in the area, so the shower should be adjusted to size - almost out of reach of the neighbors.
After this work, more reinforcements arrived plus materials. Roughly 8 women appeared dragging fresh penca. Each person found a space in the patio and began working on a stack of these palm fronds.

The fronds need to be separated into left and right-hand sides, this allows the builders to alternate the layers in a way that forms overlapping drapes. This kind of work is old hat for these ladies and they were zooming along so fast that I had a hard time focusing the camera. The penca they use comes from palms that grow all over the countryside. The majority of Ngäbe people in the Comarca live in houses of this material and so it is unsurprising that every year the competition for penca grows more fierce. These women had to walk roughly a mile away on muddy foot trails to find these fronds. Suddenly I was glad that I donated such a large quantity of red beans to the junta meal, they needed the energy!
Once the penca was ready, we were just about listo to start on my roof when, de repente hay lluvia: rain began to fall. It only lasted a few minutes but it was enough to cause Román some worry, so we adjusted the work plan. Today we will only fix the roof´s peak, the other gaps in the roof will need more time and more bijau (sp?) leaves.

Then suddenly Francisco was climbing up the pole ladder to begin mending the roof. The rain had stopped and Sixto had just arrived with a new bunch of leaves, so ya, the work restarted.

We decided to be a bit more modern with my roof and placed black trash bags down beneath the bijau (sp?) leaves. After a line of leaves was in place, Román began to hand up the split penca so it could anchor the round leaves while they dry in place. I later learned that the palms didn´t necessarily need to be split to work well but ya sirve.

What work remains? Tons! I´ll report on the status of my roof within the next 3 weeks; there should be great improvements (meaning less water falling on me) by then and also I should have news about the renewed construction of the compost latrines - news and photos.

Stay tuned!

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