Los Borditos Martínez is the name of the community where I will be spending all 3 phases of my Raleigh Expedition experience (around 9 weeks in total). We are implementing a water, sanitation, and health (WASH) project here, which I´ll write about in more detail later on. Right now, I want to attempt to give you a taste of what it´s like to live here with a typical family in Los Bordos.
(My favorite view in the community)
I´m sitting on our concrete porch, at the only table my family owns, in one of the ubiquitous plastic chairs that every family has so they can easily rearrange and provide more or less chairs depending on the number and configuration of guests who may happen to drop by at any given moment. Although the sturdy concrete and brick houses often have spacious central rooms, a table or so and these plastic chairs are generally the only furniture (other than the beds) that one is likely to find inside. (*Disclaimer: We started this project with a survey of each of the 42 houses who will be receiving clean water from this project. While I will make some generalizations, they are meant to apply to this community, and occasionally Masaya, both places I have spent significant time exploring at this point.)
I woke up this morning, under my mosquito net, half in my sleeping bag (sometimes it gets chilly at night here – chilly meaning maybe 70 degrees…maybe) in my bed (recently upgraded to one with an actual frame and thin mattress) in the room I share with Atata, my co-Project Manager and “brother“ here in Maria Elsa´s house, to the sounds of roosters crowing, cows mooing, and pigs… they don´t really oink – more of a snort I would call it. First things first, I generally grab the toilet paper roll (or “loo roll“ as the Brits call it – I´m the only American on my expedition), and head to the latrine around the back side of the house. The latrine is essentially a long drop, with a seat over it, a bin for TP next to it, and 3 walls plus a door surrounding. It is smelly, and there are usually flies, but it´s not close to the worst toilet I´ve ever had to use. Mostly I´m grateful that it has a roof overhead, since it´s been raining quite a lot here recently. Next we have to call the office for a message check every morning at 6:55am (and every evening at 5:30pm). Atata or I will grab the cell phone and walk over to our neighbour Victoria´s house (Maria Elsa´s daughter), where we can get usually one bar of signal to make our call if you stand just behind the well in the corner of the property on the edge of the rock wall next to the stony path that is the main thoroughfare through the community. These twice-a-day message checks are really the only opportunities we have each day to get any news from the outside world… and they usually last anywhere from 1-3 minutes long.
After the morning call, Maria Elsa usually has breakfast ready for myself, Atata, and Itzel (Maria Elsa´s 10-year-old granddaughter who also lives with us while her parents are away working in Costa Rica). Breakfast usually consists of some form of rice and beans (often in a form mixed together called gallo pinto “guy-yo pin-toe“) with either friend plantains (YUM) or repocheta (fried tortilla with cheese in the middle) and sweet coffee. Most meals actually consist of combinations of these ingredients, and are always served with sweet coffee, but I´ll get into the specifics of food in a later post. Chickens are usually running around our feet about now, the cat often comes to beg for some food, and there are always a couple of dogs (never sure if they´re stray or domestic) hanging about in the yard.
After breakfast, I´ll brush my teeth outside using purified water from my bottle (no sinks and no running water here), change into work clothes and boots for the day, and wait for the volunteers to gather at our house, before heading up to the construction site. Things rarely happen exactly on time here, so any breaks in the day are consumed by either playing cards or buying snacks (since we happen to live at the only pulperia – like a little convenience store, one shelf of goods – in Los Bordos). Occasionally I´ll also use any free moments to wash and hang a few pieces of clothing by hand, using the open, large concrete tank (also at Victoria´s house) that holds the family´s water.
Our work site is a 15-20 minute hike to the top of the community. I say hike, because the path that leads up through the community (that main “thoroughfare“ I mentioned before) is really a rocky, fairly steep, somewhat muddy path covered in tree roots and large stones. It crosses back and forth across the river that also runs the length of the community. If there is a lot of rain, like there was our first week here, the river will overflow to the point that you have to walk in about knee deep to cross it. This path is also the only route of transportation the community has to the nearest town, called Salale, which is only walkable either by horse or 20-30 min on foot. Salale is the closest health center, bus stop, church, and place to buy or fix anything that can´t be bought or fixed in the community.
Now that we´ve finished the “captacion“ (or water capture – I still don´t know the English translation, but essentially the place where the water is captured and filtered from natural underground streams), we´ve moved on to digging trenches from the captacion to the tank that will hold all of the community´s water before sending it down to each of the individual homes via more trenches and tubes. The physical work is hard. In the last week, we have spent each day from 7/8ish am to sometime between 12-3ish pm carrying wood and tubes uphill, collecting stones from cornfields and rivers, washing rocks (yes, washing.rocks.), passing buckets of concrete and sand, and using pickaxes to dig ½ meter deep trenches in rocky countryside. Thankfully, my back has been fine, and the physical work actually makes me feel great mentally too. There´s something about shoveling dirt with a gorgeous view of the mountainside under the sun that just makes you forget about everything else in the world for a little while. The view up there rivals the view on my desktop from Rio. On days that we work through lunch, families will come up around noon to bring us hot food. Locals and volunteers working hard and taking breaks and joking all together throughout these days make them some of my favourite.
(I told you the view was gorgeous)
After we´re done with physical work, everyone heads down to shower and take a break for 2 hours or so. Our shower is a wooden platform surrounded by 4 posts and some black plastic with two buckets inside. You use a bowl to fill up one or both buckets with water from the tank nearby, and then strip down inside and pour water over your head as many times as you need to to soap up and rinse off. The water is chilly, but usually feels refreshing after the first two icy bowls or so. Washing thick long hair was a bit tricky at first, but I´ve gotten the hang of it now and sometimes make a game out of seeing how little water I can use for a full shower. These couple of free, quiet hours in the afternoon are blissful. Occasionally I´ll snooze or read in my hammock, but mostly I´ll sit and listen or chat with whomever happens to be around.
The volunteers will wander back up in the early evening to plan other activities we need to get done during the week, like blog posts for Raleigh´s website, active citizenship sessions where they discuss things like the Global Goals, or Actions Days we have to raise awareness within the community about our project and topics related, and to do a daily review of our progress and how we´ve been working together. This usually devolves into card games and chatter after a few hours, and everyone heads home for dinner with their families between 6-7ish after dark (which falls now around 5:30). Sometimes we´ll meet up after dinner to watch a movie at one of the houses with a tv, or to have a small bonfire and play games, but mostly we´ll sit and chat or play cards with Maria Elsa, Itzel, and Jimmy (Victoria´s son nextdoor), before brushing teeth and heading off to bed well before 9:30pm. I think I´ve gotten the most consistent sleep I´ve ever had here in my life. There´s still really no chance I´ll ever actually catch up to all I´ve lost, but it feels good to have this kind of routine and not constantly be exhausted.
Today as I´m writing this (although I´ll be posting it later, when I have internet) isn´t a typical work day, as Sundays are designated to church and rest. I haven´t been to a service here yet, but I might go out of curiosity at some point. Today we´re also celebrating one of the venturer´s birthdays, so Atata and I are going to town now to pick up a cake that we ordered. We only have 5 more days until the end of Phase 1, when we´ll head back to Masaya and return to Los Bordos with a whole different group of volunteers. I´m glad that I´ll be staying here the whole time to finish out the project and get to see the final product, even though I´m a little sad I won´t be doing one of the 19-day treks. I´m excited to get back to field base and hear how everyone´s first phase went. It´s going to be absolute craziness at changeover, but hopefully I´ll have the chance at least to catch up with the other PMs who I became really close to during training. Maybe I´ll even be able to squeeze in a couple of Facetime/whatsapp calls home!