Jesus Was Afraid of Spiders Too
| January 6, 2014 | 12:51 pm | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Life according to Peter Lewis:

The first day we met our host family. A 4 year old named Arthur
instantly started grabbing Kevin, Peter and Kyle’s faces screaming
“moon wan wah!” (it means beard in lugisu). Now all but Kyle have
shaved to avoid the aggressive hair yanking. The host family is
awesome and the meals have been delicious.
After settling down the first day, Timothy, a native Shilongan, gave
us a tour of all the water sources of Shilongo. Each source was marked
with a GPS unit to provide mapping information.
John arrived in Shilongo on Friday, bringing all kinds of joy. In fact
within the first couple of days, a soccer match was played with the
community. Have no fear; the talents of John and Peter were
brilliantly displayed as both scored goals in the smallest goal ever
made. The Shilongons particularly enjoyed John’s cartwheel and Peter’s
somersault celebrations.
The water board met with us and we discussed tank renovations. Due to
misunderstood priorities, the design was altered to make a bigger tank
with a smaller wall. For those that don’t know, the wall was for
keeping the children from playing on the tank. Everyone is happy with
the design and construction should start tomorrow.
The whole travel team attended church on Sunday, with the group
splitting so that two church services were attended. It was pretty
chill. The dancing and singing was excellent.
Last night, another meeting took place with our FDNC contact Samuel
and members of the community. This conversation focused on the future
of EWB’s relationship with Shilongo and ensuring our projects
positively impact the community as we planned. Obviously it is very
important the community actually wants and needs the projects we
implement to ensure sustainability.
The company for providing power to the borehole and the company that
installed the borehole were both visited. The borehole company gave
us all their data for one of the boreholes in Shilongo which we are
excited about.
Obviously this is just a brief summary, but for those who really love
us, here are updates.
Kyle: The count is 23. Due to Kyle’s appearance he has been dubbed the
brother of Jesus by many members of the community. Kyle, perhaps
taking this too much to heart, sat on a pile of thorns not realizing
the thorns were supposed to be made into a crown to put on his head.
Also he is deathly afraid of spiders. He made our host dad Samuel go
into the latrine and burn the spiders because he was visibly
terrified. By the way, Kyle grew up on a farm and had a pet chicken he
carried around in his backpack. He would get and eat ice cream with
this chicken, literally sharing the ice cream. He then ate his pet
chicken for dinner and was traumatized. Kyle is also trying to pioneer
the term “weekend dad” which no one knows what it means. It is not
catching on. Kyle won’t let anyone forget he loves agriculture.
Kevin: Kevin is a man of science. In need of a control for the water
tests, he found goat poop and made a special homebrew concoction.
Apparently it’s a family recipe.   His shoulder is intact and doing
well and he particularly enjoys throwing Arthur around (all of us
do). His memory of Lugisu and due to the fact this is his second trip
to Shilongo have made him a huge hit in the community. The kids
particularly are fascinated by his leg and arm hair.
Abby: As stern as always, Abby continues to find Peter and Kevin the
least funny people on the planet. Even John has joined in the comments
about her seriousness. But don’t worry, sometimes if we try hard, we
can get her to smile. She is also the Queen of Tea and makes it for
Peter every time due to her talents.
John: As soon as John arrived, the potty humor came out. Just like
Benjamin Button, he’s becoming younger each and every day. He has
appointed himself judge of the day’s best jokes. Currently funny man
Peter is leading Kevin in the race for funniest man in Shilongo. As
said before, John scored a goal in soccer proving he still has the
athleticism of his youth. Don’t worry Alexia, he has already turned
down a Ugandan fiancé. Also John is trying hard to make everyone have
a Keisha quote of the day. It’s also not catching on.
Peter: After being called Mzungu (white man) over a hundred times in
three minutes (not exaggerating) Peter pondered his place in this
world where he was this Mzungu. However, after scoring a goal in
soccer (on team Moon wan wah) and being dubbed Mzungu lightning by
himself, Peter is doing just fine. He has become known in the
community for his inability to pronounce the “tz” sound and his
struggles learning Lugisu. Also a Shilongan friend named Fred has
promised him 7 wives.
Classic Jenny: Jenny has quickly proved herself the most popular
member in Shilongo. She is constantly being invited for meals in
people’s homes and is continuously stuck in long conversations with
random people. Jenny is an inquisitor. Perhaps her most poignant
question was directed at one of our friends Justine. She asked “how do
Ugandan people sound when they sneeze?” Classic Jenny.  Let’s just say
this question never got an answer. Due to her inablility to say no,
Jenny has found herself a born-again Christian who eats seven meals a
day. She even took candy from a stranger. But have no fear, everyone
in Shilongo loves her.

And that’s all folks.

Next Year We’re Having Travel Team Workouts
| January 5, 2014 | 10:56 pm | El Salvador | Comments closed

Post by Erynne Van Zee

Day Three presented the challenge of filling the ollos (holes) we dug yesterday with cement. In the U.S., you might go to Home Depot, buy a few bags of concrete mix, and add water…just like Betty Crocker. But in El Salvador, it’s a bit more complex. Gravel and sand gets delivered by large trucks that barely fit on the dirt roads here (see Grace’s post from yesterday), and cement bags weigh upwards of 100 pounds. But mainly, when you’re working in a pueblo where the closest major water source is down a very steep hill, how do you lug at least 75 gallons of water back in a timely manner?

Rubén met us in San Jose Villanueva at 8:30 with El Toro loaded with a large water tank and hose, much to our surprise (and relief). Last night, we had been thinking about how to best get water up to each site, and basically reached the conclusion that we would be doing a lot of lugging. But luckily, Rubén’s tank meant we could fill up at the river with a bucket brigade and then proceed uphill to Porvenir.

Fitness Challenge 1: Filling Ruben’s tank

When we reached the bridge crossing the river into El Porvenir, we all hopped out and unloaded the 10 buckets from Mike’s house, most of which were cemented together. Ariel and I hiked uphill to round up the troops (Miguel and Don Chepe, plus a few buckets), but by the time we started back downhill, the rest of the crew had already filled more than half the tank, plenty for the day’s “workout”. Catherine had already spilled three tons of it on her shirt.

Fitness Challenge 2: Moving 50 palas worth of sand

One would hope a few engineering students would be able to make a sand and gravel brigade no problem, but a bucket of gravel is definitely heavier than I anticipated. We ferried buckets of sand, gravel, and water from the truck 100 meters up to the site of the tank as Don Chepe shoveled and Rubén poured. After a few runs, Catherine and I casually started slipping the buckets away from the gravel piles when only half full – still heavy, but much more manageable. Every day, I am so impressed by the strength of our El Salvadorian colleagues who can haul two bags of cement uphill on their heads and carry full buckets of gravel without even pausing to catch their breath. And so as Catherine, Ariel, and I paused to catch our breath, Ariel suggested: “Next year, travel team workouts!” Maybe we’ll be somewhat up to par next year…

Fitness Challenge 3: Mixing concrete

To mix the concrete, we built a volcano of sand, gravel, and cement in the hole and began pouring buckets of water into the middle. Thorough mixing involves shoveling the dry ingredients from the sides of the volcano into the middle. And the more water that is added, the heavier it gets. Bob, Catherine, Grace and I started as mixers, but were quickly replaced by Don Chepe, Jose, and Carlos, who wait patiently at the edges until we pause to catch our breaths and then motion for us to hand over the shovels. Their skill and strength makes mixing concrete look easy as they rapidly shovel the dry into the wet, mix well, and plop the concrete into the corners of the form, without resting. First slab: an hour and a half (river to finish); the second, an hour.

We still have one slab to go and three roofs to build. Ryan and Grace fit in pretty well with the heavy lifting. But next year, EWB is going to the gym.

- Erynne

Home Depot Wouldn’t Do This
| January 4, 2014 | 11:31 pm | El Salvador | 1 Comment

There are a lot of things Home Depot wouldn’t do, I’m sure, but we definitely covered most bases today in getting our materials. We started off the morning by going to the large ferretería in La Puerta. It only took about an hour and a half to order all the things we needed. Adjusting for El Salvador time, that’d be basically 20 minutes in the US, so we were moving pretty fast.  I also successfully managed to describe an eyebolt in Spanish, by which I mean it took me about six attempts. The ferretería workers promised to deliver the gravel, sand, cement, and wire mesh for the concrete in the afternoon. We took the wood and nails for the forms and drove to El Porvenir.

Bob, Ryan, and I got out of the truck at the middle site, in between Don Chepe’s house and Miguel’s house. Ryan and I carried the wood up the hill to the hole we’d outlined yesterday. Meanwhile, Ariel, Catherine, and Erynne kept going to the other two sites to deliver the materials. As I was just wondering whether Miguel had put the shovels and pickaxes in his house, we saw him hop on the back of the pickup and join them. And thus began the story of Grace and Ryan and Miguel’s dogs.

It was easy enough to see where the tools were from the outside of Miguel’s cactus fence, but the thing about Miguel’s fence is that approximately five loud, large dogs live behind it. Let’s be clear about something – in El Salvador, dogs aren’t pets. Dogs maintain a strict quid pro quo relationship with their owners involving an exchange of food for guarding. And actually, the fence didn’t really contain the dogs as much as it defined the boundary that thou shalt not pass – they could easily just walk outside. Ryan and I approached the fence.

“Sit!” I said to the nearest dog. It looked at me and barked more.

“Siéntate,” said Ryan, from ten feet behind me. I raised an eyebrow at him.


“What? They don’t speak English!” he replied.

Well great. As it turned out, however, the dogs did speak the universal language of rock. I picked one up. I didn’t even have to throw it. All of them backed into the shade and stopped barking. I cautiously stepped inside the fence, trying not to accidentally make eye contact and set them off.  I walked past them and grabbed the two pickaxes and two shovels, and so our construction began. Shortly we were joined by Chepe and other community members to help.

When we’d completed two of the holes and two forms for the concrete, we took a lunch break and waited for the truck to deliver the concrete materials. Around 3:00 the truck still hadn’t come – no surprise, as it was running on El Salvador Standard Time – so we walked over to the third site at Domingo’s house. Domingo wasn’t home and we still hadn’t spoken to him about digging in his front yard since last March. We went down to the springbox because Catherine, Ryan and Erynne had never seen it. The lid was open (go figure) and a bit bent. It looked as if someone had stolen four of the machine screws, but maybe they just fell out.  The water looked very turbid. We’ll be doing some coliform tests soon.

Back at Domingo’s, while we were debating what to do with our remaining hours, the truck from the ferretería finally arrived.  The truck attempted to back in through the gate (Domingo had finally come home). When it wouldn’t fit through, three of the community members simply uprooted one of the sapling fence posts, and thus began the chain of events in which Home Depot simply wouldn’t take part. We measured out a third of the materials in shovelfuls – 50 shovels of gravel and 100 of sand, four bags of cement, and one of the wire mesh screens. When those were off the truck, everyone climbed onto the bed with the remaining rocks and sand.

To get to the next site, we’d have to take the left fork past the conocaste, which led to a questionable road.  By questionable, I mean that it wouldn’t be a road in the US. The “good” roads here consist of two concrete tracks for your tires. They’re very minimal.

“He’s going for it,” said Catherine. Just…going for it. We did all right at first – it was a bit bumpy, but not impassable. Then the trees around the road started condensing and leaning in. The truck stopped, caught in the branches like a giant finger in a giant Chinese fingertrap (or traponovio). Off to the left side of the truck was a casual drop which I knew would eventually tumble you into the river if you fell. Well then. This would be interesting. Have I mentioned that this wasn’t exactly a small truck?

The ferretería guys and some of the villagers hopped off and began hacking at the branches with their machetes. Bob got out to advise; Ariel got out to translate. The truck began to move forward again. And then stopped again. Started. Stopped.

We made an odd procession: Ariel and Bob walked in the lead, followed by about five machete wielders (Chepe randomly appeared at one point, no idea how he snuck in) walking backwards and hacking a path for the truck; next came the cab, with the rest of us and Miguel peeking over it – alternately trying to see and ducking to protect our faces – and lastly, Tomás and another community member sat chatting on the gravel in the back like nothing unusual was happening.

Freeing the Truck

In fits and starts we finally made it to the site near Luisa’s house and began offloading another third of the materials. The same question plagued all of our minds… If this truck could barely make it through, how will the even larger PIPA truck even get to the tanks? The community members did not seem to share our concerns, just as they seemed to think that the PIPA can go up the hill by Chepe’s house. After the woodland tunneling, we’re beginning to believe them. Life, physics, and feasibility have different limits here, or so we’ve discovered.

We didn’t have to do quite as much clearing on the way back to the conocaste, though turning the truck around was an interesting endeavor that even the Porvenir men laughed at.

“Remember,” said Ryan, as we backed into a K-turn down a steep hill, “if it starts to flip over, jump to the SIDE of the truck.”


It didn’t flip over, but Catherine still curled up in a ball for the entire trip back to the conocaste so she wouldn’t see the precarious edge.  Don’t worry, there’s a picture.

If you can believe it, the most challenging material delivery was yet to come. The third site was Chepe’s, with the infamous hill. The truck driver took one look at it and said nope. Again, we wondered about the PIPA…Someone suggested backing the truck up the slope as far as it could go. The driver agreed to try and got about three feet up before the wheels lost traction. One of the community members began shoveling the gravel onto the side of the hill.

Before he’d thrown two shovelfuls, Rubén showed up to meet us in his little red pickup. For reasons yet to be explained, the red pickup will henceforth be referred to as El Toro. Rubén suggested shoveling the gravel and sand into El Toro instead, because El Toro could make it up the hill. The ferretería guys complied enthusiastically and backed their truck next to El Toro. This was about the time that Bob said to Ariel,

“Gee, Home Depot wouldn’t do this!”

Ariel laughed.

“Why are you laughing?” asked one of the community members. Ariel explained in Spanish what Bob had said. None of them understood why it was funny. This was, apparently, quite normal.

Entonces, El Toro made it up the hill with everything in it (I swear one of his tires left the ground by at least two feet), and we shoveled it off with the help of Chepe and Miguel and called it a day.

Miguel’s dogs were stunned to silence.

That’s all for today, except that Ariel would like everyone to know that she suggested the title of this post.

Hasta luego!


Sprouts for Erynne
| January 3, 2014 | 11:30 pm | El Salvador | Comments closed

It’s a little difficult to write a blog post while Bob insists on telling excellent stories of his adventures in various countries, but I’m going to give it a shot. As far as our own adventure is going, we made it to El Salvador! Except for Catherine, because screw passport expiration dates. No, her passport hasn’t actually expired. It expires in April. Apparently that’s not good enough.  Not sure if that’s a Brit thing or an El Salvador thing, but she should be getting here in a couple hours.

Without Jesse to rag on, Mike has quite taken to mocking Erynne with stereotypes re: Oregon. He’d probably say she started it by claiming vegetarianism. Yesterday evening we went to the supermarket to get supplies for breakfast and lunch. Ariel asked Mike what he already had…

“Peanut butter?”

“Tons of peanut butter.”


“Bottles and bottles.”

About six similarly answered questions later…

“So why are we here again?” said Ariel.

“I thought we were here to get sprouts,” said Mike.


“You know, for Erynne.”

We got cookies and fruit.  And disinfectant for the fruit. Also, we got some proper harina de maiz – and we’re not gonna forget it this time, Jesse – so we can make actual pupusas when we get back. Get excited, EWB.

It amazes me that despite this being my second time in El Salvador, I’m still constantly surprised by the things that I see. Today I saw a kid casually chomping on a lime, biting into it like an apple. This was after the morning meeting and about a four-hour decision on where to build the foundations for the three water tanks. We were pleased to find that the tanks had actually been delivered to the community already, and more pleased to discover how actively the members participated in the meeting. Even the women spoke up, which was actually my biggest surprise of the day. Salvadoreños are usually shy, and Salvadoreñas more so. Maybe they’re getting used to us.

My Spanish vocab word of the day is carretilla (wheelbarrow). We had the foresight to bring one to carry our tools. On our way to the community today, we discovered that the roads had suffered severely since last March. We hung onto the pickup’s side bars to keep from falling out as we got stuck in hole after hole. I don’t mean potholes here. Some of them might’ve been up to my waist if I’d stood in them. Our driver, Rubén, navigated them expertly but announced defeat when we encountered a tree across the road. Even lying on its side, it still was probably ten feet tall, with a split trunk and many branches all over the place. We carried the tools and the carretilla through the branches and climbed over the limbs ourselves, and walked the rest of the way to the canocaste (meeting tree). About halfway through our meeting with the community, Rubén’s red truck showed up – from the direction whence we’d come.

“Did he…move that tree by himself?” I said. Nope. He’d cut through the brush and had driven around it. Welcome to El Salvador.

We spent the majority of the morning touring the spots that the community suggested for the tanks. Of course, everyone wanted a tank in their front yard. It was a morning of diplomacy lessons, but eventually we settled on the three locations for the tanks: one in Domingo’s yard, one near Louisa’s house (the oldest woman in the village) and one by Don Chepe’s. Chepe’s location we think is a bit precarious for the PIPA truck to access, but the villagers seem to think that the hill will be passable. We haven’t come up with a reason why they’d want a tank where they can’t get water, so thus far we’re inclined to believe them. In a show of goodwill, the community also compromised to have 1 cubic meter of water delivered to an already existing tank so that that group of houses wouldn’t get shafted on water proximity.

We took a lunch break on the roots of the conocaste and munched on our sandwiches. Some of the men agreed to meet us in an hour to start digging holes for the tank foundations. While we were eating, a man with a horse walked by and asked if we were the ones who brought the tanks. Word gets out around here, I guess. We apparently had a very amusing conversation, most of which I kind of maybe understood a little bit. His horse seemed very intent on leaving without him and kept walking down the road. It vanished into the brush. The man didn’t seem concerned.  A few minutes later the horse reappeared, having been chastised by a grumpy neighbor for eating his corn. Before departing the man advised us to try los naranjas verdes, which hung on a tree nearby. The phrase “green oranges” is somewhat more confusing in English, but it did explain why I thought that kid had been happily chewing on a lime.

Accomplishments of the day: one hole finished, and another hole cleared and ready for digging. Not to mention the agreements about where to put them, which is probably the real hard work.

Ariel is grumpy because she has to finish editing her scholarship essays (you can only edit them for so long, Ariel!) and wants her computer back. And she wants me to proofread for her, which I can’t understand because she still won’t let me live down submitting our 525 Implementation Report with “524” as the header on every page. In any case, time to go – I’ll just leave you with one more story.

At dinner, Mike was excited about having obtained some non-clone bananas (aka, nothing you’ll ever eat from the supermarket at home). I think those are breakfast.

“But that’s not the best surprise,” said Mike, and tossed Erynne a bag of sprouts.


- Grace

The Mzungu Arrive
| January 3, 2014 | 9:03 pm | Uganda | 1 Comment

Post Author: Abby Barker


We have officially settled in at Shilongo! Yesterday consisted of
travel, travel, and more travel – I met everyone at the airport on
Wednesday and we made it through customs without any issues, found our
driver, and headed to our hostel for the night. Everyone was a little
delirious on the drive there so we were happy to finally have real
beds to crash on, even if it was a short night sleep.

After a delicious breakfast (although unfortunately they did not have
chapati for breakfast, so sad), we drove to the bus station and took
the YY bus headed to Mbale. Five hot, sweaty hours later we arrived in
Mbale, and were greeted by even more sun, heat, and many curious
stares at the strange mzungu and all their luggage. Luckily we did not
have to wait long before Sam picked us up and drove us straight to his
house for an AMAZING lunch, which we ate in record time. Sam is really
great, and we discussed all the traveling he has done in the US, and I
think he may have visited even more states than I had! Before driving
to Shilongo, we stopped in mbale to pick up 6 mattresses and some bed
nets, then piled into the car on top of all our supplies (literally)
and headed south.

The drive was incredible – a perfect introduction into the village,
with the winding red dirt roads and rolling green hills, and the
silhouette of the giant mountain behind it all. When we pulled up in
front of Rebecca and Sam’s house, we were greeted by so many new
faces, and countless little kids all begging for our attention. They
quickly helped us unload the car and drop our stuff in our rooms, and
then we did some introductions. I tried very hard to remember each
name and face, but we will see if I am successful in the future! After
rice, beans, and delicious cabbage, we organized ourselves in our
rooms and promptly fell asleep (Kyle before anyone else).

First thing this morning, Peter and I embarked on our first run, which
was fantastic other than the fact that we must have gained at least
1000 ft of elevation in the 25 minutes before turning around. Some of
the people we passed found the running mzungu to be funny, others just
stared at us, unable to comprehend what was going on. On return, we
enjoyed a breakfast of chips (ie, french fries) and mango, then we got
the grand tour of all the water sources in the village from Timothy.
Again I was struck by the beauty of the whole town, and the way each
house and farm fit together seamlessly. I’m excited to be working here
and can’t wait to see what this week holds.

This afternoon we took a quick ride into town for some shopping and to
pick up John, who got in last night. Much more to come!

Goodbye and Happy New Year!
| December 31, 2013 | 2:39 pm | Uganda | 2 Comments

Post Author: Kevin

Today our team is saying goodbye to 2013 in America a few hours earlier than most. We will be flying out of Logan Airport at 6:45 PM and we won’t be back until 2014. It seems fitting for me to be returning to the place where I rang in 2013 to celebrate 2014’s arrival.

Last year our team had landed in Kampala at 11:30 PM December 31st and we were greeted with fireworks left and right, people dancing and yelling in the streets and a general chaos that was a little overwhelming but mostly amazing. This year we will be at cruising altitude above the Atlantic when 2014 rolls in.

The departure of one year and the arrival of the New Year is cause for reflection on yourself, how you’ve grown and where you want to be in the New Year. While I would have loved the opportunity to be with my friends and family to ring in the New Year, for me, there is no better way to reflect and celebrate than to return to Shilongo, Uganda. I feel like this year has been a year of tremendous growth for me, and it all started in Shilongo. My experience in Shilongo left me with many new friends and a new passion for our project and for development work in general. Creating this connection with the community has inspired me as a leader of our project and has forced my personal development. Inspired by a both a passion for our project and a fear of failing the community and Tufts students in our group, I have worked all year developing better organizational and leadership skills. Combine this drive with working my first 9-5 job and renting my first apartment and you have a transformative year.

I know I am not alone in being so impacted by EWB. Our trip is the culmination of a year of work by our whole chapter. Together we have researched, engineered, planned, raised funds and accomplished so much. While only five students from our group are departing on what is sure to be an awesome adventure, everyone who put effort into making this trip a reality has learned and grown through working on the project.

I think this is truly the value our project provides to our members and the community we work with. Every year we graduate members who have had life changing experiences with EWB and every year we need to send younger members to follow in their footsteps. Working on the project in the US builds a skillset and a knowledge base and an awareness that most students would have never been exposed to otherwise. Additionally, actually going to Uganda provides the travel team members with an extraordinary opportunity to make an impact on the community we work with and on themselves. I have had the good fortune of being able to travel twice and it’s had a tremendous impact on my life plans and worldview.

Hopefully our future blog posts will further detail the awesome experiences that I have only written about in generalities in this post. For logistical simplicity all of the blog posts will be published from my account but all of our travel team will be contributing to this blog. We will not have internet access except when we travel to town to buy groceries and supplies. So you can expect posts every 3 days or so hopefully.

I hope you all have a happy New Years Eve wherever and however you celebrate.

Jesse is the New John Henry
| March 22, 2013 | 1:17 pm | El Salvador | Comments closed

There was no getting up at the butt crack of dawn today, though the roosters did their screechiest. Around eight we ate breakfast and then began work on the hinged lid for the spring box in El Porvenir. We figured the best method would be to build it first, where we have tools and power, and then bring it over to affix it to the box.

We began by building the PVC pipe frame, which was a challenge because we had to match the curve at the front of the spring box. If you’ve ever tried to bend PVC to your will, you know that it has a tendency to jump out right before the glue kicks. This took a few tries. Also, interestingly enough, the PVC glue here is different and does not include a purple primer. It’s just one little tube. No one else cares about that detail, I am sure. But too bad, you read this far anyway. Nyah nyah.

We let the frame dry for a while. Ariel and Paige worked on our monitoring report to send to national (woot getting on it!). Jesse, Bob and I drilled holes through the metal pieces for the hinge bolts to go through. There may or may not be new holes in the plastic table – but hey, it’s an inferior table anyway. As Ariel can tell you, its legs just magically fall off.

We bolted the hinges and metal pieces to the frame in a sort of tin lamina sandwich: two tin slices of bread on each side of the PVC filling. Then we shot some machine screws along the frame on both sides. It looked very professional, if we do say so ourselves. Mike showed up as we were finishing with his hands full of Pollo Campero. Pollo Campero is the El Salvadorian equivalent to – or should I say ≥ to – Kentucky Fried Chicken. It comes with spicy salsa and ketchup and is muy delicioso. See, aren’t I picking up this language? It also comes with flan. Jesse nearly fell for it when I said it was terrible and he shouldn’t eat his. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so aggressively cleaning the bottom of my cup with a spoon.

I have to say that the most important lesson we learned in Porvenir on Wednesday was that you have to think things out way ahead of time if you’re going to need electricity. That’s something we’re not used to in the States. Hell, I even leave the house not knowing where I’m going, figuring if I get lost, I can just call someone. But in Porvenir, you’ve really got to plan for electricity. We had charged the drill battery during lunch for about an hour, which wasn’t full but it was as much as we could get before our scheduled meeting with the community. So off we went, lid and drill and all.

Ariel and Paige went to lead the meeting while the rest of us went down to the spring box to install the lid. We shouted victory when we discovered that our estimated lid shape perfectly fit the front curve of the box. I am not exaggerating. It was perfect and snug. We began to drill the first hole in the concrete for the hinges.

However, our victory was short lived. After about half an hour of drilling, we had almost completely worn down the drill battery and we were only halfway through the first hole. Meanwhile, while Bob had been drilling, I had been hammering down the front edges of the lid so that they wouldn’t be sharp. Unfortunately the leverage resulting from the hammering was enough to pop out three of the nearest machine screws. We were not in good shape.

I decided to call the driver to take me back so I could charge the drill. Ariel explained to him what was going on and I communicated with him in my incredibly bad Spanish on the way back to SJV. Bob had recommended charging it for 20 minutes, since any more would mean we’d be working past dark. While I was back, I went over to Mike and Susie’s to rummage through the quadruple-coffin-sized box of “things volunteer groups leave here” and was able to uncover another drill with some charge, another battery for our drill, and two chargers and batteries for yet another drill. It seems that these things never appear before you need them most…

I plugged everything in that I could, wishing that I’d found them and charged them all the night before. After the meeting was well over, the driver and I headed back to the spring box, my arms full of drills and batteries. Upon our return we discovered that in the hour and a half it had taken for transit and charge time, Jesse had singlehandedly finished the first hole. How, you ask? By hammering the masonry drill bit into the concrete lid over and over with the most miniscule hammer ever. I am not kidding.  And if you ever read the story of John Henry as a child, you will know that he was quite tired of it.

We started drilling another hole. The drill died. We got another drill. It died. We got the last drill, and guess what! It died too. I began to hammer a hole for a bolt in the other hinge using a real-sized hammer, which I’d run into in the magic coffin toolbox. It was slow going. It was also getting dark.

Soon we saw Ariel and Paige coming down the hill, with what seemed to be half the community behind them. They were coming to see the lid, and Don Chepe was bringing tin snips to trim the edges. The men swarmed around and saw our dilemmas and picked up our tools. They began where we’d left off, though with much stronger muscles built on a hard life. However, things looked bleak – it felt like a humongous failure, and we’d had such high hopes.

As the daylight was winding away one guy named Felipe said he thought it would be better if we took out the frame and welded the metal pieces together. He and the other guys began to measure the dimensions of the hole. They began to chat about how they would build it, and who would hang on to which pieces so no one could make off with them all until it was made. They wrote down their measurements. To put it bleakly, they were restarting our entire process for building the lid.

While at first we were disappointed that our lid had not succeeded, we realized something important – this work was never about us doing something for them. That kind of work is unsustainable. It’s the kind of work that draws criticisms for all volunteer trips like ours – people have no sense of ownership of gifts like that, if it breaks no one has the materials to fix it, etc. So while we weren’t proud of our failed lid, we knew that this was in many ways better: instead of building something for them, we had inspired several community members to get involved and work together on making something for themselves. We had brought the need for a lid to their attention, and we had presented a design idea. We did not succeed in implementing our design. But we presented the tools and reasons they needed to resolve the problem without us.

And in the long run, isn’t that the goal?

~ Grace

“Fix it With Your IR Degree”
| March 20, 2013 | 12:52 am | El Salvador | Comments closed

Said the Jesse to the Ariel

When she picked up the table

And off its legs fell.


Ariel was bewildered

She stood there in the grass

Calmly put them back on

While we offered her sass.


That’s a poem. Engineers can write too. Well, some of us.


Speaking of poetic words, I realized last night that the phrase “up working until the first rooster crow” is really not that impressive, seeing as the roosters here begin crowing at midnight.  They crow in shifts – midnight, dawn, eight-ish, and noon. Whether the same roosters crow during each shift is unclear, but there are equal numbers of crowers at each shift, all equally confused about what time it is.

Anyway, we got up at a time that most college kids on spring break would consider criminally early. And in fact, someone probably should have handcuffed us to the truck on the way to Arada Vieja this morning to keep us from falling out. That said, riding on top of a moving vehicle up and down wild hills is pretty fun. I feel a lot less sympathy for Mitt Romney’s dog now.  I bet he liked it.

We arrived in Arada Vieja around eight a.m. and found the villagers already up and ready to fix the slow sand filters. As it turned out, only one of the three was even remotely dirty – it had a growth of some variety of algae. A man named Ricardo showed up and seemed to know all about slow sand filter maintenance, so we let him take charge and direct people. They cleaned the smaller tank that the filters lead to with chlorine – women and children helped carry the water over from the spigot, which was still directly connected to the big tank. I helped carry water too – on my head. I can’t tell you how much it was because they kept saying it was “treinta botellas” – thirty bottles – but it was unclear what, exactly, one bottle’s size is. Meanwhile, the men fetched long logs (I’m fairly certain they were just casually felling some trees) to use for the roof.

I met my first in-person scorpion today; it was loaded up with ten or so babies and prepared to sting one of the kids. Jesse kept him from climbing up on top the tank next to it as he had been planning. The kid climbed up farther away and after Jesse had taken a picture of it, proceeded to stomp on the entire clan with his Spiderman crocs. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but crocs are really big here. They’re the perfect El Salvador shoe – they empty of dust quickly, they’re light, dry fast, offer decent foot protection, and they’re cheap.  So if any of you Longshore people are reading this, just know – El Salvadorians would be well-equipped renters.

Around 11:30 Ricardo left for work. He told us that he was going to organize a meeting to make a schedule for cleaning the slow sand filters, which is the best we could ask for given our short time here. The villagers intend to construct the roof on Thursday, so unfortunately we will not be able to see it before we leave.

We came home to eat lunch and plan out the construction for the lid we want to build for the springbox in El Porvenir. After much debate, we decided on the materials we needed and went to the ferretería, where they lent us some tin snips to cut the sheet metal and where we bought some thin PVC for the frame. They didn’t have galvanized anything so we called our driver back to take us to La Puerta en La Libertad. There we found everything we needed to build the lid – machine screws, bolts, nuts, and hinges, all galvanizada.

On the way home, we banged on the roof of the pickup cab to stop for some coconuts. We drank them on the way home and got the most “GRINGO!!” catcalls since we’ve been here. As we were chopping them apart at Mike and Susie’s, Jesse and I taught Victor (Salvador) and his friend how to play Jenga. Victor lost the first game, but quickly bested Jesse in the second game.

Our most interesting data of the evening was the coliforms from the Arada Vieja water. Jesse had, for some mind-blowingly unobvious reason, insisted that we take water samples both at the spring source and at the spigot half a kilometer away. This bizarre request to test the same source twice turned an interesting result – the spigot water, which at the time was NOT going through any sort of filter, was much cleaner than the same water at the source. We wonder if the black piping, which bakes in the sun, gets so hot that it kills off the bacteria on the way to the spigot. Also, the boiled water sample came out with just one coliform. Finally, negative really means negative. Ish.

I am sunburnt, tired, and covered in dirt and sweat. I haven’t showered in a while (It’s not my fault – the water keeps cutting out! Why have the others showered, you ask? Because they didn’t have to write three blog posts in a row).

I think I want to do this job my whole life.






Monday, ¿Mande?
| March 19, 2013 | 11:51 pm | El Salvador | Comments closed

Yeah, I’m clever. Actually Paige says mande is a regional phrase that isn’t really used here; it’s more of an Ecuador thing. I’m not changing the title.


Well, I was super grumpy about our non-negative negative control (see Posto del Blogo Numero Tres) so in the morning I boiled some more Agua Cristal and incubated that. Our driver was late, which was a turn of good luck because Mike walked in and said “So the mayor will meet with you now.” We went to meet him and told him about our connection with Porvenir, and how we were wondering if he could connect the PIPA trucks to the village and deliver them government water.  He was straight with us and said it his primary concern is the villages with decent populations, but that if we built the tank, he could send a truck that way once a week with ten cubic meters of water. This is substantial; perhaps it is the closest we have been to a real solution for Porvenir. Knock on wood.

Then it was off to Arada Vieja to investigate the slow sand filters and hydraulic ram pump that Tufts EWB had implemented there back in 2007. After all, this is a monitoring trip.

Arada Vieja is a village that, compared to El Porvenir, has its coliform-bearers together. We found that the pump and tanks were still working – the president of the community gave us a little hiking tour – but the slow sand filters had been neglected  and were currently being bypassed. When we talked to the community members, they said that the water was okay without it, but that they would like to fix the filters if we thought it would make the quality better.  We arranged to come back on Tuesday to help clean and to build a roof for the filters, since the old one blew off  in a monsoon and the sun deteriorates them.

We next went back to El Porvenir, where Ariel and I held a women’s meeting. Paige, Bob, and Jesse ran the kid’s meeting and played games with them. Paige says she’s never met such well-behaved children and marveled at getting all her crayons back, especially since the rule was “one crayon at a time.” At the women’s meeting, we got the real deal on what people want for the spring box. We told them what the mayor had said and prompted them for ideas of where to put the 10 m­3 tank, or where to put two or three smaller tanks. Since the community is very spread out, it makes more sense for the truck to make multiple stops to dispense portions of the allotted water.  They seemed very interested in this proposal.

We also handed out toothbrushes and toothpaste to the women; each took several for their children. Luisa, a very old woman who lives by herself, was left out – but when Ariel asked, someone gave up one of her toothbrushes for her. It was a beautiful moment to see someone who has so little hand her gift to somebody else.

After our stop in Porvenir, we went to the hardware store to get corrugated tin for the roof in Arada Vieja. After much digging, Jesse and I found a handsome drill in Mike’s giant box of “things volunteer groups leave here” and one tiny masonry bit, for which we found a more robust replacement at the ferretería. After a delicious soup prepared by Anna, we tested our new samples for nitrates and phosphates. Ariel and I counted the coliforms from the day before (we had stopped the growth by refrigerating the petri dishes). The winner for the cleanest water source was the Guadelupe source, a town that had government-delivered water. The filtered sample from the Rio Muyapa was the runner up – ahead of the springbox by miles in general coliforms, but only slightly in E. coli. Grossly enough, the bottled Agua Cristal totted up to 450 coliform colonies in 125 mLs. But no E. coli, thankfully.

Ariel and I were a little fried from counting zillions of dots, so we decided to go out for ice cream. Out in the square the festival for San Jose was stilllll going on. That night there was quite the accomplished singer up in front of the crowd. We stopped to watch as we licked our ice cream and discovered that it was the mayor. We wonder what this man cannot do.


In other news, Bob says we have very smart cows in this country. Jesse thinks every cow we pass by is a goat. Un cabra gigante indeed!  Ariel can’t work the shower because it has a small pipe coming out of the showerhead that steals all the water. I put my finger on the end of it and took a lovely shower, but not before calling her an idiot and leading her and Paige into a trap where I sprayed them with water.  Work hard, play hard.



Posto del Blogo Numero Tres
| March 19, 2013 | 10:46 pm | El Salvador | Comments closed

As you can see, my Spanish has vastly improved.  Oh man apparently I have to write about the past three days because the rest of this lot needs to do “homework.” Bet you a pupusa Jesse is just on Facebook. I already won a pupusa bet today because Ariel thought lobsters have eight legs, but they have ten. Wikipedia says the claws count. Boom. I expect payment, Ariel.  Learn your crustaceans.


Oh right, real information. Let’s start with Sunday. We returned to El Porvenir to finish what we’d started on Saturday. Los ingenieros (me, Jesse, and Bob) finished up surveying the riverbed and found that it would indeed be possible to run a pipeline up to the meeting tree solely powered by gravity. Meanwhile Paige and Ariel went to the houses they’d missed the day before for their own brand of surveying, which involves lots of health questions and interpreting thick, mumbly accents.  After lunch, the villagers Miguel and Don Chepe emptied and cleaned the springbox. We began to measure the height of the water to figure out the flow rate, which was a two-hour process. While we waited, Domingo’s friend Benancio came down the hill and shirked his usual thick, mumbly accent to sing for us quite beautifully.  Meanwhile other people came to ruin our data (read: collect water as they rightfully should) so we had to do a bit of compensation calculation.


In the evening we did some serious chemistry – look out, here comes the technical information! We popped the samples from Saturday out of the incubator and took a look at the coliforms (icky bacteria in poop). Most disturbingly, we found that our negative control – bottled Agua Cristal – had quite the number of red dots. I can’t tell you how many yet because we didn’t count them until Monday. This is called building suspense. I can tell you that it didn’t have any E. coli, which show up as blue dots, but it’s important to realize that just because water is in a bottle does not mean it’s clean. Then again, it hasn’t killed us so far.


By far the most potable looking sample was the Rio Muyapa one that had gone through a brand-new ceramic filter we have here. This makes it sound as though ceramic filters would make it possible to drink the river water, but unfortunately ceramic filters do not account for some things we aren’t capable of testing for, such as viruses. We also noted that Orbellina’s filtered water, which came from Tomas’s well and had been through a 3-year-old ceramic filter, did not have a significant decrease in red dots but it did seem to have banished all of the E. coli. So the conclusion is that ceramic filters make a decent difference in the water quality, though they deteriorate over time.


We also began the nitrate and phosphate testing on Sunday night. Once again, I found that the worst offender was our own bottled water – at least for phosphate, at 10 ppm. Concerned, I did the test four times. I even bought a new bottle for the fourth test, to no avail. The phosphate results seemed consistent for the rest of the tests so we have concluded that something else in the bottled water set off the indicator. In case you’re curious, the springbox and Orbellina’s filtered water won the contest at 0 phosphates. Jesse’s not saying what happened with the nitrates yet. I think he’s grumpy that he had to deal with the cadmium.


But really, we’ve all been getting along pretty well. Each of us brings a unique and useful set of skills wherever we go. And we all bring a fair amount of sass. My new favorite Spanish phrase (which I found in my handy dandy phrasebook) is “¿Puede empaquetarmelo como regalo, porfavor?” which we use frequently when being handed items. If you’re too lazy to look it up, it means “Can you giftwrap that for me, please?”


That’s all I gotta say about that. Go read Monday! You know you want to. And no, I’m not giftwrapping it. That’s a waste of paper.