We´ve been at Bua for a couple days now. We arrived on Tuesday and settled in with our homestay families: Noah and I are staying with Rafael (27), his wife Diana (23), and their son Andres (7). They are members of the TsaChila nationality, a group of Ecuadorians who live in seven remaining communities. The TsaChila all speak Spanish in addition to their native langauge, Tsa Fiki.
We live, conveniently, right across from the elementary school where we work everyday. At the school, we are working with Yanapuma and a group of volunteers from Engineers without Borders to construct six ecotoilets. The school´s current sanitary system was designed to accomodate 75 students when it was built ten years ago, but now, because the school´s principle has worked so hard to attract students from neighboring villages, the school has more than 250 students. The nearest city, Santo Domingo, doesn´t have the capacity to clean out septic tanks, so once they´re full, they´re simply abandoned. Thus the school has serious issues with contamination and overflow.
Ideally, the toilets will be able to accomodate the school´s increased population and will be eco-friendly: in addition to safetly containing waste, it will ultimately produce a useable and nutrient-rich soil. So far we´ve helped to dig trenches and lay pipes. Hired skilled workers are the ones who do most of the concrete laying, and so far the engineers have had to modify their original design. We have been able to observe some of the difficulties in implementing development in a rural community like Bua: firstly, communication. There are several different groups of volunteers here, Thinking Beyond Borders, Engineers without Borders , funneled here through Yanapuma, and these different groups have to work in conjunction with the community, the school itself, and the skilled workers. Secondly, we´ve seen how designs created in the USA cannot necessarily be implemented in other places: the engineers made sure to ask if Ecuadorian cement blocks had holes in them, but they didn´t realize that the holes don´t go all the way through, so we can´t thread riebar through them. Thirdly, the community itself sometimes doesn´t understand the intent of those volunteering. When Yanapuma intially came to the village, they learned that no map of the community existed, and when they tried to make one, the community reared back because they thought the information would be fed to the government to make them pay taxes.
Back at our homestays, we often bathe in the river, help to do dishes, play marbles with Andres ... I´ve learned some really interesting bits about the TsaChila culture through speaking with my host mother. She came from one of the other seven TsaChila communities and seems to miss her own family a lot. She explained to me that the TsaChilas ären´t allowed to marry white people¨ -- I actually got to look through a TsaChila ¨rule book¨ type pamplet in the living room, and it had rules like you must marry within the nationality, what types of roles women should play (cook, clean, and raise children), and the customary clothing (for men, black and white striped skirts, for women, very brightly striped skirts). The men also have a tradition of dying their hair red with berries that grow here.
It´s really exciting to be in Ecuador at this time. In a week or so, the country will vote on whether or not to implement a new constitution. Their constitution changes pretty regularly, I think about twenty times in the past couple decades. My homestay family was shocked that our USA constitution ´hasn´t been changed in more than two hundred years! Correas, the current president, is proposing a fairly liberal constitution that would allow abortion, is vague on gay marriage, and, some hope, would equalize socioeconomic conditions.
Something else that struck me about being in Ecuador is that they use as thier national currency the US dollar. They dollarized about eight years ago due to hyperinflation and have used the dollar ever since.
We certainly don´t have internet in the village, so right now the group is on a day trip to Santo Domingo, a hyper-industrial, kind of grimy little city about forty minutes from Bua by cattle truck. Tomorrow is Sunday so we won´t be working but spending the day with our homestay families.