Getting Down and Dirty

I now understand a lot of things better after starting labor intensive work on a Clean Cook, Lorena Stove Project.

  1. I now understand: how a GIANT bowl of rice and beans is still appetizing after eating a GIANT bowl of Yucca and fried eggs for breakfast. I am straight up hungry all the time. When you spend everyday from 7am-3pm shoveling, mixi

    ng cement, carrying things in a wheelbarrow and massaging clay with your hands like a baker kneading a giant pizza dough…carb heavy,  delicious meals like that are the bomb. I don’t think it’s necessarily helping my “yucca belly” as I’ve lovingly nicknames my little pooch that’s started growing again, but it’s delicious. Oh well.

  2. I now understand (again): that my host mom is a fucking badass! Lots of women have volunteered to help massage the clay that we use. Each house is required to provide an “ayudante” to help massage the clay while the Mason and I fill the mold. Mantula is the only Dona to have lasted the whole morning massaging clay. Not only that, but she then came back the next day to do it again for a neighbor who was unable to find someone to help with the labor. If Mantula wasn’t an evangelical, I would buy her a much deserved beer and we’d chat about our aches and pains.
  3. I now understand: that children are willing to do everything in this town. They’re really putting the adults to shame in this town. When no one can be found to help a neighbor with their labor, there’s always an eager 8 year old ready to put his or her best foot forward to get the job done. And usually they do it well!
  4. I now understand: that my pace of life has slowed down substantially more than I though. I used to be up at 5:30am in the states, run 5 miles with my friend Shannon, spend all day in class, go to meetings, get work done and not think twice. Now, I’m up working on stoves in the morning and running meetings in the afternoons, but if I don’t get my 2-hour lunch break I am a craaaanky camper. Also, “work” involved breaks every 30-40 minutes to drink coffee or to snack on something. Heading back to America might be brutal.
  5. I now understand: how badass if feels to walk around all day with a machete strapped to your belt and to actually have a reason for that.
  6. I now understand: why workboots are useful. I brought my timberland boots down here from the states. I’ve had those boots since Junior year of high school and they were always just a nice pair of boots. A fashion statement if anything. Turns out…they’re for construction work and protecting your feet. Who knew…right? Just kidding. I know that, but now I’m actually using them. I will definitely be leaving those boots as a gift with someone because I don’t think I could, in good conscience, bring them back to just be worn on a daily level.
  7. My community really trusts me. I say this because they DON’T trust people they don’t know. I have had multiple people say, “I am still going to do the project and I’ll still have an ayudante the day of trabajo but I would appreciate if you could be there that day too. I don’t know Bobito, and so I want you there as well. Just someone of confianza.” It’s nice to know that although they may gossip about me or think I’m weird, they also trust me.

But really, this stove project is going wonderfully. Today I got to eat the first meal of the first stove that was finished in la Culata. Modesta (my across the street neighbor/member of my Hogares group/grandmother of two boys in my youth group) cooked us chicken and rice with pigeon peas as the inaugural meal of the Lorena Stove project. I took lots of pictures. I don’t know if she realized how excited I was to be eating that meal. Also, we were able to eat in the same enclosed kitchen that she was cooking in…the significance being that we weren’t overwhelmed by smoke from the fire! The chimney was legitimately working.

Of course there are minor headaches, but that’s normal with any project. The great thing is that I had lots of experience managing budgets and projects through student organizations in college, so I don’t find much of these skills as new. The major new skills are my construction and manual labor skills. According to Bobito, my mason, I am a “quick student”. He lets me do pretty much anything now. We share the work equally, I get to put the stucco style finish on the stoves, he lets me put chimneys on. He really seems to trust me and let me do a lot of the manual labor, which is nice because he doesn’t let everyone do that.

Also, something I love, is that Bobito is great with kids. Since kids obviously go wherever I go, it would be a major problem if he wasn’t. But he is. He loves teaching little kids how to do tasks and involves them in the project, unlike most people who don’t think kids are capable of anything. Bobito is a single guy, he and his wife divorced many years ago and he’s lived alone ever since. His kids are all grown up and he has good relationships with all of them, but rarely sees them. So it’s fun to watch him with kids in my community.

In other fun anecdotes:

**I was sitting at Mama Juanita’s house (a 60ish year old neighbor of mine), we drank some coffee, were chatting for 20 minutes, she showed me a picture of a dead aunt of hers (a normal evening, really) when she leans in close to me, smiles really big and says, “I pooped my pants.” I kid you not…this woman pooped her pants sitting right there with me.

Well, she starts laughing, I start laughing. We happened to be holding hands at the time, and I just squeezed her hand tighter and said, “Oh Juanita, you’re so bad.” We laughed a little bit longer…and then kept on talking. She didn’t get up, didn’t go to the bathroom, didn’t change her pants. We just sat and talked for a few minutes as though nothing had happened. Honestly, I didn’t even remember the story until the next day. When I remembered what happened, that’s when I realized it was a weird, not normal, experience. In the moment, I honestly didn’t even think anything of it.

**I was on one of my hikes today…and then I got so embarrassed realizing that, without trying in the least, I’ve become a little bit of that stereotype that you see on a pamphlet advertising the Peace Corps. My days start when roosters wake me up, I brew coffee for my neighbors, make my breakfast but end up only eating 1/4th of it if I’m lucky since when someone visits I feed them off of my own plate. I strap on my machete and go to a neighbor’s house to start working on an improved wood burning stove that will help reduce deforestation by economizing the wood use while simultaneously spewing smoke out of the kitchen through a chimney. But before we can start working, I sit and have a cup of coffee and talk about how the crops are doing with the draught that we’re in (3 months strong without rain).  Then, after a long day of work, playing with kids, getting dirty in the clay, I sit down wherever I just finished working and eat whatever food the family happened to cook that day rather than going home for food. I sit, drink some water, drink some more coffee and then head home to shower quickly before heading off to a group meeting. In my meetings we’re still doing things like learning how to use condoms, how to prevent unwanted pregnancy, how to avoid cholera/malaria/dengue, how to include veggies in your meals and all that good stuff. By the evening, I get home and have kids waiting for me so that we can draw and play dominos. Every night at 7 the kids and I do some yoga or strength training. They’re getting good, and often call me out when they can tell I’m slacking. By the time the clock strikes 9, I am kicking the kids out, cleaning up my house from the daily sucio and regero, and then falling asleep, all so I can repeat it the next day. Days when we don’t work? I’m fishing with my boys in the rivers, hiking in the mountains, walking to the pueblo to buy my produce that’s unavailable in La Culata, hand-washing my laundry or just sitting sharing with my neighbors, complaining about the politics/dust/noise/boredom/motorcycles/kids/anything.

It happened so naturally. I am simultaneously embarrassed and satiated.


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