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Published: September 7th 2014
Scarlett at Work
The hairpin curve was one of the pick-up waiting places as the engineers made their way up and down steep mountainsides.
After a year's hiatus I found myself once again working as driver/interpreter for a group of volunteers from the Denver/Boulder chapter of Engineers without Borders (EWB). This visit was the continuation of work on a potable water system project in Guantugloma, a village above Malingua Pamba where we were housed. On their last visit the engineers oversaw the construction of distribution tanks; now it was time to lay all the pvc pipes to 'connect the dots' and articulate the system.
Since this group of volunteers (John, Daniela, Russ & Alejandro) all spoke Spanish quite well, my job was mostly driving. The roads are much better than they used to be, still unpaved but smoother and safer. I averaged 30-40 miles a day up and down the hill between the 'hostel' (at Paulino's house) and the various work sites. After making walkie-talkie contact with the work teams I sometimes waited up to an hour for them to work out kinks in the lines and make it down the hillside, so I sat in the back of my truck and admired the scenery. It was towards the end of dry season, so the hillsides were pretty
This old gal was out there with her shovel and hoe, digging pipe trenches alongside the young-uns!
brown but looking closer I saw many brightly colored wildflowers dotting the harsh paramo landscape.
Staring up at the blue blue Andean sky, I marveled at the play of clouds as the winds picked up. Some clouds held perfectly still as others raced by in a whipped-up fury. They looked to be side by side but must have been nestled in different wind current zones. On the windiest day of all several members of the Latacunga Rotary Club came up to visit the project. I had met most of them before and we were all happy to see one another again. As the wind whipped sharply (80 mph, estimated one engineer) several hats and caps went flying, the villagers scampering down impossibly steep hillsides to recover them!
Some days the workers only needed a drop-off and a pick-up so in my 'free' time I went back down to the lower villages and, following a list of questions Pam had sent along, interviewed various people and then transcribed their responses, bringing Pam up to speed on the latest village news. Pam was the reason I first got
Group foto of the hardworking folks from Guantugloma. This picture was taken in the a.m. before they set to digging in the dirt!
involved in this project, and if you've been reading my blogs you've heard a lot about her. I'm going attach here at the end, the story of how it all began (see below).
After a week of hard work it was time for us to head back up to Quito (about 3 hrs drive) so the volunteers could catch their flights home --but not before the villagers gave us an official send-off! The musicians (two drummers and a flute player) made their way up to the highest spring and accompanied us down the hill to the newly inaugurated community center, where a sheep had just been slaughtered (a pack of dogs was eagerly licking up the pool of blood below from the newly tiled floor). I reminded the cook that we had to leave at noon and she hurriedly tossed recently removed chunks of lamb into the boiling soup pot. Well, we did get on the road before 2 pm!!
Enjoy the photos (none of me this time since all were from my camera - actually Shana's camera which I borrowed since mine decided to die a few
Boy with Hoe
Exhaustion and pride mingle in this young man's expression.
weeks ago!) I've decided to wait until I go to California in November to buy a new camera, so this will be the last blog for a few months. Thanks for reading!! Be sure to scroll all the way down and click NEXT to see all of the photos!
I'm eager to get this blog published, as I'm on my way out of town again tomorrow (quick trip to the jungle to connect with some old friends) so permit me to wrap up this missive (and supplement it with the piece below). A little history (the following was written for Pam as she endeavors to recap the experience for possible use in a documentary film):
I first met Pam in 2003 at a hikers’ hostel not far from Malingua Pamba. I was travelling on my own for a few months. She had just made the commitment to buy the cement and move ahead with construction on the school. Like so many others, I was captivated by Pam’s genuine love for the local people and her passionate desire to improve their lives. Since
Under the guidance of the volunteer engineers, the village minga worked together to lay several miles of pipe!
I speak fluent Spanish I stepped right in to help her communicate with the building overseer and later to wade through documents from the Ministry of Education.
In 2006 I made the decision to move to Ecuador permanently and bought a double-cabin pick-up truck, knowing that I would be working with groups of Pam’s volunteers. Within months of the purchase of my truck I began my work as driver/interpreter. It’s been gratifying to be able to bridge the language gap – to help engineers share their knowledge and expertise and in turn to communicate the villagers’ gratitude for their assistance.
When the first volunteer group arrived in Malingua Pamba we were housed in the not-quite-complete second story classrooms of the high school. We shared well-used mattresses on the still-damp concrete floors. By the time the next group arrived six months later, the upstairs classrooms were in use. Our group of twelve slept on six double beds, crowded into the living/dining area of the village president’s simple concrete home.
It became evident that Pam was going to keep coming and
Daniela shares Trail Mix
We mixed up bags of crunchy snacks which we distributed after each day's hard work.
continue bringing groups of volunteers, so eventually the president, Paulino, built a second story on his home. The next visit our large group stayed upstairs. There weren’t enough mattresses so the Malinguans improvised, making several “ecological mattresses” out of wood pallets and bags of hay and straw.
Through the years the 'upstairs hostel' has evolved into a comfy place with proper bed linens, rugs, nights stands, hooks and most recently an upstairs half-bath. In addition to the many groups of EWB volunteers, a number of teaching volunteers have come to spend a few weeks to a few months in the hostel.
Each person who arrives in Malingua Pamba comes away with a unique, life-changing experience: a young American teaching assistant falling for a local boy; a major donor to the project seeing his generosity at work; a retired hydraulic engineer walking the hills to configure irrigation line trajectories; Pam’s teenage nephew playing soccer with the local kids; a Rotary member teaching origami to the kids; a young female Asian engineer leading sixty kids and adults in martial arts exercises in the schoolyard (they were convinced that she was Bruce Lee’s
Water Pipe Trench
Crossing a hillside at 12,000 feet, laying this pipe was truly a feat!
niece!); an engineer who pulled out his harmonica to play along with the local band (same three notes, over and over again!)
PS - keep going, lots more great pix!
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