Driver/Interpreter for Engineers Without Borders

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April 22nd 2016
Published: May 13th 2016
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Group FotoGroup FotoGroup Foto

With Scarlett O'Sare (my truck) in the background, here I am posed with (frm L to R) Diego, Russell, Bill & Dermot.
I arrived back from the US at noon on April 1st, still fighting the last of my nasty California cold. Three volunteers from Engineers Without Borders were due to arrive in Quito that same day at midnight. At 8:00 pm I learned that their flight had been cancelled, so while they lived it up at the Marriott in Dallas I pushed fluids and laid low. I was grateful for an extra day in bed at the hostel near the Quito airport...the health gods were watching over me! I was feeling 85% better by the time I met up with the engineers and we headed off for the mountains. Since they arrived on a Sunday (rather than the scheduled Saturday) all the hardware stores in Latacunga were closed, so we only stopped at the grocery store to stock up on toilet paper, drinking water, cheese & crackers, cookies and a few other treats we wouldn't find up in the village. Alas, no alcohol is sold on Sundays so the check-out bill was lower than usual!

Malingua Pamba is the village where, in fall of 2006 I first accompanied a group of volunteer engineers (EWB Denver/Boulder Professional Chapter).
Village MeetingVillage MeetingVillage Meeting

We presented a video about drip irrigation to introduce the villagers to this new concept.
The potable (drinking) water project has been completed and now about 1500 residents have a tap which brings clean water to their home. Previously most folks had to hike 2-4 hours to carry up muddy water from the river, so they lugged only enough for cooking the daily meal. Now villagers are able to bathe more often, wash clothes & even keep a kitchen garden with a variety of vegetables. Various surveys and questionnaires we've done over the years confirm that they enjoy better health and a less arduous lifestyle as a result of the project.

I hadn't been up to Malingua Pamba much in the past few years, but since I no longer work at the hotel on the coast I agreed to accompany this group of volunteers. EWB covers my room and board and pays me a small daily stipend for the use of my vehicle. I donate my time and skills, as do the volunteers. This visit, all of the engineers were new to the project so it was especially helpful for them to have me along. I am familiar with the location of each villager's home, the names and locations of
Laying Drip IrrigationLaying Drip IrrigationLaying Drip Irrigation

The 5th, 6th & 7th graders help lay irrigation hoses in their school garden patch.
various water tanks, and most all of the residents recognize and trust me. I helped to run the informational meetings, introducing the local people to the benefits of drip irrigation in this geographical and climatic zone. Working with one of the teachers we made arrangements for the 5th-6th-7th grade garden to be the drip irrigation model; an example for others to observe. The students helped us to prepare the field and lay the hoses.

Over the years I have worked extensively with the Rotary Club officers in Latacunga (who also happen to own the largest hardware store in town), so I was able to pull some strings and we finally managed to get all of the necessary supplies up to the village. We ended up spending a full day in colonial Latacunga, rounding up materials that were supposed to have been readied before our arrival. Santiago Sansur insisted that we join him at his home for lunch while we were waiting for the rest of the supplies to be delivered. I had met his delightful wife Annie on a previous visit when she asked me compile a list of all the primary school aged children
Local Hiking GuidesLocal Hiking GuidesLocal Hiking Guides

Since it was the first time in Malingua Pamba for all of the Engineers, local residents led them thru the mountains to walk the water line down from the source.
so she could arrange for each to receive a warm coat from Rotary. She prepared an elegant meal which we thoroughly enjoyed (after days of eating mostly corn, beans & potatoes in the village) and after dessert we were treated to a piano recital by Santi & his son Miguel.

Unfortunately, after less than a week it became clear that I'd be unable to stay with the volunteers for the entire 12 days. Perhaps it was because my immune system was still compromised from my recent illness, but I developed a massive allergic reaction to the dust mites in the bedding where we were staying. I have had a mild rash-like reaction to dust mites in the past, but this time I broke out in hundreds of dime-sized welts all over my body, infernal itching keeping me awake most of each night. I wanted to rip off my own skin!

In addition, there was a toilet issue. Because their septic tank was full to overflowing, it was inadvisable to use the flush toilet in the building where we were housed; instead we had to hike 5 minutes downhill to the
Colonial LatacungaColonial LatacungaColonial Latacunga

The old town streets are narrow and cobbled and mostly one-way. Challenging driving!
composting toilet (no seats, just cement tubes sticking up). The antibiotics I'd been taking for my cold caused diarrhea, creating an unbearable situation for me. There was no way I could finish my stint in the village...I was just miserable.

Fortunately, a young Ecuadorian volunteer had arrived to help out; since he spoke quite good English he could take over for me as interpreter. I made arrangements for the man next door to keep his truck available to take the engineers around for the same vehicle fee I was being paid. With my two main duties covered and my guilty feelings about abandoning the volunteers somewhat assuaged, I took off for my home in Banos (3 hours away) with the agreement that I'd return to the village on their last day to take them up to the Quito airport. Just as I was leaving the village, shortly after the 15 mile stretch of gravel road, I got a flat tire on the curviest part of the asphalt highway and had to drive slowly for a ways until I could find a straightaway safe enough for stopping. By then the damaged tire was smoking and it
Four-Handed PianoFour-Handed PianoFour-Handed Piano

Father and son, Santiago & Miguel Sansur - our Rotary International partners in Latacunga - played for us after an elegant lunch at their home.
was obvious that it would be beyond repair.

I pulled as far off the road as I could, popped my hood, and brought out the emergency kit -- using my fluorescent orange triangles for the first time. I stabilized them with rocks and took out the jack, struggling to disengage the spare tire from beneath the truck bed. I was getting nowhere so I focused on flagging down passing vehicles. At that time of morning there was a fair amount of traffic on the mountain road and after only 10 or 15 vehicles had passed without stopping, a young man pulled over to help. His wife was a teacher in a village not far from where I'd been working and he'd just dropped her at school.

It ended up that part of my jack was damaged, so between using his jack and the part of mine that worked we managed to release the spare, raise the truck and change the tire. As we were working, I heard a child's voice calling out and realized that he'd left his son in the car. I went over, gave him a candy and
Quilotoa CraterQuilotoa CraterQuilotoa Crater

Sightseeing en route (but not really on the way!) back to the airport. Worth the detour on this bright, sunny morning.
talked with him while his dad finished tightening the bolts. The young man refused any payment for his assisstance, and I wished for him an act of kindness in a time of need in the same way that he'd come to my rescue. As soon as I got back to Banos I had to buy two new tires (it ended up that another of the tires had some serious damage from the sharp stones) and I needed to get my jack fixed. Those tasks done, I was able to finally relax.

The whole time I'd been in the US and now busy with the engineers, my dog CiCi was staying at a friend's farm 1/2 hr past Banos in Rio Verde. Since I'd only be home five days and then heading back up to Quito I decided that it didn't make sense to bring CiCi home and then have to take her back there. I didn't even go visit her (which was really hard) because I thought it would be confusing for her to see me, but not come home with me. It felt odd to be in my house without my pup around! I
Andean HillsidesAndean HillsidesAndean Hillsides

Breathtaking scenery, highlighted by the slanting afternoon sun.
went to the hot springs each morning, showered with tea tree oil soap, slathered my body with itch-relief lotion and slept long hours in my my clean, comfy bed. I had a dermatologist appointment booked in Quito for the morning after the engineers flew out, but I hoped my rash would be almost well by then.

I drove back to the village to collect the guys, and we took a detour to visit Quilotoa Crater before heading to the airport. I've visited this ceautiful Andean lake (a collapsed volcanic peak) a number of times, always shivering in the biting cold wind at high altitude (it's over 14,000 ft at the rim of the crater). This day, however, it was sunny and mild; perfect for enjoying the picnic I'd brought along. We sat on the wood terrace overlooking the crater, drinking in the stunning views of the Andes.

After seeing the engineers off at the airport, I left my truck at Walt's house and met up with Annie in Tumbaco a suburb in the valley below Quito. Annie & I had just ordered dinner when the floor started shaking

Used as pack animals and sometimes for their wool. Como se llama la mama llama?
and the unoccupied chairs started sliding. We looked at each other with wide eyes, and when the glassware hanging above the bar started clinking we and the other diners rose in unison and went out to the street. The pavement felt like rolling waves and I began to feel a bit nauseous, so I leaned up against a wall. The swaying motion seemed to go on and on and my nausea intensified when I looked up and saw the shadow of the tangled power lines reflected in the whitewashed building. We soon learned that the earthquake measured 7.8 on Richter scale, had its epicenter 400 miles away off the west coast and lasted 55 seconds, but at the time it sure felt more like 5 minutes!

The day after the quake I had my doctors' appointment. I was already gowned and waiting for my intrauterine echo-sonogram (we've been tracking my plum-sized uterine myoma every 6 months) and they informed me that they'd have to reschedule the imaging appointment. I asked if it was a problem with the equipment and they explained that the technician had just received a call and learned that his sister had
With Granpa MarcosWith Granpa MarcosWith Granpa Marcos

We celebrated his 85th birthday in Salango, a fishing village near Puerto Lopez. All the kids took turns holding CiCi's leash and feeding her goodies.
died; her body was extracted from rubble in the coastal town of Canoa.

Over the next few days the reality of the devastation became apparent. Several poorly constructed small cities on the coast were almost completely destroyed; having grown too fast they'd been hastily built of stacked cement blocks with very little concrete between them. Two larger cities had 15-20 square block sections flattened; in Manta a shopping mall collapsed and of the 90+ shoppers & workers trapped, only 31 were rescued alive. Many of the isolated structures that crumbled while everything around them still stood were recently built government buildings - perhaps money for proper materials ended up in somebody's pocket.

Shana & I had been planning a trip to the coast for her birthday - it's been years since she's been to the beach. Fortunately, Puerto Lopez was barely affected by the quake. How ironic that one of the few buildings that suffered damage there was the fire station! CiCi came along with us and had her first glimpse of the ocean (she wasn't too excited about getting in the water, though). We stayed at Hosteria Mandala, the
Seven Suarez SistersSeven Suarez SistersSeven Suarez Sisters

My adopted family on the coast -- seven of the eight sisters (the 8th lives in Venezuela) with their Mom and her Dad. (L to R - Cati, Josefina, Ana, Juliana (madre), Marquitos (abuelo), Beatriz, Ximena, Juliana (youngest hija) & Johana.
hotel where I've worked as substitute manager the past 9 years. It was lovely to be there as a guest and enjoy its magic without worrying about work! Shana and I played lots of Scrabble on the ocean-view terrace, enjoyed multiple seafood meals, swam in the heavenly sulphur lagoon at Agua Blanca, and visited with friends.

My adopted family in Salango (the next fishing village south of Puerto Lopez) invited me for Grandpa Marcos's 85th birthday celebration! How lovely to see the whole family together! While looking around for another friend, I stumbled upon a farewell gathering for some people I'd met only briefly -- CiCi and I were warmly welcomed into the party! Our last night at Mandala, we were just falling asleep when the room started swaying and the windows started rattling. I scrambled for my shoes and Shana, CiCi and I were just about to head out the door when the shaking stopped. I got online and learned that it had been a 5.0 quake with its epicenter just off the coast of Puerto Lopez. I kept my shoes close at hand and reawakened several times during the night to lesser aftershocks.
CiCi Crashes a PartyCiCi Crashes a PartyCiCi Crashes a Party

We joined a farewell luncheon that we weren't invited to, but were treated like honored guests nonetheless!

After a long drive back to Banos, I barely had time to rest as I had to dive right into work at our Second Hand Charity Shoppe - the BIB Bazar. Jody & I continue to work hard, especially as we are preparing for our semi-annual garage sale as well. At the Garage Sale clothing is $1, but is of lesser quality. The BIB Bazar features higher quality donated clothing and goods and has brought in a steady income to help pay rent for the volunteer children's library. A few more days of prep and the madness of the garage sale will hit Banos once again! CiCi usually accompanies me to the BIB when we're sorting through donations. She's such a friendly pup and everyone enjoys having her around.

CiCi and I have enjoyed long walks around our neighborhood. The other day on our way home we crossed paths with an old, hunched-over gentleman who was using his machete as a cane. He smiled broadly with all three of his teeth and asked if I was looking for a husband for my dog. "No," I replied. "She's been operated." He
A truckful!A truckful!A truckful!

Few vehicles pass through these parts, so I never rolled empty! I found out that some folks jumped in for the ride, then had to hike back home!
grinned and asked, "How about you?" (HAHA!) One evening there was LOUD music coming from the nearby school and I stopped in a the corner store to ask if they thought the noise would be going on all night. They told me that it was the Mother's Day program that had started 3 hours late and would probably not last long since very few people were still around. BUT, they warned me that there had been a death and that the wake was to be held in the community hall directly across from my front gate. Funereal dirge-like music blasting from the church all night... seemingly, they WERE trying to WAKE the corpse!

I'll be leaving again next week to do a ten-day stint with volunteers from University of Maine chapter of Engineers Without Borders. This will be their first visit to Ecuador so we'll be do an assessment of a group of small rural villages, interviewing residents and evaluating resources so the volunteers can plan a drinking water project to benefit several hundred residents. I will meet the engineers in Quito and we'll make the five-hour drive to eastern Esmeraldas province.

Out the Back WindowOut the Back WindowOut the Back Window

Truckload full of students - so excited about riding in the truck, and saved most of them at least an hour's uphill walk!

If you'd like to see a few more photos of my Andean adventures with the Engineers Without Borders, scroll all the way to the bottom. Thanks for reading and drop me a note - I love to hear from my blog followers!

Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19


Students in 5th-6th-7th gradeStudents in 5th-6th-7th grade
Students in 5th-6th-7th grade

Agreeing to take on the project of being the model garden to showcase drip irrigation...who will turn the tap on and off during school vacation?
Internet on the RoofInternet on the Roof
Internet on the Roof

The best WiFi signal was up top, facing the antenna. I was able to get a weak signal from my room below, but it came and went.
Rooftop Happy HourRooftop Happy Hour
Rooftop Happy Hour

When the day's work was done, we kicked back with a tall beer alongside the drying clothing.
Sunset over the ClotheslineSunset over the Clothesline
Sunset over the Clothesline

Another rooftop shot -- we had amazing evening light our first few nights, then rainy & cloudy the rest of the week.
Evening SkiesEvening Skies
Evening Skies

Wrapping up rooftop happy hour as the sky darkens and the clouds light up.

14th May 2016

Sorry you've been having Dangerprone Daphney experiences! Sick, bedmites, earthquakes, toilet trouble, tire trouble, funeral concerts! OY! Hope things have brightened up for you and Cici!!!! <3 and miss my Jilly Jill!!!!
14th May 2016

Thanks for sharing
Hola Jill, how fascinating and heart warming to read about your adventures! And this is your daily life!
14th May 2016

Glad to hear from you
And glad to have more details about the earthquake....What a lot of loss there has been....As always, you seem to be doing valuable work.... Miss you! --Julia
14th May 2016

Thanks for sharing
I totally enjoy reading of your adventures (your life). A work friend just had a trip to Ecuador in your area. I had shared your blog with him as I thought your narratives would give him great info. He enjoyed them and loved, loved, loved his trip to Ecuador. He wants to go back! Thank you for sharing your life in Ecuador. I experience it all vicariously through you! Janet
15th May 2016

Hi Jill Thanks for sharing your life adventures. I remember the bed shaking in the middle of the night when I was in Antigua many years ago. I found it perturbing but it was nothing like the dramatic movement you describe.

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