Friday, September 9, 2011

Holy Crap!

This entry is all about poop. If you’re not interested in Peace Corps poop stories, want to keep your mental images pure or you’re already feeling nauseated, skip this entry. You’ve been warned.

So my family’s latrine, as I’ve pointed out before, is really far from the house. Like a football field away. Remember that I live in a tree house like structure and I have to descend a ladder to get outside.  And I keep forgetting to get a flashlight. And it’s dark as shit in the campo when the sun goes down. Also, the latrine is nasty. The hole is almost full.  Every time you got in there to take a shit, you can see mounds of other people’s shit below. And le

So about two months ago, I had a horrible fever for four days and couldn’t really get out of bed. I sweated through hoodies kind of fever. Surprisingly enough during this time, my poops were fairly healthy.  I mean, I probably have some level of diarrhea like between 25-45% of the time. So the days I have good poop are noteworthy and my friends and I usually talk about the good ones. Anyway, during the sick spell, I couldn’t get to the latrine. I had to figure out what to do about this situation. I felt so gross, nasty and had no dignity left at this point, so I looked around my room for options. Black plastic bags. Could I do it? I wasn’t sure, but that seemed like the best I could come up with.  So I positioned myself in my room, rested my knee against my wall and used both hands to hold the bag where a toilet should be.  And dammit all to hell, it worked. I couldn’t believe it but it worked. And really it wasn’t so bad. So I doubled-bagged the situation and placed it on my balcony. Well after about four days, my balcony was starting to look like the episode of Dexter where they unearth the Bay Harbor Butcher’s burial grounds.
Ok, so the fever broke. Now that the hell was I going to do with like five bags of shit?  And let me tell you, the double-bag system isn’t exactly air-tight if you know what I mean. So I had to get them out of my room undetectably and get them to the latrine without anyone watching and throw them down the hole. But I couldn’t just toss them down there; I had to make sure they weren’t in the line of site because I didn’t want to have to explain that to my host family. I decided to put them in a bigger bag and put that in my backpack on my way out one day. So I got a stick and threw the bags in the latrine and poked at the bags until they were out of sight on the sidelines.

Then I called the Peace Corps office in Lima and asked them if they could front me enough money to give my family to finish their bathroom close to the house they started to build. Luckily for me they came through. But not soon enough. I thought my bag days were over…

I don’t know how in the first six months or so I managed to only have to poop during the daytime hours. A few times afterwards, the minute the sun went down, I felt it coming on.  So I had to bag it a few more times after dark. Jesus.

Then eventually, as things take forever to happen here in Peru, I now have a toilet in the bathroom near the house. No sink or lights or a shower, but a toilet that flushes at least most of the time. I thought my bag days were over…

I was at my friend’s place in a site like two hours away for a meeting. Her bathroom is outside and through another door that opens with a key. We had separated to run some errands and she had the key to the bathroom.  I was in her room and was getting sick. I tried to change positions so mitigate the stomach pains to no avail. I started sweating I had to poop so badly. So I frantically looked around the room for a plastic bag. Back to my old habits.  I tied it up trying to figure out what the hell to do with it. I opened the door to put it outside somewhere and there my friend was, ready to come in with the other key. But it was too late.

Now I’m pretty sure the bag days won’t be over till I move back home.  And given my general poor level of hygiene, I mean, whatever.

¡Por fin! Success. Maybe.

Until recently, I wasn’t sure my community was going to work. I’ve had so many failed attempts at projects I had even thought about changing sites. I sat six weeks in a row in front of the school waiting for kids to come to my sex ed group with no one showing up (except Maria. Shes’s the best).  So ended up doing the course with Maria and Santiago. And it ended up being really fun with just the two.

And also, the health clinic, although nice enough people, aren’t doing any health promotion like they’re supposed to. Each community out here is supposed to train health promoters to be the first point of contact for people in non-emergencies. And they’re supposed to make house visits to check on things and offer advice. For instance, some people use their latrine as a pig house and shit in the fields instead. Not the point of latrines. Not at all. Health promoters would explain to them why that’s not healthy.

And I have no local government. My mayor promised me money for paint to finish the world map and promised me chairs tables and shelves for a library in MARCH. There are a lot of broken promises here.

I have been teaching in the elementary school. But I really don’t like it much. The kids adore me which is nice since there are a lot of assholes around (less in my site, more in Pomabamba). 

And for every meeting you’d try to have with anyone from the community, you’d have three events or meetings out of four to which no one showed up.  This is what I had been living on for the last nine months in site. Failure after failure really grates on you.  I was wondering what the hell I was doing here, etc.  The things that were making me happy were all external from work or even Peace Corps. I start to feel anxious to get out of my community after like two, two and a half weeks. Doesn’t take long before you just feel beaten down and useless.

However, the last couple of weeks have been different. I’ve started my Cocinas Mejoradas (improved kitchens) project and have been blown the hell away with the community response.  So in general, the women here without cocinas cook on the ground inside the kitchen by putting a pot on a few rocks and lighting firewood underneath.  If you’ve even been at a campfire, you know how that smoke gets in your eyes and burns. And how your lungs hurt a little after.  Imagine doing that (on a smaller scale, granted) for five to six hours per day from the age of 16 to whenever your respiratory illnesses kill you.  Building these stoves is something relatively cheap that makes a huge difference in the quality of life of these people. All you need is a plancha (likd glass bottles and adobes bricks and someone who know what they’re doing. You build an adobe table, more of less, and two edges of adobes on which you place the stovetop. It’s hard to describe… there is a space underneath the stovetop to place the firewood but the flames stay mostly covered and the smoke leaves through the back up the chimney.  It’s elevated so the woman can stand up instead of crouch over the fire, the smoke leaves the house and it uses less firewood (which they have to chop down, collect and haul to the house. Bad for the environment, tough for the family).  All in all, it’s pretty brilliant. Wish I invented it.

Peace Corps expects us to work with 30 families with kids under five (affects their lungs worse than older kids and adults) on this project.  I started doing house visits with 30 names of mothers with little kids.  A handful of families already had the plancha and chimney from the only other NGO that`s ever been out here (Peruvian NGO). But the NGO didn’t ensure the cocinas were built. So some families built pieces of crap or never even tried. They’re easy to build but you need to know how to do it. So, the families with the planchas were going to e freebies in my project. I’m writing a grant for this from USAID and the planchas and chimneys are definitely the most expensive parts. So if they already had them, why not let them participate in the garden part, guinea pig corral part and other sessions? So then I needed more families. I rose the age to six and under. Captured a few more. But there were two families in particular I really wanted to help. Super poor, no men to help out (one died, one’s a useless drunk ass) and cry every time I’m around. But their youngest kids were 10. So I rose the age to 10 and under. Now I have 44 families and will be requesting funding for like 34 or 35 planchas. The project grew before my eyes but the mothers are excited.

Like I said before, I can’t get fuck all from meetings I plan. For this project, I had mothers traveling from the far away little neighborhoods to make sure they talked to me. And they only knew about it through word of mouth. I was blown away. I never really had to do house visits because they all found me. And they`re excited about the other components of the project too. So the three worst health problems for kids here are:
1.    Malnutrition
2.    Respiratory infections
3.    Diarrhea

So I`m getting more seeds of vegetables for the families to grow gardens with a cooking class showing them how to use things like broccoli. Hopefully that’ll chip away at the malnutrition. And let me tell you, the malnutrition is really, really pathetic here. There are 10 year olds that look 7 and many women here who might hit 4’5’’. Maybe.

And the cocinas assuredly help with the respiratory infections. Otherwise, there’s no air pollution out here. Just from firewood.

And to help fix diarrhea (which I have a lot and I’m careful) which is a huge problem here, you gotta get the goddamn animals out of the kitchen. There are a billion ways to get diarrhea but having animals (like guinea pigs, ducks, chickens, etc) live in the kitchen is a sure way to make your family sick. They shit all over the floor, little kids touch the floor, mouths, etc. And simple handwashing is not always easy when there’s no water. Anyway, I’m going to help them build cages outside the house for their guinea pigs. It’s beneficial because it’s healthier for the family, they reproduce faster and it’s easier to collect their shit for the garden. And interesting, I have seen nutrition facts for guinea pigs and they’re incredibly nutritious. The protein to calorie ratio is better than chicken. The only thing is they’re temperature sensitive and die sometimes from the cold and they’re a bitch to clean for very little meat.

And also, the families are required to attend six sessions with me over six months to receive their cocina. We’re going to talk about all the health topics most fucked up here:
1.    Basic hygiene
2.    Trash management
3.    Early childhood stimulation
4.    Improved latrines
5.    Nutrition
6.    Dental health

I really hope these sessions do some good. My host mom has to translate because I’d say three out of the 44 mothers speak Spanish. A sign of girls not finishing elementary or secondary school.   And also, I just want them to participate so badly. I want this to be successful so I can feel like I’m doing something good for this community. Geez. Wish me luck yeah?