I have been meaning to sit down and write this blog for a few weeks now. The problem is that my emotions have been on a roller coaster and who knows what I would have said in these past few weeks about how I feel about the latrines. However, I feel I can finally discuss it level headily now!
The start of the latrines project was very very bumpy. I have been working with these 55 mothers’ since October 2011. I felt like my expectations along with their responsibilities for the project had always been very clear. However, when I showed up the day before construction to inspect my first house, it was clear that something had gone very wrong. She didn’t have her hole dug out, nor made adobes (mud bricks), there was no husband to help out, and she was asking me to put her at the end of my list and come back in another month or two. I walked away boiling mad, we had been over this a million times, if you didn’t have your materials you would be thrown out of the project. So as I walked away from her house and could feel my blood pressure rising I found at the second house, that although she had her hole, she did not have adobe’s either.
I went home to think about all of this. Basically, if my first and second families of the project weren’t ready more than likely this was going to be something I encountered every day, and I had a lot of days left to go. At the end of the project do I want 55 toilets sitting in my house that I have no clue what to do with because I took away everyone’s latrine for not being ready? The answer was no. I also thought when this is all over do I want to go back to the United States to a house with multiple bathrooms inside of it, knowing that I did not figure out a way to help these families of Chipillico. The answer to that was also No, so I went back to the first family and we talked about what we were going to do.
She was adamant about not losing her latrine, so she had already contacted her brother in law to come and dig the hole, because that would be the most important part for the following day. Then we decided that he figuring out what materials she wanted to do for the walls would be on her, the contractor and I had many houses to do, and to stay within the bounds of our contract we were going to continue on, only stopping to do the walls for families who were ready with their adobes.
Part of the rules for the project was that each family signed a contract saying that there would be a male in the home who was available to help the contractor on the day of construction. Sometimes I regret this rule, because for example in the house above, the woman was incredible, and she worked right alongside the contractor, cutting wood, mixing mud and building her latrine, it was incredible. At the end of her construction, I told her she was my miracle Mom for all she put together at the last moment to make sure she didn’t lose her latrine.
The latrine construction is in phases. The first phase is the construction of the cement platform that will cover the whole and then have the granite toilet and tubing placed into it. That is only about an hour or work; however it takes 3 to 4 days to dry before we are able to install it. The second phase is the installation phase. In this phase we prepare the hole, with large tree trunk s to brace the hole and hold the platform securely, then we prepare mud that cover s the trunks and allows us to set the platform into it nicely. From there we install the toilet and the tubing. All of that can take up to 2 hours, depending on how well the family works with the contractor as well. Lastly, we raise the walls of adobes, this is usually a 2 day process, in the morning we work for about 4 hours raising half of the wall, we leave it for 4 days to dry and then we return for another ½ day of work to raise the final part of the wall. Unfortunately, very few families have actually had their adobes finished, so I have yet to see a finished adobe wall like what was discussed in the original project plan, however, I do have about 10 families that we are ready and we are currently in some phase of their construction. Other families that do not have adobes, we simply do the first and second phases, and the families are left with the bathroom all ready to go minus the walls. In this situation, I am finding that most families are going to do their adobes later, or are using other materials such as tin roofing panels to make their bathroom, which actually turns out very nicely.
The part of this project that has been the most challenging for me isn’t the construction at all. It is simply dealing with the families. I have had to be very strict, and it isn’t a lot of fun! Sometimes I feel like the families look for ways to take advantage of me. My first week of construction, I got into an argument with a mother who confessed that she didn’t have property to build on. It frustrated me that she lied back in October when she told me that she was renting their home, but had property they planned on building on in the future. I told her we would build on the land that she was going to build her home. However, when I showed up to start construction, she told me the truth, and then got angry when I wouldn’t just give her the materials. I can’t do that, I have people to answer to at the end of this project, and they want to see completed latrines and not materials lying around in homes.
Many families have also decided to change the model of the latrine against my advice. We are doing a dry-well latrine, which means there is a hole dug directly under the latrine, where all the waste goes. The families want to do another type where the waste goes into a tube connected to the toilet and goes about 3 feet away to another hole dug away from the latrine. However, this model requires that the families use water to flush their waste through the piping. In my opinion this is absolutely stupid to do in a town where there isn’t any water. Each family brings water to their home using donkeys each day or every few days that is typically used for cooking. Now they are talking about doing it twice that amount because they want this fancier latrine. I am not saying they can’t, because in the end that is on them. But I am only allowing the contractor to either install the piping or build the adobes to cover it, because both situations are very time consuming and again, we have 55 families to work with and we have a contract only to work on one type of latrine. Plus, it’s an opportunity for the contractor to make more money for the families to pay privately and for him to get his name out there as the person who has expertise in this type of latrine. However, the first family we did this with has been going around town trashing me and saying that I didn’t finish her latrine, she leaves out the reasoning why. She also claims I stole a half of bag of cement, which I did take because each family is given a half of bag, she was given a whole so I took back the half and gave it to another family. Plus after we left they used more then she was supposed to. This is so frustrating to me sometimes, everyone is extremely gossipy, and they know they like to leave part of the story out. I know what I am doing, and I know I am not cheating anyone out of anything; I just don’t like people trying to cause problems!
I also had one mother approach me and tell me that all she needed us to do was come and do the cement and install the platform and her husband would build the adobe house himself. That was great! However, when it was all done she wanted to know when I was going to pay her husband. I looked at her in surprise, and explained I pay no one except the contractor and how could she expect me to pay her husband for doing something in his own home to benefit his own family. These people are really crazy sometimes and it makes for some uncomfortable situations.
I have had mixed feelings about this project because I find most families to be very ungrateful or they just are never satisfied. For example the other day the husband decided he no longer wanted to build his latrine because he thought I would be giving them a porcelain toilet! I was in shock, they didn’t even have a hole to use the bathroom in before, they were just going in corners of their yard, and NOW they are too good to sit on a VERY NICE granite toilet! WOW!
However, I went to a home the other day where the wife said that at the end of the day after buying rice and milk and potatoes to feed her babies there isn’t any money to do anything like these latrines and she was very thankful. Another one told me that Chipillico will throw me a big party when I leave for all I am doing. I thought that was sweet.
And the people who have come out of the woodwork have been fascinating. The very first day construction began; some man was running alongside my mototaxi asking me to come talk to him if I have anything left over. One day as I ate lunch there was a lady who came in my house and sat at the table and asked the same thing. Just this week an old lady came to my door asking for me by name and then kept kissing me asking for a latrine as well. I feel bad when I have to tell them no, but the families in my project have been attending trainings since October, and it wouldn’t be fair to just give any away. Plus I know that I won’t have anything left over!
I have one contractor that is working on the latrines. He was recommended to me by my host Dad. He is just a regular guy who has some experience in these kinds of things. His family is one of the poorer families of Chipillico. And by him doing this project, he is making double what he would on a normal day working in the fields, and in the end the project is less work. There were more professional contractors who wanted a lot more money for this project, however, Peace Corps likes to be able to train and help people build an expertise like we are doing with my contractor. I really like him, he’s a good guy and I believe he is doing excellent work. Plus, he and I work well together. The other part of this is that he also has a large family, 6 kids, and when this project is over they still have to maintain their livelihood by working in the fields, so he asks for days here and there to be able to tend to something in his fields and it works out because he always makes them up, or we have extended our contract a little. He is a good guy, and I really think by everyone seeing him out there has and will continue to bring him a little extra business once we are finished with their project.
Peace Corps has a slogan “The toughest job you will ever love.” When this project started “love” was the furthest feeling I had. However, with each passing day and us having found a good routine and model for this project things have gotten a lot easier. Just the other day I was walking to one of my further out houses down this trail with my clipboard thinking that yes I kind of do love this.