Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mallco Rancho, Bolivia (2/22/04 - 3/7/04)

So the sheet of paper describing our host families says mine has a straw mattress on the floor for me, and that they have a toilet and a shower that doesn't always have hot water. So I'm happy to see that I actually have a bed frame, and that the straw mattress on top of it is actually straw encased in a durable plastic instead of strewn about the floor.

Of course the first thing I want to see thereafter is the shower and toilet.

"The shower is a natural shower.” they tell me. I find out later that that means it's outside surrounded by a 5-foot wall on three sides, and a curtain on the 4th. No big deal, I've used similar showers in Nicaragua, and now that we're at a lower elevation of 5,500 feet the temperature is much more bearable than it was in La Paz. In fact, by 11:00 it's warm enough to just wear a tee shirt.

"Where's the bathroom?" I ask.

"There is no bathroom!” the woman who appears to be my host grandmother responds.

My host mom starts explaining that there was a flood, and that's why there's no bathroom. I still don't understand, but since I only have to pee, I opt to do so behind the grain shed rather than press the issue. For a day and a half I’m able to postpone my evening and/or morning bowel movements until we get to the orphanage around 8:00AM. Then my stomach acts up after dinner on the second day and I ask for the 3rd time "Well what do you all do?"

My host mom finally explains that while there isn't a toilet, per se, there is a place to relieve myself. I honestly say this is THE most primitive "bathroom" that I have ever had the displeasure of using "in someone's home." In someone's home is in quotation marks because the "toilet" is actually not in the home at all. In fact it is about 25 yards away in the far back corner of the property. Behind where the 7 cows are tied up under their 10 yard by 15 yard tin roof.

As an aside, when cows aren't allowed to move around freely they tend to lay down in their poop. And 7 cows confined to a 10 yard by 15 yard space produces a lot of foul smelling stuff. Keeping too many cows in a small confined space is good for no one except the millions of flies that I'm sure feel that that have found heaven. They are everywhere! The guy who comes up with the idea to sell sticky fly tape here will die a millionaire, because right now it seems like the people of Mallco Rancho have simply surrendered to them. There's not a flyswatter to be found. Just everyone fanning while they try to eat their food. But I digress.

So I see a "structure" in the distance. I'm hoping that it's not the toilet because the three walls are only 4 feet high, and the makeshift door is a grain bag wrapped around a metal frame. Of course it IS the "toilet" and the walls are only 4 feet high because there is nothing to sit on. Since we have to squat to get our butts close to the hole in the cement, we're actually invisible while we're doing our business. There's no need for a locking door. They simply cut holes in the grain bag so you can see who's coming and warn them that "el bano esta occupado!" And a roof is probably not a good idea anyway, since putting one on a 4 foot high structure would literally mean you'd be crawling into a sh_thole.

Speaking of short door frames, I am definitely the tallest one in the house. Not only that, I don't think they have any tall relatives. Luckily the ceilings are pretty high, but there isn't one door frame in the house higher than 5 foot 6 inches. So I'm ducking every time I enter or exit a room. None the less, I still have a sore head from not having ducked long enough a few times. I have a new found respect for building codes in the states!

It's cool though. We're doing good work at the orphanage. The team and I are putting in a floor and stuccoing the walls of what will be a dormitory for older youth. It's hard work sifting sand and mixing cement by hand, loading and carting around wheel barrows full of huge rocks and dirt, etc. but we're seeing progress and finding enjoyment in it.

ADDENDUM: The project was a success. We laid the foundation for the main floor, and transformed 4 rooms from rough brick walls (unlike anything you’ve seen in the states) to smooth cement stuccoed walls, complete with inserted wooden door and window frames. It sounds much easier than it was. Have you ever hand chiseled cement for 8 hours straight. Not a fun task.

Hogar de Ninos (before), Mallco Rancho, Bolivia Posted by Picasa

Hogar de Ninos (after), Mallco Rancho, Bolivia Posted by Picasa


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