Our last day in El Salvador began as usual with a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, plantains with cream, papaya, beans, rolls, and strong coffee. After breakfast we said goodbye to Dean. I have really enjoyed meeting him and getting to know him. He was an important part of our team and we look forward to seeing him again in El Salvador one day. We left for Puerto Parada and drove through the City of Usulatan which is a busy place with lots of people and shops and traffic. We got stuck in a traffic jam outside of town for quite a while. We saw police cars, an ambulance, and other official vehicles pass us, but by the time we got to the area where there must have been a wreck, it was all clear. That type of traffic is only common in San Salvador so Chema was not expecting it in this area.
Although we arrived late in Puerto Parada, the four local community members were pleased to see us. We sat down in the shade with a nice breeze and listened to the issues they are having with their water system that serves about 300 connections with each connection providing water for 1 – 3 families. They have a 14-year old well that produces plenty of water, but the variable frequency drive (VFD) controller on the pump is failing. Their well system flooded in the past when the nearby flood control levee failed, but the levee has since been repaired. They are having trouble getting water to the end of the distribution system, getting the right amount of chlorination in the distribution system, and with pipes breaking in the distribution system. They have more families in the area that want to connect to their water system, but they need to develop the capacity for them. They need help studying whether to replace the VFD or install one or more tanks (pressure or elevated gravity tanks). We all piled into Chema’s truck and drove from their offices to the well to look at their system. Along the way we went past some corn fields where they were detassling seed corn. We also saw a corn field planted with squash among the plants. The squash leaves protect the soil and the corn shades the squash and provides something for the squash to climb up. I had a very limited Spanish conversation about corn in Iowa – I am learning more words in Spanish every day. We arrived at the well to see a group of chickens resting comfortably in the shade on the piping. We got the information we needed and then piled back into the truck and drove back to their offices. After we arrived, the head of the water committee said he wanted to give us some fresh coconuts to thank us for our help. He took off his watch, emptied his pockets, took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his pant legs, gathered up a big rope, and tied a machete to the end. He looped the rope around a palm tree trunk and basically walked quickly right up the trunk of a very tall tree. At the top he stood among the leaves and cut off bunches of coconuts and used the rope to lower them to the ground. After he quickly walked back down the tree trunk, he cut the ends off coconuts so we could drink the juice and cut open a coconut so we could eat the meat. He then used a machete to cut the outside completely off two coconuts so all that was left was the meat and the juice inside. We brought those back with us and they are chilling in the cooler for a snack before we leave in the morning. After we left Puerto Parada, we stopped at the Big Tree restaurant for lunch and drove back to Ciudad Romero. Gina and Chema spent some time evaluating the electrical systems here as they would like to add air conditioning to two of the bedrooms. We had a wonderful dinner tonight of pupusas (half with beans and cheese and half with squash and cheese), watermelon, slaw, and fresh squeezed juice.
I am enjoying my last evening in El Salvador. This morning we saw the bats that live in the compound fly right past us on their way to bed for the day in the trees. I tried to see them flying out this evening, but they were too quiet and quick for me. The sun has gone down and it is cooling off. The geckos are chirping occasionally – even though they are only the size of a chameleon they make a very loud noise. We are reflecting on the new things we have seen and learned about on this trip. We saw the sugar cane harvest. After the fields are burned at night, the cane is manually cut and loaded on huge trucks that we see along the roads. Last night there were large pieces of ash floating down on us as we sat talking in the common area of the dorms. It is election season here so we learned about the political system and the changes that are taking place as the people are pushing to make sure all of the power in the country is not concentrated in the hands of a privileged few. We learned about the volcanic origins of this country and saw one of the old volcanos, Chaparrastique, outgassing sulfur gas today, a relatively common occurrence.
At the end of my second trip to El Salvador I am reflecting on our successes and how enjoyable it was. We installed the planned test wells at Isla MonteCristo, collected a water sample to evaluate the cashew orchard groundwater quality, met with the community members and learned that they met and agreed to support our project. We visited Puerto Parada and learned about their water system and how we might be able to help them. We have a plan for the work we will do when our group returns in May. I enjoyed spending time with Mike, Gina, Dean, and Chema and getting to know them better. I enjoy working with them to understand the problems being faced by the local communities and working together to help provide them with solutions.
Once again I am impressed with the friendliness of the local people as well as their resourcefulness. I have never seen anyone get angry or raise their voice even in the middle of a difficult situation when things go wrong. They have developed strong, widespread grassroots organizations that helped them recover from the devastation of a civil war. When they returned together to Ciudad Romero they worked as a community to build a church, streets, and homes as well as to develop a new agricultural economy. There is a lot I have learned from the Salvadorans about perseverance in the face of adversity and how much can be accomplished when people work together towards a common goal. I am as committed as ever to do what I can to support their efforts and am already looking forward to my next trip here!