Wednesday, October 14, 2015

New Connections

  I've loved having the chance to venture out beyond my home community of Bahia Azul this year, and get to know people in villages all around the bay and upper reaches of the Peninsula Valiente. This week it was especially cool to venture even further afield, crossing back to the mainland and up Rio Mananti to revisit that magical river region. As you travel further up the Mananti it can give you the feeling of going back in time, with people still living their traditional, rough-hewn lives, seemingly less touched by the trappings of the modern day world that lies beyond the mouth of the river.
The huge dugout cayucos that carry people up through the valley into the heavily forested hills have mostly been replaced by fiberglass lanchas, but ascending the river is still an arduous journey, and an enchanting one.
  It's a couple of hours up from the mouth to where the river gets too shallow to continue and from there it's a hike of another hour to reach the town of Calante.
 I was bringing materials up for the first phase of an expansion of Calante's aqueduct, the gravity flow water system that carries water down from springs in the hills above the town. The community built the system with the help of Peace Corps volunteers about eight years ago and I've been working with them this year to maintain and expand the system to reach new homes. I was joined for the project by Justin, a volunteer who lives and works in a community across the river.
 The hikes from town to town in the area are always something of an adventure in themselves for me, and the friendly greetings from the people we would meet along the way were a tribute to the labors of Justin and all the other volunteers who have lived and worked up here before him.
   When we arrived in Calante on the main work day, the water committee had already gathered the workers and gotten an early start on the hardest part of the job, digging the trenches where the pipe would be buried.
  Mothers and children watched from their homes along the new pipeline route as the men dug the trench, prying up small boulders as they went.
  I was impressed with the determination of the workers as they toiled in the stifling heat, hacking through underbrush and clearing roots and rocks to reach the final houses.
  
  When the pipeline had been layed and glued together the vice-president of the water committee did the honors of cutting the existing line and connecting the new extension.
  The new line will eliminate the need for these families to haul water in buckets up from the river--water that is dangerously contaminated. They'll now have clean drinking water and water for bathing and washing piped directly to their homes.
  I stepped into the kitchen of this little girl's home where her mother was cooking lunch for the work crew and took advantage of their fogon, the kitchen fireplace, to thermoform a piece of pipe to make a temporary end cap.


  We got all of the pipes connected and tested, with the trenches filled in and tools put away earlier than expected. We talked over tentative plans for the next phase of the project, which will add a new branch line to carry water over to another new neighborhood, but for the moment the work was done. A general feeling of satisfaction and well-deserved sense of accomplishment prevailed.
  The hike back down the river to the town of Kuite, where I would catch the boat out the next morning was delightful. Late afternoon clouds moved in and a light shower provided welcome relief from the heat. I was happy for the folks with new aqueduct connections. I was also happy for the accomplishment of the water committee--organizing and carrying off the project with just a little financial and technical support from Peace Corps. That kind of capacity speaks well of the community and it is a real testament to the work of the volunteers who have served out in this region of Panama before me and those who are still up there today. For me, feeling a connection to their legacy is truly an honor.

Acknowledgements and saludos to the past and current Peace Corps volunteers of Rio Mananti: Andrea, Matt & Alicia, Austin, Jon, Ben, John, K.C., David, M.C. and Justin.



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