Friday, June 5, 2009

A day in the life

Guest Blogger: Ben

So what exactly am I doing for work in Guatemala, some of you may be asking? Actually, some=all since I hardly knew before I left Colorado two months ago, and am not known for keeping in touch. For starters, I work for a Denver-based non-profit called Healing Waters International (HWI), or Aguas de Unidad here in Guatemala. The just of HWI is simple – people need clean, safe drinking water here and in Mexico and the Dominican Republic where other HWI projects are. To provide safe drinking water, HWI partners with a local church and with funds donated by sponsors in the US, installs a water purification system. The system purifies either tap water, water from a well, or from a “pipa” (water delivery truck), and then sells the water in 5 gallon jugs for 5 quetzales here in Guatemala (equivalent to $0.63). This allows people in communities where HWI systems are installed to buy water at a third the price than what they pay in a local store. Granted, this may not seem to be a big deal to those of us who pay $1-2 for a 1 liter bottle of Aquafina or pay $30 per month for 10,000 gallons of tap water, but economics are different here: the tap water is not necessarily safe to drink, if reliable, and I remember reading somewhere that the average household annual salary is $3,500 (or roughly one tenth of ours). There are many other factors that make this a “win-win” in the words of a guy I met this week from the US – the church employs an encargado to fill the 5 gallon jugs and the church is able to use the money from the project for community outreach. For example, they may donate 5 gallon jugs to a local school that does not have purified water. For more info, check out the HWI website:

Okay, so that doesn’t explain what I do. My job is coordinating maintenance on the water purification equipment, scheduling water quality analysis, and organizing the delivery of what we call consumables, which are the jugs, seals, and chemicals used in the system. This is a tall task for a guy who speaks only 4th grade Spanish, so most of my time thus far has been learning from Juan Colmenares who has been working at HWI here in Guatemala since it's inception in 2004. Juan also doubles as my Spanish tutor and has the patience of a saint since I have mis-pronounced the word “cotización” five times this week alone (cotización = a quotation from a distributor to provide cartridge filters, for example).

So here is a run down of my week:

Monday: went to breakfast with the national director, Mario, to meet some people from Willow Creek church in Chicago who want to help sponsor new systems in Guatemala, Que Onda! (= how cool, new vocab for me); then drove to Chimaltenango with Cristóbal to visit system with pump problem, checked pump, plan to return tomorrow with parts; tried salad for lunch at Pollo Campero (=KFC but much fresher); return to office for bit, then home to Antigua where we ate pizza with Kim (Mario’s wife) and two daughters Megan and Lilian;

Tuesday: left for Guate (Guetemala City) at 5:30am so I could arrive at 8am for our car’s inspection at Insurance office, traffic was so slow I bought the Pensa Libre (newspaper) and skimmed front section and sports before traffic moved; Nuggets are in playoffs against LA Lakers, game 1 tonight at 7pm, Lakers favored go figure; arrived at insurance office 30 minutes early after only one major wrong turn; chatted with local guard for office who had standard-issue shotgun (every building has a guard here); went to meeting with insurance agent, who told me they need two hours to install LoJack detector, part of requirement to insure Dewey; called Juan who met me to go to pump parts place (PPP) meanwhile, waited for Juan and ate a tamale and rice milk from woman on street corner; went to PPP but found out they didn’t carry parts for pump in Chimaltenango (Chimalt); went to correct PPP where Mariano told me they don’t sell a replacement part ‘kit’, only individual parts but they can diagnose problem and fix in office; Juan and I went to Landivar where the HWI system has problems with taste in purified water, we tasted several samples in process and agreed we need to replace cartridge filters and change carbon filter media; Juan dropped me off at Insurance place, picked up Dewey after another hour of paperwork and photos for record; back to office without getting lost (first for me); back to Antigua for dinner with Mario+family and Krista;

Wednesday: drove different way to Chimalt and enjoying mountain scenery (reminds me of Colorado), where Cristobal and I removed the pump and talked with the church encargado and director about shutting down the system for the day – no spare pump available; then went solo to Petapa where there is an HWI system with leaks in some piping, replaced some PVC piping and talked with Pedro the encargado (water system employee), found out that Pedro’s dad lives in Philadelphia but he has yet to visit because he lacks passport, papers, etc.; returned to office and then back to Antigua to hang with Krista and watch Nuggets victory!

Thursday: returned to Chimalt to replace the pump we had repaired at the PPP, turns out I need to re-wire pump to controller which I don´t have diagram for; went to another system with the encargado, Felipe, to review the existing wiring there for the same pump; talked with the encargado there, Henry, who had a broken arm – he was in a motorcycle accident that Felipe chided him was because he was talking on the phone with his girlfriend; armed with diagram for pump wiring, return to Chimalt and wire pump with controller with help of Felipe while I find out that he plays guitar in local church band and loves American rock (Nirvana, Metallica, you name it); Felipe and I decide to trade music the next time I’m there since he has a collection of Guatemalan rock music; went back to office for afternoon and talked with Juan about scheduling water analyses at all the systems.

Friday: Wow, it has been a pretty busy week already but Juan, Cristobal and I return to Petapa to make sure we have all repairs made to system since the Ministry of Health may re-visit the system; check out pipe repairs and operation of the system – I still need to diagnose chlorine pump problem but not today; drive new way back to Antigua on way home and stop with Cristobal and Juan to eat churros (fried sweet bread, not to be confused with chorros = valves in water system); back to Antigua to eat dinner with Krista at Sabe Rico (=best food I’ve had in Antigua) and watch Nuggets lose to Lakers, go figure.

we're currently taste testing the systems to see which water we like best for home


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Anonymous said...

I would suggest you visit where you can obtain their Biological Filtered Sports Bottles w/ replacement carbon filters which are portable, and can purify any contaminated water.