At about this time two years ago, I wandered into a Engineers Without Borders Peru meeting where Project-Managers-at-the-time Emily Moder and Nicole Businelli explained that our project goal was to bring potable water to La Pitajaya -- though at the time we had no idea how we were going to go about doing it.
Two years and three trips later, I can happily say that we’ve completed the first major stage in reaching this goal: there are tapstands with water flowing in La Pitajaya Alta!
The last part of our trip was filled with a whirlwind of tasks. The biggest among these was connecting the pipeline from the reservoir to the tapstands. Ever since we first saw water flowing through the pipes, our rate of trenching and laying piped doubled. By the end, when we could see the tapstands, no one wanted to stop, and we stayed until after sunset that day. In the end, it was worth it -- we connected the first tap, and potable water flowed in La Pitajaya! (As Andres’s last blog posts hints, that was the day he stayed back sick -- sorry Andres!)
We also had several other related tasks to take care of; these included distributing technical and basic-use manuals, conducting assessment for Pitajaya Baja (the lower part of the community), and ultimately holding a final meeting for Pitajaya Alta, all of which went smoothly. On the side, we also had to figure out the optimum dance moves to use to tear up the Samne dance floor during the annual festival, which happened during our last days there! On top of all this, though I didn’t know it, the team even planned an amazing birthday surprise for me -- I’ve got 20 years and 6 amazing friends!
Project-wise, as often happens, we did run into a couple of last-minute snags. One day we tested two tapstands we had recently connected to find that there was no water flowing -- something was blocking the pipe. We ran into the same problem a little later farther up the line. While these was frustrating so close to the end, we tackled these problems with the same approach we’d used since day one: a combination of persistence, ever-useful mentorship, a smattering of good luck, and at least one Pitajayan armed with a hacksaw.
Taking care of these, we left confident that we built a functioning water system, which is sort of awesome. Ultimately, seeing water flow at the taps was one of the most beautiful feelings I’ve experienced. They say spring water has a nice taste -- this one was definitely tinged with the sweet taste of accomplishment. A mountain of steps was required to reach this point -- and through a year’s work at Princeton and on the ground, we managed to pull it off. We’re not totally done yet -- in the future, we still have to build a second system to take care of Pitajaya Baja, the lower part of the community, but Pitajaya Alta has water, which is what we set out to do with this trip.
One day toward the end, I stood upon a ledge in Pitajaya from which you could see the ripples of mountains stretching from it. I was struck by the fact that as far as I could see in both directions, there was now a stream of water flowing through underground -- a stream that we had helped make happen. It’s extraordinary to imagine that one day our team can look out at mountains like those and envision a water system, and another day have that water system exist.
After the trip, on our way back home, the last of us that remained in the Miami airport went straight for one of the most American things we could think of -- cheap Chinese fast food. Through the Orange Chicken was delicious, what really stood out from that meal was my fortune cookie, which read “The job is well done.” Some suggest fortune cookies are random and meaningless, but I like to think that somewhere in a fortune cookie factory, a fortune writer was reading this blog and wanted to congratulate us. Thanks for the support, fortune cookie guy! With a fantastic team and project, I couldn’t agree more -- the job is indeed well done.
PS -- To say that we built the system alone would undercut the incredible help that helped piece together all that is required for such a project. The whole EWB team back at Princeton helped make the trip possible, especially Tech Team leader Jonathan Glassman, who even called in weekly during the trip to check on us! We also had a great foundation from last year and last year’s trip. The community was amazing to work with, of course, especially local contacts Alan from Samne and Ana from the ISF. During the last three weeks, we also had help from five Peace Corps volunteers in the area: special shoutouts to the incredibly helpful Kristen, Jamie, Eddie, Dave, and Read, who gave us digging arms, hilarious stories, and life advice. Also, thanks to Princeton through PEI and the Keller Center for supporting us, and our other funders! Before this sounds too much like an Oscar acceptance speech, one last shout-out for the super awesome travel team -- wouldn’t spend the summer with anyone else!
Celebrating the first tap!
On their way to Baja:
Cutting Pipe Searching for Leaks:
A working tap!
PMs and a small legacy:
Savvy Fortune Cookie: