Surpassing goals, Goodbyes and the Return Back to Good Ol’Princeton

Time flies when you’re busy- or having fun- or both.  It’s hard to believe that our time here in Peru has come to an end.  Princeton classes start in a few days, which is a bit daunting. The past few weeks have been hectic to say the least.  We are all in a mixed state of exhaustion and excitement from the project.  The six day workweeks with 12 to sometimes 15 hour days was quite draining, but during the final stretch, we made significant progress.  For the final stage of the project, we were down to six travel team members and one adult mentor.  Camille had to head back to Princeton early because of Assistant RCA training and while she is missed dearly, we all will see her when we’re back on campus.

A little farewell party for Camilla

 

A little over one week ago, we finished connecting the Ballico line and completed the disinfection of the system.  This lined involved three quebrada (ravine) crossings, nine tapstands, and one 1100 L storage tank which will provide water to an estimated 45 people.  Everyone was nervous yet excited when we first turned the tapstands on, but that turned into straight joy as soon as we saw the water flowing.  One woman who lived on the line told us that she had lived in her family’s home all of her life and this was the first time that they had access to potable water in her lifetime.

Opening our system and seeing water flow at a family’s house for the first time in history

Testing the pressure to know where the air gaps are. When opening a system for the first time, it takes time to flush out all the air that resided in the pipes before the valves were opened.

Sneha got so excited to see the water flow that she had a celebratory drink.

Building a protection house around Ballico’s 1100L rotoplast tank, which services 45+ people

After the successful completion of the Ballico line, the community really went into hyperdrive.  Several community members were trenching nonstop and we really got the hang of sandpapering the ends of the PVC pipe (lijar-ing as we say in Spenglish), laying the pipe, gluing them together and filling in the trench (tapar-ing).  The fact that we were ahead of schedule combined with the fact that we are underbudget means that we expanded our summer goals to include Baja, one of the last sections of the community.  In total, we built approximately 6.5km of pipeline with six pressure breaks and 44 tapstands, which will provide water to an additional 220 people in Pusunchás.  Our original goal included only 40 tapstands (which was a pretty lofty goal to begin with), but with the support and hard work of the community, we were able to connect the extra four houses to the system.  After a quick disinfection process, all 56 houses and 280 people on the system now have access to safe and reliable drinking water.

Always a fun time carrying pipes on your back up mountains in 10,000+ feet of elevation!

Our favorite future engineers <3

Building out La Colpa – the steepest part of Pusunchas residing several cliff faces and ~fun~ obstacles

Several sections of galvanized pipe were needed in regions where the terrain is too rocky to have the required trench depth or there is high animal/car traffic

Cleaning out the filters in the faucet spigots during the disinfection process.

While we worked on expanding the system, we had to shut off the valves to a large section of the community.  Even though it was only temporary, it was still difficult for us to see the community members resorting back to their previous method of retrieving water, often times involving long walks with several 20L buckets to sketchy watering holes and then a difficult (but still not adequate) disinfection process.  Everyone was ecstatic when we were able to turn the valves back on and see our hard work this summer start paying off.

 

During the last week, we made final trips to our favorite restaurants in Otuzco for the last time.  The group had their last serving of Chaufa (fried rice) a few nights ago and we saved the pollería as our last meal in Otuzco and invited Erasmo, Julio and our construction mason, Tito.  We frequented more or less the same four restaurants during our time in Peru and it  made us quite recognizable among the restaurant staff.  There are very few non-Peruvians in Otuzco and when all of us were together, we tended to stand out.  Last week, Sneha had left her water bottle at the restaurant Don Lucho, another group favorite, and the following week they returned it to her saying “we knew you would be coming back!”  While I’m not sure that I’ll miss the quantity of potatoes in my current diet, I will miss the familiarity we’ve developed with the best restaurants in Otuzco.

On Wednesday, our last day in the Pusunchás community, the JASS surprised us with a special meal before the final community meeting (which of course included several of the best cakes available in Otuzco).  Everyone said a few words and it was extremely touching to see how impactful the project is and how invested everyone is in its success.  A few (read: many) tears were shed and the whole goodbye process took well over an hour after all of the photos and hugs.

Recap of what was done this summer, what is left to be done, and a heartfelt thank you and goodbye (for now) to the community members

After some late last minute packing and final round of Peruvian midnight snacks, the 48+ hours of travel began. On Thursday morning we took an early bus to Trujillo accompanied by our local contacts and friends, Julio and Erasmo where we said our final goodbye.  From Trujillo, we took  a nine-hour bus ride to Lima.  To say the bus ride was comfortable would be the largest understatement of the whole trip.  Between meals, individual TV’s and seats that recline a full 180 degrees, that bus ride provided us with some much needed rest.  In Lima, we stayed with our local contacts, the Marianistas, and we had some time the following day to use the last few soles that we had.  Late last night we all headed to the airport and the long process of goodbyes began.  Scott and Nicholas split off from the group first, while the rest of us were on the same flight to Fort Lauderdale together.

 

It’s hard to express into words how incredible the past few weeks have been.  So much has happened that it’s hard to keep track of it all.  Half of our conversations now involve some form of inside jokes and it is strange to think that we will go back to our “normal” Princeton lives in a few days.  Our time in Peru was filled with laughs, challenges, awkward encounters, and of course, a shit ton of potatoes.  It’s a very gratifying to know that our project is making a tangible impact in Pusunchás and I wouldn’t change our time in Peru for anything.

 

As we said to the Peruvians when we left, it’s not “adios,” but simply just an “hasta luego.”

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