Months before beginning project, the high school principle wrote a letter promising that their oldest students would help us dig the trenches necessary to install the new pipes. These students needed volunteer ecological hours anyway to graduate, and since this project would count, it was a win-win for everyone involved. The first day a bunch of students turned out and did great work, but towards the end of the morning, one of the boys ended up busting an existing pipe, causing water to spout like a fountain out of the ground, and giving the road a striking resemblance to a chocolate milkshake, not to mention leaving that neighborhood without water for the day.
|Digging in front of the casa materna|
So I was frustrated, and let them know, especially after they started laughing and playing in the water, but in the end we were joking about it. That’s why it came as a shock when no one showed up the next day and I learned that the students had written a letter denouncing supposed abuse by the water committee, and refusing to work on the project any longer. What really confused me was that the students who signed the letter weren’t even there for the pipe-breaking incident, which is when they claimed the abuse took place. It turns out that when one of the men from the water committee came to fix the busted pipe, he started bad mouthing the students, as he is wont to do. He’s the type of person who will bad mouth anything from a rock in his shoe to the weather; he doesn’t mean anything by it. But someone heard him talking, and that someone told someone who told the students about it, and that’s when all the bad things started happening.
|Before breaking the pipe|
Even after I went to the school and gave a rousing speech about how the best way to get back at someone is to prove him wrong, and show him all the good work you can do (to which all the students responded excitedly that yes, they would help out again) besides a group of four who took pity on me, they never did help with the digging beyond the first day. Meanwhile, the health center staff were also refusing to help with the digging, one man even going so far as to refuse to help, and then sit nearby, criticizing various aspect of the project design, especially the proposed location of the pila, saying that it was all just the gringa’s strategy to make them work more. Remember he said this as I was digging in the Nicaraguan sun, and he was sitting down in the shade, and after we’d consulted the rest of the staff as to where they wanted the pila to go.
There was no want of critics beyond that man either. It seemed that everyone who talked to me about the project would passionately tell me how everything, from the size of the pipes to the digging tools, was wrong. Don Marcial wasn’t free from this criticism either as many people asked him in a horrified tone, how he could let the gringa do manual labor by herself. This wasn’t fair to him either, as he was busy running around, organizing the pipes and the pila construction, all while trying to keep his own business afloat. All this negativity is why I’ve waited so long to write this up, because it hurt so much, and it still hurts as I write it up now, because so many people who promised they would help didn’t, and people who I thought would be happy about the project seemed to be genuinely upset at me, and there is at least one student who still refuses to talk to me.
The worse part of it was that it was making me lose sight of why I was doing this project. After waiting for the students for the second day in a row, I left the casa maternal, saying to the ladies that I was off to put up a fight, but I paused to complain that I don’t like to fight.
|Us, with the uncompleted hat.|
“Yes, Teresita, but sometimes it’s worth the fight,” responded one of the ladies, nodding her head in encouragment. She had been at the casa maternal for almost a month, and was pregnant with her sixth child. She cooked and cleaned, and went to the river everyday to bathe without ever complaining. I had tried to go through this process without complaining, but obviously hadn’t succeeded, and here she was, like me, far from her family and friends, and she didn’t complain. You know what she did instead? She crocheted me a hat; an absurdly cute hat, complete with a flower on top.
I looked at her, and thought of all the other amazing and strong women who I’d met in my year here, and said, “You’re right; sometimes it is worth the fight.”