Monday, February 12, 2007

We're having a rather strange leap in technology here in Cruz Alta. As you may know I've been living without electricity during my Peace Corps service, something I truly enjoy. I love waking up to quiet. Everywhere else I've slept in this country you wake up to radios and televisions blasting horrible, horrible sounds starting at an ungodly hour (just a saying, I don't believe any hour of the day to be ungodly). So, right before I left to go visit my future in-laws a new cell phone tower went up on the other side of La Campa (my municipality) and it provided some parts of Cruz Alta with cell service. I still have a bit of a hike to where I can send messages and make calls but the Peace Corps is much happier with a new way of getting a hold of me. The old way involved sending a note on a bus and then making some unfortunate soul make the hour hike uphill to my site. We never had a successful trial of our communication system so having cell phone service seemed like a good thing. A couple of days after I returned from the states one of the national cell phone companies set up shop for a one day promotion in La Campa. The cheapest phone they sold cost around 500 Lempiras (about 27 dollars or 10 days of work in my community). They do have plans here but they are expensive and are only offered in the larger cities, everyone I know uses pre pay phones that require you to buy phone cards to "recharge" the phone with minutes. The phone cards range anywhere from two dollars to about 15, the two dollar card expires after 3 days, the 15 after 25 days, and if you don't keep your phone charged with minutes your account will expire and you have to pay to reactivate it (another 8 bucks). The day after the promotion, my town was literally crawling with cell phone users. Most people went for the cheaper 500 lempira model but I saw a few with flip phones costing four or five times as much (40 or 50 days of work for your average campesino). The mayor of La Campa is walking around bragging about how he is bringing better communication and technology and bettering people’s lives. Cell phones just don't make sense here (I don't believe they really make sense anywhere. Are we so important that we need to be accessible every second of the day?). But here I have students that can't afford to buy their textbooks turning around and buying a damn cellphone that costs 5 times as much as any book. I can't imagine people having the money to keep their phones charged with cards. I think that Cruz Alta will soon be full of shiny new, beeping paper weights. The funniest thing is that we don't even have the electricity to charge them, so every couple of days you have to make the walk down to La Campa and plug your phone in at the house of an understanding cousin our uncle. People work hard here and most are just scraping by. Now people will work harder to keep a status symbol charged and ready to call friends and family that live a minute's walk away.

The other day Don Luis asked me if I would help with the electricity project. Everyone has been talking about electricity since I got here (cuando viene la luz). I said I would help and showed up the next morning. I worked with a crew of Cruz Altans to move the power poles into place and then set them in their holes. The poles were all 40 to 45 feet long, pressure-treated pine and weighed a ton. They aren't using the existing road system for the power line so we carried, drug, and rolled (using a cart made of an axle and two truck tires) along single track, pack animal trails. It was rough work, some of the trails went up steep slopes and there were only 12 or so of us pushing, pulling and struggling up the hills to get to the pre dug holes. Once at the hole, we would lift one end and slide down Y-shaped metal poles to support the post. We'd lift a little, slide the poles, lift a little, slide the poles, until we could get two, longer poles with harpoon like spikes in the end stuck into the end of the post. The longer poles were used for more leverage and slowly eased the posts down into their holes. The power poles weighed so much, and we seemed shorthanded at times but we got it done. At the end of the day I had an hour walk back up the hill to my house. We finished late and I ended up making half the hike in the starlight. I was pretty worked by the time I arrived at my little house and barely had the strength to throw some pancakes together before hitting the sack. For the next couple of days I was sore in muscles I didn't even know I had. The electricity project is something I can get behind. I don't think it is exactly necessary and prefer my life without it, but it will improve people's lives here. The biggest improvement I can see will be in education. I teach my middle school classes at night and we rely on an unreliable solar battery charger and a smoky kerosene lantern. I like it that way but it would be much more efficient and effective with proper light. I'd like to work on getting a computer here to start teaching the kids typing and basic computer skills. My friend Ellen is working on a typing manual in Spanish. Nobody can type here, the most educated engineers will be giving a fairly technical power point presentation and hunting and pecking the entire time. There seems to be a little bit of leapfrogging here, skip the typing get to the pretty visuals, skip the community phone and get right to the blue tooth.

One nice forward step was the addition of a community bus. Every day a decommissioned US school bus leaves Cruz Alta at 7 am and heads to Gracias, it makes the return trip at 2 pm. I can sometimes get to Gracias quicker hiking and hitch hiking but there is something to be said for reliable transportation, even if it is slow, crowded, and occasionally full of livestock. I can now get a cappuccino and a doughnut in Gracias and let the bus take care of all my travel worries. I'm going to have to find some other way to get some exercise or I'm not going to fit into my wedding suit 4 months from now. Four months four months, that is insane and wonderful. Oh how time flies. Peace-Joe


Blogger dlcurren said...

is this working?

4:59 AM  
Blogger dlcurren said...

oops sorry for the last message. I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy reading your blog. Keep up the good work. I am jealous of your adventure and will be on my own in about 4 years.

5:01 AM  

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