Sunday, February 20, 2011

Three Cups of... Coffee?

Greg Morteson spoke at Virginia Tech a few years ago about his work in the middle east and the challenges he faced in constructing his first school. He talked about how long it took him to raise money to build an elementary school for a rural mountain town. When he finally gathered everything he needed for the school and went back, he couldn't access the community by road. He was forced to raise more money and build a bridge before he could get construction materials to the site for the school building. Well, I'm about to call Mr. Morteson and ask him how he dealt with it all...

Friday morning I got up to go running as I do at 6:30 every morning. When I walked down the stairs Madam told me that I couldn't run because there was too much mud in the streets. Not a problem, I would just do lunges around the house. A few hours later, I jumped on the 4-wheeler to head out to the project site and check on the work of the foundation. Apparently there had been more rain the night before than I thought and the river was pretty high. But not only was the river high, it had eaten away at the work we did on the road the week prior - so much that the entrance up the bank on the other side was now a 4ft drop directly into the water. Needless to say, I wasn't going to make it to the project site by moto that day, and neither were the remainder of the needed construction materials.

Instead, I went by foot on Saturday to see the work on the foundation and assess the damage to the road. The men had been working hard all week and it paid off. The foundation only needed a day or two to be completed. But now what to do about the additional needed materials...? I walked back to town trying to come up with different solutions to our problem of road access. There was no land left on the bank of the river to temporarily "fix" the road to be passed by large trucks. In order to secure the road and give protection to the bank of the river, major construction would be needed including hiring a bulldozer to re-direct the path of the river and purchasing and installing gabions to control erosion along the edges. This type of work would require a large amount of money that I did not have.

But technically, I do have the money. Only the money I have is designated for the construction and operation of the hen facility. But what good would it be to have an operating business if nobody could access the product we produce? Even finishing the construction of the house would require large trucks to pass carrying wood, tin, cement and of course, chickens. Similar to the situation faced by Greg Mortenson trying to build his school, I feel I am at an impass. Ideally it would be the government providing necessary roads and public services, but because my time here is short and this issue greatly affects my work, I feel the load has fallen on me. There is a large community separated from the downtown area because of the fallen road, but they also are looking to me.

I knew nothing in this country was easy, but why does it have to be so hard!? When I left Gros-Morne in 2008 with the intention of finding money to fund the hen project, road access was not an issue. It was just this past year when erosion control was done on the opposite side of the river that water was forced towards Kanpech, eating away at the bank. Without proper planning, correcting one problem only caused another.

So a little frustrated, I press forward. I took several town officials out to the river crossing to see the damage and discuss what could be done about it. In the meantime, I continue to work on the smaller things like waterers, feeders and nest boxes to go inside the house - if and when it is completed. Tomorrow I will again talk to the town officials to see what they found from talking to the people of the affected area and how they will contribute to the solution. With support from the community, I will start looking for possible funders of a road re-construction. ...Or for new funders of the hen project, depending on how urgently the roadwork needs to be done.

Truly "tet chaje", meaning "head fully-loaded" - a lot to think about, having no easy answer at this time.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tet Chaje

Things have finally started to pick up. This week was spent digging and constructing the foundation for the facility to house the hens. Sounds simple enough, but of course it never is.

The first obstacle we faced was the transportation of materials to the project site. The dirt road to "Kanpech" where the land is located is swept away every time a heavy rain comes and causes the river to rise. At first our mason suggested paying 40 people to carry rocks from the river to the site over a one week period until we had what we needed. Fortunately there are several brilliant young minds in our house that suggested, "why don't we grab a shovel and fix the road ourselves?" But of course that meant, they volunteered for the job. So last Saturday at 6AM, four Americans and an Irishman piled in the landrover to head to the river. By 6:15 we were throwing pick-axes, raking dirt and carrying rocks - and by 9AM our work had paid off to support large dumptrucks passing through. Problem solved.

But it can never be that easy. Now that we can get a truck out of the river and onto the road, how do we get if off the road and onto our property? Well, because one of the neighbors had moved the property boundary in his favor and taken our access to the road to build himself a house, this was going to take some negotiation. Fortunately this neighbor also owned the land on the other end of our property, again between our door and the road. However, instead of starting a "lawsuit" (if there is such a thing around here), he agreed to give us a portion of his land on the opposite end to make a "driveway". After a few swings of the machette, setting fire to a bush filled with yellowjackets and displacing the grazing cows, we were in business.

It's hard to describe exactly why things move slowly without experiencing the situation first hand, but every step forward is in the right direction. It has started to rain every evening for the past week and while this is good for the gardens, it may cause more delay in construction. We just keep pressing on and not giving into the challenges put in front of us. I knew God made me stubborn for a reason...