In Nicaragua, it is hot. It is the end of the dry season. Rains are expected to start in June. Although, we learn that there is now no predicting the once-reliable weather patterns. In fact, it doesn’t rain much anymore at all.
Pedro, Engineer and Nicaragua Water Project lead with partner organization, Centro Humbolt, navigates the backroads of the Chinandega region, and I wonder how he can possibly find his way without a map. Landmarks include sugar cane fields, coconut palms, and Volcan Casita – what’s left of it anyway. The side of Volcan Casita came down in a land slide during Hurricane Mitch in 1998 that devastated the small communities in the area.
Today, we visit the people who have chosen to return to the area, to their land. A memorial has been erected to recognize the 2,000 lives that were lost, and while the land no longer shows obvious evidence of the slide, rolled up shirtsleeves and lifted skirthems reveal the scars of the survivors.
The site of our meeting is remote. Our truck is the only vehicle in site, and I suspect, the only vehicle the road has seen in some time. The small crowd, representing members from 45 subsistence farming families in the area, has arrived by horseback, wagon, bicycle, and on foot.
We gather around what appears simply as a block of concrete with a hole in the middle. A well. A well shaft anyways. From which any means to extract any water that may (or may not be) at the bottom, is evidently lacking, and has been for years.
Rafaela tells us about a functioning well 5km away. But there is great demand, and people come from all around to wait in line to fill what they have. Although collecting water is traditionally women’s work, here it is primarily the men who take on the task. The route to the nearest well, 4 km away, is dangerous and must be navigated before sunrise in order to return in time with the water required to start the day. And this is just the first trip of many.
The route is travelled by horseback or by horsedrawn cart, and water — for animals, for use in households, and for families to drink — is collected in barrels. For people whose survival is primarily based on an economy of subsistence and the trade of goods made, produced, or reaped with their own hands, water comes at a high cost. Money. Time. Productivity.
Blue barrels are at the ready, hanging from saddles and stacked in the back of horse-drawn carts. I reluctantly decline the giggly invitation from the kids to get up on a horse, but later wish that I hadn’t. It seems I can’t shake the impulse in the moment to do the ‘sensible’ thing as I contemplate what appears to be the ‘sensible’ solution for this community. A solar pump.
What if all it takes is a solar pump to give this community freedom?! As we leave, questions remain. Is there a workable solution? Will a solar pump have the capacity required? Is the water level adequate? Is the water, in fact, potable? There can be no answers without first identifying the questions.
So, for this community, this is how it will begin. Baby steps.
There are struggles here to which I cannot possibly relate. But, I do understand hope. I think. And, this is what it looks like. It is in the smiles, the laughter, and the genuine joy that seems to be, remarkably, ever-present no matter where my travels take me.