Sunday, July 13, 2008

¡Cochabamba!

So, after our week in Oruro with Felipe learning about the work of an local NGO called Jaraña (topic of another 1 or 2 upcoming blog entries), Janaki and I are back in the city Cochabamba for a couple of days. This city has acted as somewhat of a basecamp for us on this trip as it sits midway between the eastern lowlands (where our project is based) and the western highland departments that we´ve visited on the trip (Oruro and La Paz). Situated right in the middle of the country it really seems to offer an average of Bolivia´s characteristics, most notably a pleasant mild climate (in between the sometimes frigid altiplano and the occasionally stiffling lowlands), and a seemingly heterogeneous political climate (some areas of the metropolitan area are strongly autonomist, like the eastern lowlands, while others support the central government, as is the prevailing attitude in the western highlands).

Though we´ve since developed a deep apprecation for the city, our very first impression of Cochabamba was not very welcoming. We arrived by plane from Santa Cruz just over a week before leaving the country in May 2007. Unfortunately we had arrived just in time for a general strike, which had crippled transit in the area. Not knowing the severity of the strike we hired a cab from the airport. The cabbie took us to the first intersection (which was blocked by masked protestors), dropped us off, and charged us for the full fare to downtown. We were left to walk about 6km from the airport to our hotel, which was a bit of a challenge since we were at an elevation of 2500 m above sea level rather than the 250 m that we had become accostumed to in Ascensión.

Once we were settled, our impression of the city rapidly improved. We were warmly welcomed by Duane and Marlene, friends of my parents who arrived in Bolivia in the 1960s as Peace Corps volunteers, and have worked on various development initiatives in the country ever since. They showed us some of the touristy sites of the city, and shared many stories of their diverse experiences in the country. They also introduced a group of indigenous youth with whom they coordinate to implement community development work in the tropical Chapare region as well as the city itself. We were amazed by the warmth and friendliness of this group (known as CEDESPAR) and their families, as they immediately welcomed us and made us feel a part of their community. We felt a noticeable contrast to our reception in the lowlands, where it seemed like months had passed before we had really gained peoples´ trust. We presented our work with the BioSand filters to CEDESPAR and they showed a great deal of interest in learning about the technology in order to implement water projects in needy parts of the department. Having recently overcome a large variety of challenges with the filters in Ascension, Janaki and I felt very capable of coordinating with other groups to help them get trained and started. Unfortunately, coordination from Canada proved harder than we had hoped, and for a variety of other reasons nothing resulted from CEDESPAR´s interest in the technology in the year that we were away.

Our second trip to Cochabamba in late June offered a chance for us to reconnect with our old friends. Duane, Marlene and the other members of CEDESPAR replicated their hospitality, and we felt right at home. We also planned a way to coordinate with Jaraña (a group that has also done some work with the filters) to give the youth a detailed orientation in the Biosand Filter on July 6th. Missing the bus to Cochabamba on the morning of the fifth forced us to take a night bus (a far more luxiurious experience than Felipe, Janaki or I had expected), which led to us arriving in the city about 10 minutes before we were supposed to meet with Jaraña and CEDESPAR. Luckily, once the meeting got going it was highly successful. Four members of CEDESPAR attended, and they seemed to almost immediately connect with Jaraña, and get along well Felipe. The success of the day-long meeting left the possibility open for further coordination between CEDESPAR, Jaraña, and our team in Ascensión to establish a demonstration project for the biosand filters in the department of Cochabamba. We´re now in the city for a fourth time on our way from Oruro to Santa Cruz. We´ve already stayed for a couple of days to recover from another bout of illness picked up in the higher elevations, and are also hoping to further develop a plan for collaboration between the 3 groups before heading back down to the lowlands to work with our team in Ascension.

1 comment:

ArtSmithSA said...

It was fun reading your blog, especially about Duane and Marlene and the wonderful people of CEDESPAR. They are good friends. Mary Belrose told me about you and was hoping you might get in touch with Community of Christ folks in Bolivia. Obviously you already are!