Friday, March 13, 2009

Kahkabila, Otra Vez!

Budget #2 has been approved, the peanut butter and Chiky's are packed, the buckets are full, and the Derbie D ships out from Bluefields tomorrow.

We'll be back in three weeks.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Viva la Vida en Kahkabila

Waking up at 4:30 with the roosters (Kahkabilans have magical earlobes and awake well-rested around six) and falling asleep with the sun got you down?

No worries! These suggested activities, painstakingly paired with painstakingly selected pictures to optimize the overall, artificial feel of randomness, will have you well on your way to optimizing those 12 hours of productivity each and every day!

Feed the pigs!

Despite what you’ve read in the papers, pigs need food, too. And the coconut shells, plastic wrappers, and indeterminate muck aren’t the best mix for our growing, stinky, mud- and poop-covered friends. So, give a hoot! Feed a pig some watermelon rind.

Fancy dress party!

Ok, so it’s more fancy pants and fancy boots and fancy hat than anything else, but no one can hear you scream about fashion sense in the bush. Tuck your pants tight, grab a stick to navigate the marshes like a trooper, and try to sneak out of town under cover of dark.

Vandalize graves!

So, yeah, it was already like that… but what a compelling caption, huh? The small Kahkabilan graveyard is over a little cement bridge at the southernmost edge of town, and serves as the final resting place for about twenty souls. You might feel like a prick walking around with a camera, but it’s nothing compared to the shame of jokes about grave vandalization on your blog weeks later. So, adjust. 

Highlight: the bright blue grave of the prophet Florentino.

Hunt endangered species!

There’s nothing really funny about this picture, but it does firmly solidify the earlier point regarding randomness. Kahkabila highlights a variety of conflicts between value systems that, in other situations, tend to generally work pretty well together: human rights, renewable energy, conservation, indigenous rights, sanitation, cultural support, etc. As no one says in KKB: welcome to the jungle. Here, you’re dealing with indigenous tribes whose cultural heritage is occasionally hunting sea turtles, whose numbers have mysteriously dwindled in recent years, such that the community is obliged to apply for limited permits from the finicky government of Pearl Lagoon. “Conservation is a luxury,” was how someone put it to us recently.

Turtles are typically 80+ pounds, and sell for about $0.75/pound in Pearl Lagoon and Bluefields. They taste kind of like aquatic pork.

Movie night!

There are at least four or five generators in Kahkabila, some of which provide power for numerous interconnected houses, forming their own little microgrids. Gasoline supplies in Pearl Lagoon are patchy, and diesel supplies aspire to one day rise to the level of patchy. Cross your fingers! When you do manage to track down some fuel (Kahkabilans are resourceful), gather forty or fifty of your closest friends and settle down to a fine US action flick, Jamaica’s “Capone,” or a completely confusing flick regarding voodoo, or something like voodoo. The popcorn and refreshment stand is underwhelming. Near the rightmost side of the pic, you can see Anelia and Oscar (seated) with one of their four daughters, Shelenie. This is the house we stay in, and they haven’t kicked us out!

Go coconuts!

After a hike in the bush, swatting mosquitoes, tracking sloths, and (since you’re traveling with four Kahkabilan friends who know this place like the back of their hand) treating the jungle like a fruit and nut buffet, after you’ve completely stuffed yourself with a fruit that looks like a banana-shaped shallot and tastes like a pineapple and sounds like the word “penguin”, it’s coconut time! The older coconuts, whose interior is what you will most often find in the states, will be picked later for rondon and other dishes, but the younger ones have sweeter milk and a thin, fleshy layer of coconut inside. You feel stuffed, you feel exhausted after 4+ hours, you feel like sleeping, but you won’t be able to say no.


No one but the students know what time it is, and even they don’t care. Welcome to the last couple months before electricity comes. Savor it. Put your feet up. Find two sweet-looking trees and tie your hammock. Go out to the muelle at night and see the best view of the stars you’re likely to see again in a very long time. Let it all sink in, knowing that the blog commentary will be far more flippant than the way it actually feels when you’re there, and that this strange, unsettling place in some forgotten corner of the world is the first place that, for the last few months, at least, has actually felt home-like. … Homely?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and the Reasonably Creepy

So, we're back from extended trip #1 to Kahkabila.

Spent about three and a half weeks in the community, living with a really nice family (see kids below), working constantly, and, here and there, enjoying the beach, movie night, and trudging through the bush.

We got back Tuesday, and we'll be heading back Saturday for another three weeks. It's hard to put the visit into a single framework.

We don't have a ton of time to spend with the blog, but we did want to post some pics and try to at least give some sense of what we've been doing there. We'll try to post one more entry before we head back next weekend.


Since arrival, we’ve been teaching an evening class in US-style English classes for native Creole speakers. Our first class had about 60-70 people, which has settled down to a more manageable daily class size of about 20-30. The class is useful for Kahkabilans looking for outside work (cruise ships, especially, which is a huge source of income for some families) that require formal English fluency. We’re basically teaching the first night classes in Kahkabila, using lights powered by the bE turbine and solar panels, and trying to get another guy to start literacy classes.

Also, there was a lack of two teachers for the community’s secondary school (which is essentially the same as 7th and 8th grade in the States). Since the schools are full during the day and we had already the main block of our time in the evening booked up for English (people go to sleep around 8 or 9 when there are no lights), we’re now secondary school teachers in Kahkabila. We teach “Energy and Environmental Studies” for eleven class periods each week, plus a class on histories and storytelling.

bE-specific energy, water, and lighting work:

Abbreviated and bulleted for your reading pleasure…
  • bE systems maintenance sessions with KKB energy commission
  • Completed initial site assessment for bE water filtration project
  • Metrics and usage assessment for the two existing bE systems
  • Testing of home battery system (heavy!) and charging station
  • Working with Thomas (community leader) to formally present results of a bE diagnostic study to the Alcaldia (local government), which will hopefully result in funding for a secondary school
  • Successful site visit from HIVOS representatives (major funders)
  • Completed field testing of greenlightplanet LED lights

The good:
  • Filling out lack of teachers for secondary school, feasibility studies, and positive reception by the community
  • Seeing greater organization: twice-monthly meetings, primary and secondary schools, coordination on clearing bush for the electricity company, etc.
  • An acopio (big icemaker for fishing) in Orinoco, which will impact COOPARAAS members in Kahkabila and allow them to reach wider markets (besides juggernaut Mar Caribe), is mostly done.
  • The cows and horses, as of March 2nd, will head to the fincas. Non-compliants will be fined 150 cords/animal. Less poop to follow.
The bad (for bE, but great for the community):
  • The lights are coming! Expected arrival around March 15th.
  • The water might be coming!? Governmental plans exist to drill Thomas' well deeper, possibly by April, and put in a 5,000-gallon storage tank and house-to-house plumbing, complicating bE's filtration project. Or maybe not. TBD.
The ugly and humorous:
  • Large spiders with skull designs on their backs and/or intimidating wasps, now included free with every latrine!
  • Coral snake found (and killed) outside the bathing room.
  • Stories of rocks made by lightning, coral snakes biting with their tails, and the fairy boy of the jungle. More to follow later this week.