Thursday, September 13, 2012

If problems exercise your brain, I'm in a mind marathon

Tearing apart the old bathroom
 I once made the horrible mistake of buying glue traps to deal with a mouse problem. I got up the next morning to the unforgettable sight of a poor dead mouse that had gotten his little paw stuck first, then another paw, then the side of his face.
I'm starting to suspect the water project at the children's home here in Copan might be angry mouse spirits getting back at me for that wrong deed. Every thing I touch up there just seems to stick me tighter into the glue.
The plan was for new bathrooms and a big new water tank so that the Angelitos Felices foster home had decent basic services for the 30 or so children who live there. The mason who took on the project told me he'd have it done in 15 days.
A little over three weeks into the project, the bathrooms are done and the tank's in place, sitting atop a nicely reinforced concrete floor to avoid any risk of 5,000 pounds of water crashing down on sleeping children in the room below. I have to laugh now at how I once thought that would be the most complicated part of the project.
A new front door! Not rotten!
The foster home is a scant four years old, which is unbelievable when you see what a state it's in. Who knew that a door frame could rot out in four short years? Like they say, you get what you pay for, although rumour has it that you can't pin the blame for the shoddy job on the benefactor whose name is on the commemorative plaque outside (like everything else to do with Angelitos, it's complicated).
At any rate, that was the second big surprise once the mason and I got the crushed-children problem sorted out - that virtually every tube, fitting and pipe in the home would need to be replaced. All of them were either undersized, plugged, broken or missing entirely.
There wasn't a single trap on any of the drains or toilets, which certainly went a long way to explaining why the place smelled so bad all the time. The cistern in the street where the city water came in - well, you don't even want to know what that looked like inside, what with a passing dump truck having caved in the metal lid some months before and the hole in the ground catching all kinds of filthy runoff from that point on from the surrounding street.
The cistern had to be drained and rebuilt, as did the water pump that by this point was packed with the mud that had settled a foot deep at the bottom of the cistern. The pipes running from the cistern into the home had to be replaced, as did the pipes in the street connecting the Angelitos water system to the city supply.
Check out that big new water tank and tortilla/beans sink
Weird things kept cropping up. Like the badly built drain pipe above the children's bedroom that poured water into the room whenever it rained. The hole in the floor in the grubby little half-kitchen upstairs, where staff had gotten into the habit of just dumping food waste down onto the property of the increasingly irritated neighbour. The lack of water access in that same cramped attic of a room, which meant staff had to pack dishes and cooking water up and down three steep, dark flights of stairs and through the children's bedroom anytime they were making tortillas and beans (which is to say, daily). That rotting front door, which somehow managed to stick fast at the bottom while dangling loose at the top.
The kitchen water came straight out of the cistern instead of being connected into the rest of the system - a big problem anytime there's insufficient water in the cistern. The outside gutter poured rain water directly onto the ground in front of the home from two stories up, creating a muddy mess and irritating the neighbour on a whole other front.
Renovated downstairs bathroom
Addressing those many issues weren't part of the original plan. But what are you going to do? So we added them in.
This week was supposed to be the week everything came together. Ah, but I should have known better.
The water was supposed to flow into the newly renovated system for the first time on Sunday, but the cistern didn't fill. The work crew had to dig up the street to find the problem.
Then the cistern filled, but the water didn't flow into the home, necessitating a whole other round of digging. On Tuesday, the big tank up top filled for the first time, but a faulty valve that had been overlooked let all the water drain away over night.
Today it almost all came together - the cistern filled, the water flowed into the stone pilas where the clothes are washed. But the staff was so enthusiastic about finally having water to wash the thousand or so pounds of dirty laundry that had built up that they drained the cistern, which meant the tank up top didn't fill and the bathrooms weren't working.
I learned something else today: The pipe that connects the Angelitos system to the city water supply is ridiculously small. So even when the water does flow - every other day in that neighbourhood - it's quite likely not going to be enough for the needs of the home. And wouldn't you know it, using a bigger pipe is prohibited by the municipality.
New project: Get to know the mayor.


michael rooksby said...

And we have the gall to complain if the power is out for twenty minutes... Anyway - well done Jody; you are these children's angel for a while. Michael Rooksby

Unknown said...

Lovely Jody!! Your story reminds me of my work in Malawi, Africa a few years back - very frustrating. It took almost a week to buy a printer for heaven's sake! And, it was near impossible to arrange for the "white" bore hole driller to work with my Malawian friend to install a functioning well in a small, remote village rather than dealing directly with me! I love the line in the movie "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel": "Everything will be alright in the end and if it isn't, then it's not yet the end!" Great work girl....give yourself a BIG HUG!!!

Libertarian Book Club said...

I am very impressed by how you practice what you preach. If more people were like that, the world would be a better place.

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