Monday, July 26, 2010

The work of Nolan and the children

I have a new found appreciation for Nolan and the work he does. Last weekend I accompanied him on an exploratory visit to a fuente (water source) in a barrio of Intibuca where they are having some problems with their current system. Nolan’s task is to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it so that the residents can get more than 3 hours a day of running water. We headed out with the Junta de Agua (water board) in a pickup up into the mountains. We stopped along some random side road, got out and started walking. The people we go with to different communities are all so interesting. I thought it was funny the outfits mostly. Here Nolan and I are wearing out REI lightweight ripstop hiking pants, northface hiking shoes and wicking shirts while the president was wearing some kind of work boots, jeans and polo shirt and carrying his computer. The secretary was wearing black dress pants, a leather jacket and baseball cap. Another member, the vocal, was wearing jeans, dress shoes, a cowboy hat and button up shirt. And we just set off into the woods on some tiny unmarked trails, these guys tiptoeing down muddy slopes and hopping creeks like mountain goats. It was raining so it was getting muddier and muddier as we went, but people here almost don’t notice the rain, or so it seems. The scenery was beautiful, as it always is. We would be tromping on narrow trails through dense woods then all the sudden pop out into someone’s random corn field or pasture with cows.

We hiked for maybe 25 minutes to get to the fuente where we talked and took pictures etc. They are having trouble capturing all the water that is being stored up behind the dam they built. They also need a section of the system redone. As we were talking with the Junta, I realized what a different experience Nolan and I are having with work. I sit in an office or store and chat with my lady friends and drink coffee (sometimes) or talk about marketing and abstract things. Nolan meanwhile is out here, a real engineer, discussing important design elements, troubleshooting problems and hiking 5 hours a day through dense jungle-like conditions. His vocabulary too is so different. I admit I hardly understood what was being said about the system, but Nolan got every word. I’m sure he’d be just as lost in a finance lecture though.

We hiked back taking a different route to follow the conduction line (I’m getting a hang of the lingo) downstream a little. By the time we got back to the car, it had only been maybe an hour or hour and a half of hiking, but I was exhausted, soaking wet and thirsty. Nolan was fine as ever. It really is a tough job he has, and I admire him for doing it so well. But I’m still hoping to go back out again with him and learn to survey.

Something else I’ve been meaning to write about here is the kids. I think kids here work as hard, if not harder than adults. With one of my groups, UMMIL, who has an artisania shop and café in town, there is a girl who works in the shop, let’s call her Maria. Maria is about 16, her family owns a pulperia in another neighborhood. But Maria works at UMMIL 7 days a week, nearly all day except a half day Sunday. She takes orders and makes food at the café, helps sell artisan stuff and does most if not all of the cleaning and organizing. Maria also goes to high school in the evenings where she is studying “comercio” or business, so in her free times at work, she does homework. She’s the sweetest girl, not at all depressed by her situation, but I just imagine that it must be so much work for her. She’s only 16 and she has a full time job and school! How many 16 year olds in the US can say the same? Maybe in the US kids have a part time or weekend job, but a full time, 7 day a week job and school?

Then there is the kid who lives next door to us, let’s call him Miguel. He’s 14 years old, also the cutest thing ever. His dad is I think the nephew of our host mom and his family helps run a Pepsi products distributor in town. So Miguel gets up at maybe 6 or 7, I see him a lot of times in the morning heading out. He works at the Pepsi place all day with his dad, loading and unloading big trucks of soda and water (which are heavy and he is a small 14 year old). Then he also goes to school at night a technical school, coming back at about 7:30 in the evening after long days, but always with the biggest smile on his face. In his free time, Miguel is taking care of his 2 year old brother who’s always running around in their yard. But he’s the most polite, happy looking kid I’ve ever seen.

Lastly, we just met a boy at a place where we go to get fried chicken. His family runs the fried chicken place and a pulperia. He’s always there at the desk, selling stuff if his mom or dad isn’t around. He’s only 9. He goes to a bilingual school so whenever he sees us he just starts chatting away in English, asking us all kinds of questions, anything he can think of. So adorable.
And those are just a few examples. Now, this is not to say that Hondurans are breaking some child rights laws by employing their children. That is not the point. First, I don’t know if there are such laws or what stance they take on this kind of work. Second, I think the kids are doing it mostly on their own accord to help out their families. Third, it’s not the sort of manual slave labor that would cause a child any real harm. Fourth, they are all still attending school simultaneously so they are still getting an education. So these kids are mostly (hopefully) learning a lot about having a business. Maybe not so much about the finances or risk, but about the management and work required. I am really in awe of the stamina and dedication these kids have, maybe because they have to. If they didn’t work, who knows what situations they and their families would be in.

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