Blog 2: Pulingui
It is the end of Week 3 and SEC Team Oportunidad has adjusted to the challenging Pulingui environment. It has been a steady ten degrees Celsius (about fifty degrees Fahrenheit) for this entire week. Though this is not considered cold by most, especially the UConn students, there is no escape from the weather; it is just as cold inside as it is outside. With the wind chill and high altitude, the interns tend to stay inside.
Our plans for our time here included consulting for a local jam factory, consulting for a social enterprise in Riobamba, hiking Mount Chimborazo, and lots of project time. By far the highlight of the week was hiking Chimborazo, the volcano that overlooks Pulingui. At more than 20,000 feet, “Tite Chimborazo” stands as a fatherly figure in the local indigenous cultures. Our hiking guides included an “Ice Man,” an individual who hikes to the ice level of Chimborazo to mine ice and transport it to the regional city of Riobamba. Twenty years ago, the Ice Men would hike Chimborazo daily (sometimes twice in one day) to bring ice to nearby cities and pueblos. Icemakers and refrigerators largely put the Ice Men out of business, but a few serve as tour guides. I wore two shirts, two sweaters, a jacket, two gloves, and carried a backpack full of snacks and toilet paper. I have hiked mountains before (thank goodness for the Sandias) but Chimborazo was a physical challenge unparalleled to anything I have experienced before. The altitude forced us to take a short break after every ten to fifteen steps. After several strenuous hours, we made to the “ice zone.” It was only after we made it to the top when I realized that our guide was not wearing gloves (he had some, but did not like to wear them because “they were too hot”). I might have taken pictures if there was a view (and if I could move my fingers), but the clouds enveloped us closely and our view was limited to the twenty feet around us. Gives a whole new meaning to the term “cloud nine.”
Pulingui does not have wifi. This cultural shock prompted the interns to find other ways to stay busy. In all honesty, not having wifi was very relaxing; I took hikes, helped the family with moving their livestock (the cow is difficult), and worked with others on community projects. Early one morning, I joined the rest of the village to participate in a minga, or a community project, to "repave" the lone road in the pueblo. "Paving" the road meant cleaning up the trash in the street, dumping fresh dirt over the road, and smoothing it out with shovels. I'm still not sure if what we did was actually helpful, but the giggling women insisted it was. A few days later, another minga included removing a fence that was in thick shrubbery; this fence was older than some of the younger mothers in the village. Removing this fence meant cutting down vines with machetes and cutting down trees with large axes. The interns were caught off guard when the older Pulingui women began swinging the axes to cut down trees. After only a few minutes of helping, Daniel, our regional coordinator, pulled his back and later went to the hospital. I'm not sure how the small Pulingui women are so tough and strong, but I was thoroughly humbled. My house mom, Paulita, insists that it's the soup and Pulingui dirt that creates such strong women.
When it comes to housing, I unknowingly had twenty-six roommates. Twenty-five of them were slugs that ranged from two to three inches long, slowly moving underneath the floorboards of our house. We only found the slugs three days before we left Pulingui. Like many “traumatic” events in our lives, I found the inspiration to write a poem:
Roses are red,
violets are blue,
bed bugs are not fun,
slugs suck too.
But in all reality, slugs are decent roommates. Definitely better than some of the roommates I know *coughcoughMenachemcoughcough*
Typical Pulingui food includes a hearty soup of choclo, papas, and an herb. Paulita used a healthy amount of herbs (I picked some of them) in all of her food and I became a quick fan. The rest of the meal varies, depending on time of day and weather. One morning, Menachem and I had a large plate of french fries, drizzled with ketchup. Paulita was looking on eagerly, hoping that she we enjoyed the meal. I finished my plate, though I didn't feel well afterwards. How could I say no to Paulita?
Tomorrow morning, I’m tasked with walking the cow up to the nearby hill, but the cow does not like me. Updates later.