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Hitting the Ground Running

July 10, 2010

¡Ojo! Help one of our community partners.

I’ve only been in the desert for four days, and already it seems like a month. All of Marley’s incredible work getting in touch with community members has translated into tons of opportunities, contacts and ideas–the only problem now is finding the time and energy to follow them all!

I (finally) escaped the sauna of DC early on Tuesday morning and, thanks to the nifty two hour time change, still arrived in El Paso with plenty of time to get to work–and get to work we did. Within a few hours of my arrival I was given massive updates about our community contacts, reviewed our busy schedule, discussed and edited our film-making principles with Marley, went grocery shopping, took a nap, settled in to Casa Puente, met the furriest member of our community, Shiner the two-year-old lab mix, and finally fell exhausted into bed.

Our first day settled us into a pace that is exciting but a wee bit fast (but don’t worry! See Principle #9). On Wednesday morning we woke with the sun and drove out to the Community Center in Socorro,  a colonia right outside of the El Paso city limits. Because they are close to the incorporated areas of the county, they have easier access to utilities than some other colonias farther out. A man who worked bringing sewage and water lines to colonias in the 1990’s estimates that around 75% of Socorro residents have access to running water.

Were were out in Socorro to shadow two promotoras, Jessica and Rosa, who are kind of like community social workers. The promotora model is widespread in the colonias and is based on community health worker models in resource-poor settings. Promotoras visit houses within Socorro to give health and safety advice and connect families to local resources for education, nutrition and skills training. Jessica and Rosa were kind enough to bring us to the houses of two women whom we will interview and film next week.

The first woman, Ofie, is a veritable knitting MacGyver–as soon as we were introduced to her she rushed into a back room to bring back multiple loads of blankets, bags, shawls and accessories that she knit herself. She showed us around her house (which she and her husband built themselves, by the way) and it seems that she has knitted everything that can be knitted, from dishtowels to toilet paper holders to curtains to fridge decorations. She also showed us beautiful wall decorations built of materials that would otherwise have been thrown away, and told us that most of her sewing material comes from trash cans, thrift stores and scrap from families whose houses she cleans. She agreed to let us come back to visit her and film on Sunday.

The second woman, Mary Lou, has a wonderful garden with medicinal plants, flowers and fruit trees in her backyard. She gave us a tour of her house and yard, discussing the names and properties of individual plants. She also agreed to let us come and film (oh, and she and her husband also built their own house), before she goes off to Cancun for vacation.

All of that in one day–we returned to rest and work on web updates, and get ready for our first film shoot on Thursday with José, the president of Colonia Revolución, a community of about fifty families that does not have access to water lines.

We filmed for two days with José who (do you see a theme here?) started with a trailer in 1998 and now has built himself a beautiful three-bedroom house. He toured his property with us and we drove around the colonia while he narrated bits and pieces of the history and struggles of his neighborhood. José has been fighting to get El Paso County to extend their water lines to his community since he moved there thirteen years ago, but the officials shrug off his attempts with responses of “it’s too expensive,” “it’s not our responsibility,” and “we’ll get to it later”. Most people in his community store water in barrels or large tanks, and they have to pay a private company to bring city water out to them every few weeks. It costs about $50 for 5000 gallons, which lasts for three to four weeks, and that water is not even potable–it can’t be used for cooking or drinking. For potable water, they have to drive to a place that sells clean water and refill their containers, which costs about $75 per month.

Our discussion made me think about how colonia residents must face water with a sort of intentionality and frugality that most Americans never dream of, simply because they must constantly think about the source of their water and plan for their next load. How often do many of us, who always have water readily available, think critically about the source or use of water? We flush with drinkable water, allow gallons to go to waste while we wait for the shower to warm up, flood our yards and streets with the hose because we forget to turn it off, buy expensive bottled water when tap water is often cleaner, etc etc. Of course I’m by no means the perfect example of a water saver, but (especially living in a desert that gets only a handful of inches of rain a year), I am becoming much more aware of the privilege I flaunt when I leave the water running a bit too long.

But anyway, I digress. The two days of filming with José were phenomenal–a wonderful start to our improvised film-making career. Watch out for a video about him in the next few weeks and you’ll get a much more complete story!

I’ll write about some other exciting and non-film related things. First of all, Marley and I decided that we need more music in our lives, so we bought a ukulele. So far, it seems like time to practice and learn will be hard to come by, and we still haven’t figured out quite how to get the durn thing tuned, but I’m sure that soon we’ll be churning out some cool beats. We have quite an ambitious play list, at least.

We also had dinner with two amazing nuns, Sister Janet and Sister Peggy, who started a clinic in Colonia Ascención about fifteen years ago and, more recently, began a clinic for children with disabilities in a colonia in Mexico. We ate and chatted with them and the three young women who are staying in their house and working in both the clinic and the children’s center.

Marley and I spend a lot of time in the car (and need some new music to listen to–please comment to let us know good car songs!). Our life is made much easier by our GPS, who we have affectionately named Tomás and whose favorite phrase is “mantenganse a la izquierda” (stay to the left). He and I don’t always get along very well, but I’m trying to be the bigger person and reconcile our differences, because otherwise he might keep sending us on elaborate and unnecessary detours through the desert. We are also having a great time at Casa Puente, where we occasionally see our very busy but cool housemates and are currently hanging out with Adam, a guy from Denmark who is traveling from the North to South Pole (!!) and is taking a short pit stop in El Paso.

So pretty much, life is good. As José says, “We can’t complain.”


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