Neighborhood Clean-Up Day

16 June, 2011

Hola y Bendiciones desde el Mision Fronteras a Lago Titicaca!

Hello and Blessings from the Border Mission at Lake Titicaca!

Tuesday, June 14, was a community-wide tidy-up-the-neighborhood day in our section of Copacabana, Bolivia. At least 100 people fanned out through the streets or climbed up the ancient, Incan stone steps to “Intinkala,” known as the Seat of the (regional) Incan empire, or “Asiento del Inca.” The base of the steps leading up to Intinkala is just 15 feet from our front gate. At the top of those steps are several carved stone seats. Historians believe this site was probably a judicial center in Incan times. If you saw the 90-second video we taped for the Annual Conference, the intro showed us perched on those ruins.

To see the video, click here:

Bolivian towns are divided into neighborhoods, or barrios. People in the neighborhood elect a president, who functions a lot like an aldermen in Chicago, but with much more emphasis on community self-sufficiency. Yesterday’s work day started and finished with long, passionate pep talks from our neighborhood president, urging folks to work hard, make the area clean and tidy, and try harder to keep it that way. Among the projects we and our neighbors tackled were trash pick-up (sadly, most people here simply drop their trash anywhere, a habit that becomes self-perpetuating – people see trash, assume the street down the block from our house must be a dump site, so they add to it).

Most – but not all – streets in our neighborhood are paved. Sometimes the concrete pavers crack and crumble, leading to enormous, deep potholes. Jeff and I helped clear and level several of these. Then we and our street team wrestled new pavers in – a challenge, as each hexagonal paver weighs about 25 pounds, with a below-grade, tongue-and-groove design that made it hard to interlock them with surrounding pavers. We were impressed that the six petite Aymara women on our team wielded pick axes as effectively as the men … and more often!

A “chain gang” of Aymara women removed big stones and boulders from our end of the street, passing them up the steps to Intinkala hand-to-hand, often using old hauling tarps so two people at a time could lug up especially heavy boulders. (Photo, left). Jeff helped with this project –he was at the end of the line beyond the fence. The women giggled when he threw boulders they could barely lift up onto the top of the pile.

Hard physical work is especially tiring here, probably because one burns a lot of oxygen in hard work, and at 2.5 miles above sea level, oxygen is pretty thin. We find that in comparison, we appear to have more strength than local people, but they have a lot more stamina than we do.

One of the day’s projects involved installation of garbage collection stands. At each site, five huge oil-drums hang from a heavy pipe. The drums pivot for easy unloading. We and our neighbors are thrilled with this new system. Up to now, garbage collection has happened rather randomly, usually sometime on Tuesday, unless it happened Wednesday. Or Thursday. Some weeks, the truck would come on Tuesday and Friday. A battered, rusty dump truck with totally bare tires, carrying a crew of about 6 people in addition to the driver, would signal its arrival by honking repeatedly. That was our cue to dash for our trash, tie it up, and chase after the truck. There, one would hand the bag up to the crew tucked in among the trash. Presumably, they packed the trash, sort of like Tetris with trash, to maximize truck capacity. If the truck happened to full, the crew would be gone, and one would simply heave the bag o’ stuff up, and hope it stuck, ready to duck and cover if it didn’t.

During breaks in neighborhood clean-up day, we had lots of opportunity to talk with our new neighbors. Virtually all of them were clearly surprised and pleased that Gringos were helping them. Of course, we cheerfully explained that it’s our neighborhood, too, and we were quite happy to get involved. In a small town like Copacabana, people in neighborhoods tend to provide a lot of municipal services most of us in the U.S. expect from local government, and often take for granted.

Fyi, in the pic at right, the salmon-colored house, left side at the end of the street, is ours. Here, it’s important that we get involved with our community not only because it’s good and right to share in a community effort, and it helps us and our neighbors get acquainted, but because community participation is expected. A person can buy or build a house and live in a neighborhood. But if you fall out of favor with the neighbors, if you’re seen to be selfish, or worse, a burden or threat to the community, you might be asked to leave the community. That’s lawful here. Because community is so important.

Let us hear from you, please! We miss home, friends, and family! If you’re tempted to make a trip to Lago Titicaca, shoot us an email. It’s part of our job to help find good airfares, and help plan and facilitate!

Bendiciones, Deb and Jeff

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