Friday, July 30, 2010

One Month Down

Hello Friends and Family,

I have just returned from my first month in the village of San Francisco, in Northern Peru. The above picture is the house I am staying at, my room is the door directly behind me in the picture. The village consists of just fewer than 400 people. This village is far more developed then I expected. I was told that I was going to a very remote village that was only accessible 9 months a year and that it was very primitive. In fact this village is constantly developing. They have an excellent potable water system, a septic system, as well as electricity. During the rainy season transportation is more difficult due to dirt roads, however it is always possible to walk to the village. Last weekend I even met a couple of guys from the cable company. They are installing cable television in about a dozen homes in the village. All that to say this isn’t the remote impoverished village I thought that I was going to.

Despite things being different than I expected things are going quite well the longer I am here the more I realize that this is a good place for me to be right now. I am learning a lot about project planning and implementation. Also the Spanish is getting better and better everyday.

Right now all the people in the village have open fires in their kitchens for cooking. There is usually some kind of opening in the roof that allows the smoke to exit, however as you can imagine without a chimney the entire kitchen is often filled with smoke, and the walls are covered in soot. In many cases the kitchens are inside their homes and so the smoke is not only limited to the kitchen but also drifts into other parts of the home as well. The kitchen is possibly the most used room in the house, women are in the kitchens for long periods everyday, and often times the kitchen is where the family gathers for meals as well. After a conversation with the village health technician I learned that respiratory illnesses are the most common health problems in the village.

Another aspect of cooking with wood is that wood needs to be collected. Individual farmers own most of the land in direct proximity to the village. Therefore in residents must hike a minimum for 30 minutes to collect firewood from the forests that are not used for agriculture. This is a regular chore that must happen a few times a week in order to keep the kitchen stocked.

An obvious way to address health issues here in San Francisco is to facilitate the building of improved kitchens. There is a popular model known as Cocinas Mejoradas (or Improved Kitchens), Cocinas Mejoradas are wood burning stoves made from local materials. The stoves burn wood more efficiently reducing the amount of wood needed to produce the same amount of heat, and they also have a chimney that directs the smoke outside of the home, keeping the air inside clean.

By facilitating the installation of Cocinas Mejoradas, we are helping to reduce that amount of harmful smoke inside homes in turn reducing respiratory illness, and we are helping to reducing the amount of time, energy, and resources needed to collect firewood for cooking.

Cocinas Mejoradas are a popular technology in Peru that has been implemented in a number of villages similar to this one with highly successful results. People here are aware of the technology and are excited at the opportunity to improve their living conditions.

I am pretty happy about the project that we have decided to work on. We will begin implementing the installation of these stoves as soon as we return to the village.

For this first month I have been eating with the family that I am staying with. The other day all the members of the family that I am staying with headed to their farm for the day. Carmen (my adopted madrĂ©) said that there was soup in the kitchen that I could help myself to for lunch. I am used to having a bit more control over the food that I eat and the soup basically consisted of noodles and a few potatoes. So I thought I would take the opportunity to prepare my own lunch. My plan was to fry up some potatoes and an egg. I went into the backyard where the chickens are and started searching around for where they might lay their eggs I found a little nook that was set up for a nest and sure enough there was an egg. Once the pan was heated up on the fire in the kitchen I cracked the egg directly into the pan. To my surprise there was a half developed chick sizzling in the bloody yolk. I had a number of things go through my head at that point. First do I need to tell the family that they aren’t going to have a new chick anytime soon because I tried to eat it? What do I do with this mess in the pan? Should I eat it anyway? After all I was still hungry. I wound up burying the mess in the back yard just hoping nobody would notice the missing egg. Nobody ever mentioned anything.

My adopted family, I feel like a beast here, I am significantly larger than everyone.

These are the two kids that I live with. Brian and Angie

Also I introduced the slack line, and it has been a hit. I have been setting up the line a couple of times a week and the kids love it, also the adults often gather to watch. Some of the teenagers have caught on really quickly.

This is my partner Monica and I speaking at one of the community meetings

Working with the youth on one of our first meetings

This is the end of the street I live on

The view from directly outside my room. It's really beautiful here, we are right at the base of the the mountains, the air is fresh and clean.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a nearby village with several of the men from my village and their cocks. Cock fighting is a popular gambling activity here. Below is a short video of what I saw.

Thanks so much for checking out the post and I appreciate the comments as well.

Brent James


  1. wow, that is really intriguing. Yeah, as soon as I read that the smoke in their kitchens wasn't being vented out well, I thought "that can't be good". Yeah, getting the new stoves in place is a really good thing.

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  3. Stellar! Well-written post brother!

    I'll be home in

  4. Wow Brent, some good stuff. Looks like a neat village. Nice egg story, chick killer! ha ha The kids you're staying with are adorable and I bet they love you. Very cool about the stoves, sounds like something the village could really use. Do you and Monica work pretty well together? Where is she from? How long you gonna let those dreds get? Looks like they could be a hazard if you're working with stoves... ha ha. Love you! Adria