I awoke last week to a facebook update from Angie: Mata is underwater. Mata is incomunicado. My reply: come mierda. Eat shit. Sort of the Spanish equivalent of the f-bomb. For Mata los Indios and other bateyes, a flood, even for a short time, can be devastating. It means the truck with potable water cannot get through, so people go thirsty or get sick from what few water sources they have near their homes. It means crops die, so what little subsistence farming they have is easily swept away. It means no new supplies get through, so commerce stops. For those who did have the money to buy food, the current supply will run out or rot soon enough.
All that week, I had been working on my project plan, my final paper for the summer 1 classes that I sometimes forget are attached to this trip. Grades seem like an after thought not because we aren’t learning, but rather because we are so very busy doing it. We had the option of doing a research paper or some sort of proposal that would concretely help the DR and the populations we saw. I can easily think of research topics, and love doing that sort of work, but for the first time in my life, a research paper seemed cowardly. It seems imperative that I at least outline a plan for how to do something, to accomplish some goal toward the alleviation of suffering, even if it is slight.
I don’t know if my proposal is good, or big enough, or business-y enough, and the troop of freshmen who vow to adopt the idea in real life will undoubtedly surpass my goals easily. But when I think about these faces, think about how muddy the path was in early June, which is just the beginning of the rainy season, it seems like the only option I have is to try.
When we (the capstone class that went to Mata over spring break) first heard about the flooding, we had a collective light bulb moment: build a bridge. Duh. How hard can that be? And if we can’t do it, Engineers Without Borders (EWB) will just get right on it. Claro. As so often happens with international aid (because let’s face it, that’s what this is), we weren’t seeing the whole picture. It isn’t one river that swells and must be forded. In fact, where that is the case, there already is a bridge. The problem is that the entire walk, which takes 20 minutes by foot when dry, becomes muddy and flooded. In June it was taking us about 40 minutes to walk it, and it was even deemed too dangerous for Claire, in that she might slip and fall and agitate her injury. That must have been so hard for her, to not go back to Mata . But they were right—we were all slipping, sliding and falling the whole way. Nonetheless, I probably would have thrown a fit if I were told I couldn’t go back. In fact, I went every time I could to Mata.