Sunday, February 13, 2011

Multimedia Projects

Here are some of our final projects from our trip to Dominica in January 2011:

A video about our changing views of poverty and need based on the abundance of food and water in Dominica from Team Danje:

A video about our Hopes and Expectations going into our trip from Team Arretao:

A video about the water project that was our primary job in Dominica from Team Mountain Chicken:

A video about the pulley system we designed from Team Danje:

A video about our daily lives in Dominica from Team Arretao:

A video about food in Dominica from Team Sisserou:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day Nineteen: Hitting the Whale

Special Note: Our public presentation of our final multimedia projects will be on Thursday, February 10, at 7:00 p.m. in Hagerty Lounge on the Saint Mary's campus.  Please join us there and bring friends!

We rousted out early this morning and found that we were more ready to finish packing than we had first guessed.  By the time our vans arrived this morning, we were packed, had eaten, and were ready to head out for our long journey home.

We made our boat in plenty of time, with a few extra minutes to pursue a couple of final souvenirs.  Our boat left the port in choppy waters and within a few minutes we heard a loud "thump" that made us wonder what had happened.  The public address system told us (in French) that everything was okay, but that we had actually hit a WHALE!  We followed up on the info and found out that it was true, then realized that this may be the only time in our lives that we will have the chance to speak those words: "I was in a boat that ran over a whale."

As far as we know, the whale was fine, as was the boat.  We, however, had to deal with the consequences of a choppy sea as a few of us struggled with motion sickness.  We bought some Dramamine in town, which only comes in the "drowsy" version over here.  That drowsy factor paid off for us as we essentially sedated ourselves to survive the pitching and yawing that might have made us throw up like many of the people around us were doing.   We all survived the trip without puking, which counted as a big accomplishment today.

We are back at the hotel where we stayed at the front end of our trip, so we revisited the beach where we swam and sunbathed almost three weeks ago.  It was odd to realize how differently we felt about the town, the Caribbean, our comfort in both of those places, and ourselves as a result of all that we have experienced in the last few weeks.

We hope to take it easy tomorrow to get as far as we can at finishing our coursework.  That way we will all get real breaks as we prepare for the spring semester.  We'll write again and let you know how things have gone in St. Lucia, then we will be back in California late Friday night.  We look forward to reconnecting with all of you in person soon thereafter . . .

Day Eighteen: Farewell to the Site

Strangely, our last day of work at the site was a somewhat slow one.  We got to work as quickly as we could, prepared to make our last big push, but the main work to be done was the construction of a very complicated set of forms to cast the three main walls of the tank.  Thus, our Dominican worker friends had to do most of the labor of the day, while the rest of us either transported more cement down via zipline or transported extra rocks and sand to the site via wheelbarrow (from a new location in a different direction from our current ziplines).

We also focused on our interviews and other video work for the projects that we will complete for our final work in this course.  We are doing a public presentation of some of our final work on campus during the first week of the spring semester, but we are waiting for confirmation on the time and location of that event.

Near the end of the workday, the slowness stopped and we cranked into high gear to pour the concrete for the first four feet of the walls around the tank.  Mr. Sparkle came back to help us think through the revised plan and it seemed clear that we should pour only four feet at a time to prevent the wooden forms from spreading and throwing off the shape of the new walls.

We bucketed, bucketed, and bucketed some more to get the concrete mixture into the three walls.  Our task went well past the end of daylight, so much of it was done by flashlight and headlamp.  We finally brought our participation in the project to an end and climbed up the hill to the opening between the fence and the breadfruit tree for the last time.

Charles and the workers were all in cahoots to throw a big party for us tonight and they did a great job of pulling things together.  They had food and music (a DJ!) and lots of gratitude and we had our general happiness and Luke's brilliant contribution to the plan: a portable photo printer that allowed us to take and print pictures on the spot.  We had a blast.

Charles gave a big speech to commemorate us.  Claude gave a big speech to talk about all that we have done together.  Shawny gave a big speech about the greatness of Charles.  And Julius gave a big speech about the beauty of Dominica and the fact that Dominica "loves its friends in California."

Of course, we wish that we had finished a functioning tank and that we could watch the locals walk up and turn the tap to get fresh water in the containers that they carry back over the hills to their homes.  Sadly, we did not get that far.  Still, all of our friends at the party talked about the level at which they and others are inspired to see this project to its end.  We really think they will continue to plug away and that they will expand the system as time goes by.  Eventual pumps and piping might make it even more convenient than what we have worked on so far.

Charles told us that our presence had awakened a will in the locals to work together for their collective benefit.  He said that the long-standing spirit of unity that the Kalinago (Carib) people had long enjoyed has grown weaker in recent years.  He hopes and believes that this project will be one of many that will help that spirit to reawaken.  He and all the rest of our friends expressed a strong desire for us to return and work in the Territory again.  We haven't made plans for next January Term yet, so we shall see . . .

We had to knock off from our fabulous party a bit early to get as far as we could in packing, as we have to get up at 6:00 a.m. to make our boat in the morning.  We will once again travel through St. Lucia to make our way back to San Francisco.  We will write briefly from there and we will try to catch up on photos and videos.  And also, we will see you SOON!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day Seventeen: Pouring the Floor and the SAD Office

Today was supposed to be an early start, as it turns out the Dominican workers who wouldn’t let us work on Sunday actually decided to work on Sunday themselves.  In doing so, they got close enough to finishing the steel work on the floor that we could almost show up and pour it.  There was still a bit of work to do to complete the prepwork so we got right in there and moved everything around to make it possible to lay the floor.  It was our biggest load of concrete mixing and moving so far, but we held on and got it done.

Just as we began to pour the floor, Charles took Shawny and Scott into town to chase down some camera lenses that our beloved support colleague Renee had sent from California.  They have been held up in Customs for a week or so now, so we finally just drove down there to try to get them out. 

The port where freight deliveries land is entirely confusing and the process for claiming your own possessions is even more so.  After multiple stops through various levels of Customs officers, our retrieval crew finally got to walk into the actual warehouse where the packages wait.  There another circuitous process started up, beginning at the window labeled “S.A.D. Office.”  S.A.D. stands for “Simplification of Administrative Documents,” which turns out to be an entirely incorrect description of what goes on there. 

Instead of simplifying anything, the office produces a range of incomprehensible documents, asks for verification of totally irrelevant pieces of information, then charges $4 EC (about $1.60 USD).  From there, the team went to another window under the instruction of the S.A.D Office but still didn’t come in contact with our package.  More paperwork emerged and the team was sent to a table by the door, from which a new form emerged that established another charge to be paid.

After a conversation about that piece of paper the group proceeded to another window right next to the first window, then carried the new paperwork they acquired from one person to another on adjoining tables near the door.  Though the staffers at those tables were sitting elbow-to-elbow at adjoining tables, the process involved handing all the papers to one guy, getting them back, taking one step to the right and handing them to the next guy, getting them back again, then taking one step to the right and handing them to the next guy.  Somehow that strange ritual completed the task and the package was freed.  “Simplification,” though, was out the window. 

Happily, the folks at the worksite had a less complicated day and they even got a chance to explore the area around the site, mainly because they had to cut a trail to an already-existing pile of rocks and sand that will supplement the materials we are using at our current site.  They found some beautiful seeds and a coffee tree, and some other weird fruits and stuff that we hadn’t seen yet.  Of course, they found more breadfruit trees and the accompanying fruits, which we might have maxed out on consuming. 

In the evening, we followed up on a special invitation from the Kalinago Council (including the current chief), who wanted to welcome us officially to the territory.  We did some mutual information sharing then explored the possibility of other projects we might have done or might do in the future.  We learned about some of the priorities that the council is pursuing, including health issues (diabetes and high blood pressure primarily), cultural issues (including reclaiming their native language), water and sanitation issues (for the residents who are not yet on “pipe water”), and education issues (including health and sex education). 

We came home for dinner and realized that we need to get serious about packing for our return home, but instead of doing that we sat together and laughed for a long time.  Surely we will get our things packed somehow . . .

Monday, January 24, 2011

Day Sixteen: Rigorous, Arduous, and Slippery

The Dominicans take Sunday off from manual labor and even though we proposed the idea of working instead, they convinced us that we HAD to visit another of the island’s natural beauties, this one called Boiling Lake.  As far as we can tell, this path is the island’s most challenging hike (at least one that is halfway marked) and it leads to the crater of a formerly active volcano.  In the center of the crater is a huge lake that actually, truly boils (almost) nonstop.

The hike is about eight miles long and it involves climbing about 2000 vertical feet then dropping down 1000 or more before going up again to get to a huge overlook above the lake.  The trail is apparently always muddy – really really really muddy – so hikers get a one-inch or so platform on the bottoms of their boots to complicate things a bit more. 

The beginning of the hike goes to the last clear-running stream that isn’t full of sulphur; that stopping point about an hour into the hike is called Breakfast River.  We were already feeling the rigors of the hike at that point, knowing that another five or more hours of walking were still ahead of us.  Additionally, our guides warned us that the hour we had just spent was the easy part and the next couple of hours were going to really kick our butts.  They were right.

Speaking of our guides, it is probably important to introduce them, as they have each hiked this monster dozens of times.  Our lead guide was Jonathan, otherwise known as Skippy.  Watching the video from today will help you to understand why he has that nickname.  His partner for the day was Philbert, who was assigned to bring up the rear and deal with the slow group, whoever that might be.  (Actually, determining the slowest member of our team is not difficult; it was Shawny for sure.  We are granting her special dispensation for this hike because last year at this time she was on crutches in the Brazilian Amazon with a broken leg so this doesn’t seem so bad.)

The post-Breakfast River slog was a never-ending upward climb and when there finally was some relief in the downward direction, it was so thick with mud (and so vertical) that at certain points the only way down was for strings of us to hold hands and support each other step by step.  The symbolism of all of those collective efforts definitely made the struggle worth it. 

Our main way of coping with the slog was to have Scott tell us complicated synopses of movies that not everyone had seen.  He did multi-hour renditions of the movies “Taken” and “In Brouges,” which kept us all laughing and clinging to his pace so that we wouldn’t miss anything. 

The struggle of the vertical mudslope got us to a place that might not sound “worth it” – the Valley of Desolation.  Visually, the name is pretty accurate but as in most volcanic areas, there was a lot going on in that apparently desolate place.  Hot streams poured all through sulphur deposits, some of which were claylike and smushy, some of which were rocklike and crunchy, and all of which smell like rotten eggs.  We took some of the smushy kind and spread it on our faces to declare ourselves some kind of unified tribe.  We certainly have an identifiable unique culture, so why not add facepaint?

We ate lunch there in the Valley, consisting of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Clif Bars, some canned chicken, a few sardines and our usual mountain of Ritz crackers.  We also had a very special treat for a lucky few: Luke carried up two raw eggs and hardboiled them in the volcanic water.  It was fascinating even if there wasn’t much to watch.  Those who tasted them said that they were excellent but most of us didn’t have the guts to even try. 

After lunch we continued to hike up and up and up, occasionally having to climb a rock wall of eight feet or so and sometimes having to ford a hot stream.  We got to the top and found a cliff overlooking the enormous crater lake.  Sometimes steam consumed the entire atmosphere, keeping us from seeing the lake; other times the steam would lift and the whole place looked like a big boiling drain, swirling in the middle. 

Some of us ventured down the rocky trail to get right to the lake but most of us just observed from above, resting our aching legs without getting so comfortable that we couldn’t walk back out.  A couple of people started back toward the trailhead because they knew there was a workable mineral pool on the way back to Desolation Valley.  The rest followed soon thereafter but skipped the pool to get ourselves to the cooling pool (with one hot mineral spring showering into the side) at the bottom. 

The pool at the bottom brought great relief, especially because it turned out to be attached to a cavernous canyon that had a waterfall at one end.  We could swim the length of the canyon, brace ourselves under the waterfall for a few seconds, then get shot out into the canyon again by the force of the water.  We were almost too exhausted to enjoy it, but we found a way. 

We grabbed some pizza on our way through town (the locals actually recommended Pizza Hut as the best to be had), along with some cold drinks.  We ate four large pizzas in about two minutes, then got in the car and headed back to the territory. 

We were too crowded in the van to get the sleep that most of us needed so we entertained ourselves by having Scotchy and Matt “Pappy” Beutner recite almost the whole move “The Big Lebowski” from memory. 

We rejoined Hilary and Christina back at home, as they both opted to skip the hike and get some much-needed rest.  We were jealous of their state of rest though they also put in quite a bit of work sorting and condensing our piles of stuff to help us fast forward our upcoming packing push.

We leave here on Wednesday morning early to start another boat odyssey back to St. Lucia that will get us to SFO by Friday night.  After that, we will camp out in the computer labs on campus finishing our media projects.  The next you will hear from us is at our public presentation on campus during the second week of February.  We think it is on Wednesday or so of the first week of the spring semester, but we will confirm and post the date and time in the next couple of day.  Please join us there to see the final presentation of our work.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Day Fifteen: Of Rasta Jellies and Cutlasses

We cranked things up early today to make a very important run into town: for shopping!  We haven't focused on souvenirs (other than pictures and memories) at all so today we set aside the morning to go to Roseauto buy some (for ourselves and no doubt for some of YOU!).  There are some open air market options and also shops on the streets that sell various items like flags, keychains, etc.  Many of the vendors were calling out to us to get us to check out their wares.

We, however, had different ideas about souvenirs than most visitors to Dominica.  Instead of keychains and coconut hulls, we were more jazzed by acquiring some of the plastic "jelly" shoes that we have seen our Dominican co-workers wear and the cutlasses (machetes) that we have learned to use on the worksite.  We got advice about just where to find what we wanted and made pretty quick work of our purchasing.  We stopped by the grocery store and got a few replacement items for our pantry.  The two most important, of course, were Ritz crackers (we're almost out!  we won't survive!) and Nutella (our newest addition to the staples that we carry with us every day.  (The other two main staples are Tapatio hot sauce and an assortment of Clif Bars.)

From there we went to a local art gallery run by a Canadian woman who focuses primarily on Dominican art.  A few of us fell in love with pieces that we saw there and two of us (to remain unnamed) actually made purchases that will become part of our permanent collections.

We tried to hurry back to our worksite, but because we needed to eat lunch, we stopped to grab something in town.  We were a pretty big group to show up unannounced, but a place called Cocorica took us in and fed us really well.  It took quite a while for them to process all of our orders, though, so we didn't get back to the guesthouse until almost 3.

We hustled right down to the site and saw that there had been a cave-in on one of our walls; our Dominican friends had spent the whole day so far trying to fix that situation.  Once it got cleared, we started prepping to pour at least one of the "teeth" that will hold the tank in to the wall where the water falls.

It sounds like Charles wants to find a way to continue to pursue the old plan of having a huge 24-foot tank instead of a smaller 12-foot one.  We will have to see how things unfold over the next few days to understand what is going on now.  We will be sure to pass the info along just as soon as we manage to grasp it . . .

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day Fourteen: Mr. Sparkle and the Dance of the Plywood

Day Fourteen: Mr. Sparkle and The Dance of the Plywood

Our meeting with the engineer, Mr. Trotter, finally came.  It helped.  A ton.  He explained what he was thinking in his original plan, helped us organize our thoughts around the conditions we now face, and answered all of our questions about how to proceed.  So now we have a plan that we hope we can pull off in the next four days.  (He also had a friendly sparkle in his eye, so we are more likely to call him “Mr. Sparkle” than Mr. Trotter.) 

The general idea is to reduce the overall size of the tank we are currently building, with an eye to establishing an even bigger containment tank later, perhaps close to the intake tank but maybe not.  So, where we have a 24-foot trench for an undersupport for whatever project we build, we are now going to lay down a 16-foot support that will help to prevent erosion from underneath the floor of the tank. 

On that support, we will lay a concrete pad that will underlie the tank.  We think right now that the pad will be 16 feet long to match the support but we want it to extend wider than the tank.  So, we think the tank will be 12 feet long and about six or eight feet wide, but the pad will have a little “sidewalk” on two sides for a couple of feet so that people can stand on it rather than on the wet riverbank. 

Because we were focused on concrete work today, most of us didn’t have the expertise to do much work of consequence.  So whenever someone wasn’t working, different bunches of us would tackle different muddy slopes and try to reduce the slipping hazards on them.  Luke and Jared could start a professional eco-stair company, Scott and Christina added a few that became bleachers from which to watch the tank action, and Lindsey, Iris, Morgan, and Dani took control of the slope right by our tarp tents.  (It turns out that Iris is a natural with a machete, which surprised even her.)  As an added bonus, we used all natural materials for our landscaping work, including everything that had been cut down or chopped off in the clearing of the space. 

Just before lunch, we finally made enough progress in the trench to set an 8-foot form and pour concrete into it.  The process of prepping the space, bailing the water, mixing the concrete, moving the mixture to the form, getting the empty buckets back up the short hill, and mixing the concrete in the form took everyone we had.  They were using a “dry mix” approach, which means that they were pouring the combination of dry cement, sand, and gravel right into the space where water already stood and mixing it as they went. 

Scott came up with an ingenious use of our battery-powered drills when he rigged a piece of bent rebar into it to use as a mechanical stirrer.  It made all of the difference in the world to be able to really mix the concrete properly with something other than a shovel, pick, or pitchfork. 

We realized that the first batch of concrete was setting up pretty fast so we went ahead and fast-forwarded the prep work on the second batch.  Though we had planned to remove and reuse the first form in pouring the second batch, we instead decided to make a whole new form and butt it up against the one we had already poured.  We were hurrying because it was getting late.  At one point, three people went to retrieve a piece of the heavy-duty plywood that we are using, which was a pretty heavy load for three people to carry.  It was especially challenging on the muddy slopes that we face at our site.  

The three people (to remain unnamed) started down the hill and at one point or another, each one of them slid and started to fall.  Without fail, though, that person would recover and regain footing, but the momentary lapse would throw off one of the other two, who would trigger a similar reaction.  They were jerking and jumping and the plywood was teetering all over the place but somehow they all managed to stay upright and get to the bottom of the hill intact.  One of them never even stopped talking, no matter how out of control his footing became.  It seemed almost choreographed, perhaps as a dance routine, perhaps as a comedy routine.  In either case, for us it became “The Dance of the Plywood” and any of us who witnessed it just fell silent and watched dumbfounded as it all unfolded. 

Near the end of the afternoon, we decided to go for it and pour the second form.  Goose ran up the hill to grab all of the headlamps he could find “just in case,” and we started the process of pouring during what we knew was our last hour of daylight.  Like Scott’s power tool ingenuity, the headlamps paid off enormously as dusk began to fall, stars came out, fireflies twinkled, and our pails of concrete mix made their way down our bucket brigade lines and into the trench. 

It felt like a fabulous achievement to have finished that whole support, especially because that means we will very likely manage to shape and pour most of the floor when we get back from a brief souvenir hunt in the morning tomorrow.  Then we can pour walls in the remaining days and hopefully have a completed intake tank before we leave. 

We have gotten pretty convinced that this project is something that the community wants and will appreciate.  We get lots of support as we are walking the hill from the worksite to our guesthouse and we have learned from Mr. Sparkle and others that this kind of water work is normal and much-needed throughout the island.  In fact, he says that one of the fancy bottled water companies in the area uses almost the same kind of tank that we are building as its primary intake for spring water.  It helped us immensely to get all of this information (and support for our project). 

Along with all of this positive reinforcement, we got one bit of bad news, which is that Hilary seems to have sprained her finger.  She was a catcher at the bottom of a pulley a few days ago and the load caught her by the pinkie in a strange way.  It was a bit misshapen right away and it hurt her, but it didn’t turn black and blue and she could still move it.  We’ve been icing it and taping it to her ring finger but she can’t wear her work gloves and is a bit limited in the range of jobs she can do.  She is a total workhorse, though, which means she is still out there full time (even if she is wearing only one glove) and she is still sometimes a one-handed catcher of empty buckets on the line.  She’s a trooper, but she (and we) would still appreciate your sympathy, good wishes, prayers, and other positive thoughts as she continues to plug away.

Oh, and by the way, almost all of us have had our first big run-ins with mosquitoes in the last day or two.  We have been pretty safe from bites until now and we have been attributing our success to an Avon product called Skin-So-Soft, which most of us use in massive quantities daily.  We still think it is a miracle repellant, but we have gotten ourselves in situations where we wash it off then forget to reapply (like when we swam in the Caribbean Sea a few nights ago) and we believe that's why we got nailed.  No matter what, the bugs in general here are nothing like this summer's Haiti trip or last January's Amazon trip.  Now on to the Benadryl spray . . .