The four teams finally split up to do group work with their community partners. Coffee team is stationed with us, the conservation team, at the thermal pools of Nangulvi. It is a pretty nice hostel on the edge of Rio Intag and it has a bunch of hot mineral baths that are kept at hot tube temperature by thermal activity. Although we have the temptation of the baths, we have been keeping busy with our work. The first day here, we had a minga up in La Florida Reserve which is near the community of La Esperanza. To reach the area, we had to take a truck up into the mountains and then had to hike 2 hours up some very steep and muddy terrain. To make it even more strenuous, we each carried about two liters of personal drinking water and also took turns carrying one of the two 6 liter jugs of water we brought, just in case. Minga is a term for a community gathering where people come together to work on a project that benefits everyone. Families usually send a person to help with the work and a person to help prepare lunch. A young woman named Suzanna, who lives part way up the mountain and is a friend of the team, provided lunch for us. When provided food, you are expected to finish everything given to you although the proportions are huge! If you do not eat all of your food , you run the risk of either offending the woman since you must not like your food enough to eat it all or worrying them because you must not be okay if you cannot eat it all. Sometimes the woman will tell you that you will not be able to have kids if you do not eat well and finish your food. By the end of lunch, we were all uncomfortably full.
The work we did consisted of managing trees that were planted a year or two ago in an attempt to reforest the slope. We used machetes to clear the tall overgrowth around the trees and we replaced some of the trees that had died. I am not sure how much we actually helped but, if nothing else, we were definitely a source of entertainment for the guys as we swung our machetes around. Right away, it was obvious that we were the only girls helping out with the work. For the most part, all of the guys were fine with us helping out and they gladly taught us how to cut the weeds around the trees. There was just one man who appeared to be quite displeased with our presence and leaved shortly after we arrived. Apparently while we were introducing ourselves, he ordered one of us to fetch him water but luckily most of us either did not hear him or chose to ignore him. Gender dynamics have been interesting so far. Although gender roles are very much evident in the culture and daily life here, I personally have not had too much of a problem while working with our in-country partners. That being said, there have been a few instances that our team (which happens to be all female) has felt that we have not been given the same attentiveness or even the same amount of time while presenting our work in a co-gendered group setting.
Another day was spent visiting school and teaching kids about the water cycle. We spent the first half of our lesson drawing out and explaining the cycle after which we would take the children outside to play a few related field games to reinforce the class work. It was a lot of fun to interact and hang out with all of the kids. The first class we visited was fairly large and had kids whose ages ranged from 5-12 years old, all of which were taught in the same room. The second school’s class was much smaller and did not have as obvious of an age gap. The resultant difference in education was observable; the kids in the second school seemed to generally be more knowledgeable on the water cycle and were more receptive to answering questions. Overall, it seemed that the children really enjoyed getting out and playing the games and it was interesting to get a look at the local school system.