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Latrine of Babel

The Latrine of Babel
2-3 January 2003

 Let’s start with a clever joke I came up with:

Question: How many Peace Corps Volunteers does it take to build a latrine?
Answer: 20. 17 to stand around and 3 to work.

We are, after all, government workers.  

 The Peace Corps decided that during our “open space” week, we might be bored (on the advice of Group 19, the trainee group that preceded us). So, to fill our time, they invented a latrine building competency that we have to acquire. Today we clearly failed the competency. They divided us into two groups to build two latrines at homesteads that volunteers had stayed at during our community based training. We were in Omege, the same village we stayed in for our CBT. Building a latrine consists of a large, deep hole, poorly constructed cement blocks, mortar with not enough cement in it, too many volunteers that don’t know what we’re doing, and one person who doesn’t speak English that is supposed to be instructing us. In the end, I would deem it the Latrine of Babel.

 The day was very hot, and everyone was very, very tired of The Peace Corps Incompetencies. To make a long story short, and to not relive a long miserable day, let it suffice to say that in the end, our latrine collapsed. Luckily, no one was hurt. As we stood around the large, deep hole that was now filled with sand, poorly constructed cement blocks and mortar with not enough cement in it, it was all too obvious to everyone what had gone wrong. The real question was, had anything gone right? Was anything salvageable? What would we do tomorrow? But those were questions that would have to wait. In true Omege fashion, we all retired to the Cuca shop to drink cool drinks and play Euchre, while waiting for the Peace Corps vehicles to pick us (like the flowers we are). The evening sun was shining, and it was raining all at once. The apparent contradiction in the weather somehow matched our moods.

 Hopefully this is not a sign of things to come. Hopefully the next two years will not be filled with failed projects followed by cool drinks, and then waiting for the next thing to happen, or not happen, or collapse. We can only wait and see. This is only the beginning.

 Jan 3, 2002 Today we dug out the collapsed latrine and built a new one. The new one was much better because we were very liberal with the cement and the builder wasn’t there to tell us to do it wrong.

 Tomorrow we go shopping for what we will need at our permanent site. Hopefully we will also finally get to send all these e-mails.

 On Sunday, we pack up all of our stuff—which has multiplied enormously over the past 10 weeks. Mostly crap The Peace Corps gives us, like out medical kits, 25 liter water jugs and numerous booklets.

 On Monday we have our Swearing In ceremony and then we move to our permanent site.We’ll miss the other volunteers, but I think we’d be perfectly happy if we never had to deal with The Peace Corps staff again for the next two years.

  We wish you all a very happy new year! We often think about you and wonder what is happening on the other side of the world, where things make sense.

Sera and Zac

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