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Leaving…

It has been a while since my last post. To be honest, my mind was preoccupied with other things lately. Now I am back in Germany and feel I should share my experiences of the last weeks in Jerusalem. I suppose that many of the people reading this blog also follow the news on our particular place in the world. Over the last weeks, the atmosphere in Jerusalem has changed significantly due to recent events. I will not even attempt to give a thorough summary of everything that happened, but I would still like to share some facts.

On June 12th, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped while hitchhiking in the occupied Palestinian territories, allegedly by Hamas (who have not taken responsibility for it). Israelis authorities then started a large scale police and military operation in the West Bank, searching for these teens. Over the next two weeks 350 Palestinians were arrested, dozens of houses demolished and five Palestinians killed in clashes between the IDF and protestors.

When the bodies of the three teenagers were found north of Hebron on June 30th, violence also spread to Jerusalem, when mobs of right wing Israelis roamed the streets looking for Arab workers. We coincided to walk past a rally, claiming “Kahane was right” and chanting “an Arab is a son of a bitch”. One of the places that was attacked, was the restaurant of our landlord for giving shelter to a Palestinian boy. On Facebook and other social media, campaigns started calling for revenge against the Palestinian people under #IsraelDemandsRevenge.

Two days later, the next despicable act followed, three Israelis kidnapped a 15-year-old Palestinian boy from the East-Jerusalem neighborhood of the Shuafat refugee camp, burned him alive and killed him in the woods outside the city. This act led to large scale protests in Shuafat, the West Bank and other parts of East Jerusalem. For more than two weeks now, parts of Israel and Palestine are burning every night. Every night we hear the sirens and the helicopters outside our apartment window, while Israel is preparing/carrying out the operation “Protective Edge”, which seems to aim at complete annihilation of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. By now, more than 120 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and thousands injured.

The past events have made me question the use of the profession I chose. The indiscriminate hate for people based on their race I have seen in the faces of people makes me wonder whether there is any point in trying to find a just and peaceful solution. We came here five weeks ago, to document water issues in the West Bank and were given a first hand glimpse of the nature of the conflict. Our project here is over. People have other things to do than talking to us and the West Bank is not safe for us at the moment. On last Sunday we made the decision to leave the country, since it was completely unclear where this conflict is heading and we felt more and more useless, forced to sit at home and restricting ourselves to watching and reading the news. Personally it is a big disappointment. Ally and I were struggling a lot getting in contact with individuals willing to share their stories and now that we finally started to make some progress our contacts are being cut off. While I do not feel I was in danger, my family and friends were getting worried and urged me to come home. This also showed me how different the perceptions can be on the ground and far away only through the media. On Tuesday the first rockets hit Jerusalem and I for the first time in my life heard sirens telling me to look for shelter. However, everyone in the restaurant looked a little bit startled, but did not make any attempt to go anywhere and after a few minutes it was all over and people returned to business as usual. I guess people growing up and living in an environment of more or less constant conflict, experience these kind of things in a different way than us ‘outsiders’.

I left Jerusalem on Thursday with a bad feeling in my stomach. It is a feeling of giving up and leaving people behind. I knew when I came here, that I would not solve the conflict, yet the feeling stays. I am trying to tell myself that there was nothing I could have done and that leaving was the right decision, especially on hindsight.

For me, these events mean the end of my research project, for the people that stay there, it means a lot more.

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What Ethiopia Gave the World : My Post about Food

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Ethiopian Fasting (veggie) Plate

Ethiopia. When I got this fellowship I had to google it. I knew where it was on a map (thank you, Professor Van Inwagen!) but didn’t know too much besides that. Maybe you were like me and also had to do a quick search. To fill in your Ethiopian knowledge a bit I wanted to share a few cool things Ethiopia has given the world. For example there is the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Rastafari Movement, Coffee, Lucy (one of the oldest hominids ever found),  Green yellow and red flag colors (which were incorporated into many other African flags when they gained independence), African castles, great hairstyles, probably a lot more, oh and Ethiopian food!

People that know me know I really like food. I love to cook, I love to eat, and I love socializing with people over a good meal. These same people keep asking me if I am liking the food here. The answer is yes. The food is wonderful! Indian and Ethiopian are two of my all-time favorite foods, and when I found out that I got to leave my Costa Rican rice and beans for injeria and the goodness that goes on top of it (called “wot”), I was ecstatic!

I am a vegetarian, and lucky for me the Christians who belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (62% of the country) have a fasting time of the year (250 days including the 40 days of Lent) and each Wednesday and Friday are also fasting days. This means they can’t eat meat or animal products. This is unbelievably good news  for me- the majority of the country goes vegan for at least 2 days a week!

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This goat got away from his heard

On the other days of the week meat is a staple. Tibs (sautéed meat) and Kifto (raw meat) are very common, and many of the local restaurants have butchers attached to the restaurant to provide VERY fresh meat. Goats, sheep and cattle can be seen herded through even the busiest of streets here to supply the meat loving restaurant goers. I don’t mind because you really couldn’t get more farm to table, sustainable or organic then this system!

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A woman dries chiles, a key ingredient for many wots

 

 

There is so much to say about the preparing of Ethiopian food, the history and the rituals around it. I rather you go to your closest Ethiopian restaurant and experience it for yourself, and I will just tell you my favorite parts about the food culture here.

 

 

 

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Shiro, the best thing ever!

The traditional meal is communal and you eat off one plate.  I always love communal eating, and I appreciate cultures that highly value sitting around a table, chatting with friends and family, and enjoying a good dish. This is certainly one of those cultures and you can see people sitting around food or coffee pretty much anywhere (Seattle has nothing on Addis in terms of cafe lovers). Another fun thing about the food practices is that it is also traditional to pick up some food with your injeria, then place it in someone’s mouth. This act is called gursha and is a sign of friendship and affection. I also just love how old this food is! It could date back anywhere from 2,000-5,000 years.

So this is my blog about food and about the other great things Ethiopia has shared with the world.  I would have more pictures, but when the plates are set in front of me pictures slip my mind and I just dig in. Thanks Ethiopia for the great food!

 

10 things you didn’t know about Ethiopia  and Ethiopian food 101– just click on these links

 

 

 

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Graduation Day

Sunday we attended a 9th and 10th grade graduation. As is evident in my last post, we were under the impression that we would be attending a graduation for the man we were going to meet in Jimma. He did graduate that weekend, but it happened before we arrived. Instead, we were going to the graduation of the school he taught at, a high school in town.

Our presence was far more significant than I had expected. I thought that we would just be led to a seat in the back to observe the ceremony, and then be on our way to talk with our host somewhere else. Instead, we were immediately shuffled into the principal’s office upon arriving where we were formally introduced to the principal, two vice principals, and a local master’s student, and many pictures were taken. After being given a brief tour of the school, we walked over to the collection of classroom desks under a patch of trees where ceremony would be held. As you could probably guess at this point, we were not given a seat in the back, but were shown to some chairs at the front facing the audience. We sat with the teachers to our left (there were 16 for the 1,000+ kids in the school) as the administrators to our right began their various speeches.

The graduation setup

The graduation setup

All in all, the graduation was not too different from any other. Music from a drum line started off the ceremony, people made some speeches, some names were read, and people clapped. A few notable differences were the addition of a skit, people applaud in rhythm, and the administrators, having more sense than those in the U.S., don’t read off each person’s name, but instead present prizes to the top students and declare everyone graduated.

The scout drum line that opened

The scout drum line that opened

Of course, my experience at the graduation was different than others I’ve attended given my role as a notable guest. After the ceremony, we again spoke with one of the vice principals, who explained to us the significance of our visit. He told us that, above all else, our presence was a symbol of peace. I am paraphrasing liberally here, but he saw it as a chance for us to witness the peace in their community, as well as to express the peace and brotherhood between our country and theirs. We later learned that one of those pictures of us taken earlier would be printed out and hung on the wall to commemorate our visit.

A healthy dose of imposter syndrome came with this news—none of the other graduations I’ve been at ended with my picture being hung on a wall, so why should this one? While I do think the project we are here for is a good one, receiving such pomp and circumstance was more than a bit frightening.

But the more I thought about why I am here in Ethiopia, the less insane it seemed. I still feel unworthy of the extent of special treatment, but the sentiment is sound. I am here on a Peacebuilder Fellowship, which is built on the belief that peacemaking is not the exclusive realm of presidents and generals. In fact, it is best performed by regular people. Sometimes it can take a lot of work, but sometimes all it takes is showing up. On Sunday all it required was showing up at the school and telling them that we wanted to hear what they’re up to. It resulted in special meetings, special seats, and special pictures, all of which seemed over the top. But more importantly, it resulted in at least one man feeling that there was peace to be had.

The fundamental peacebuilding aspect of this fellowship had been pushed to the back of my mind by thinking too hard about the research side of the project. I have been thinking of myself exclusively as a researcher, but the fellowship is titled “Peacebuilder” for a reason. I may be performing research, but it is with the intention of constructing a good relationship between the people of two countries. The visit to the school became a quick reminder of this goal. I unexpectedly upgraded from researcher to peacebuilder within a few hours, and I won’t forget it. It was graduation day for me too, I suppose.

The girl who won school

The girl who won school

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Getting Started

This was written Saturday, July 5th, after arriving in Jimma.

I have now been in Ethiopia for over a month, and I think it is fair to officially declare this week as the beginning of real fieldwork. I am writing this from a hotel room in Jimma, having just arrived from a seven-hour bus ride (it was supposed to take four). We will be here for a few days meeting with an environmental activist before heading back to Addis. Then we’ll go to a town near Adama to see the water management techniques there. Then we’ll go to a village near Harar to see a well-building project. Then we’ll go to Mekele. Then Arba Minch. Then Bahir Dar. Then we’ll go home.

I’ve become a researcher all of a sudden, hopping from city to city, town to town to dig up stories. I spent a month as something else. We did a few interviews in that time, and spent plenty of time in meetings to set up future interviews, but my days seemed to be filled with activities primarily aimed at setting up a home base. It took weeks to find a house, weeks to figure out food, weeks to decide where to keep things on me (not in my pocket it turns out), and weeks to set up meetings. I have been less of a peacebuilder and more of a homebuilder. I’ve been an adapting species shedding vestigial limbs like eating utensils and a driver’s license.

Addis Ababa, the home base

Addis Ababa, the home base

Not everything is settled, but it is enough so that we can leave Addis. We needed to get everything set up so we could leave it behind. Now here we are in Jimma, preparing to meet an environmental activist in the morning to see his graduation before continuing on to the business at hand: everything water in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian club music is being blasted outside my hotel room door, the sink doesn’t drain, and I’m tired, but it’s good to be here. We’re here to dive into our work for the first time, and I can’t wait to start.

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I Met A Man Who Wasn’t There . . .

Tree Trunk Sculpture Viveros-Coyoacán

Tree Trunk Sculpture
Viveros-Coyoacán, D.F. Mexico

 

 

 

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Iztapalapa, the district hit by water conflicts.

Our second individual interview took place this weekend, in the Delegation of Iztapalapa where we got a glimpse of water issues affecting an entire district.

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The street Benito Juarez in Iztapalapa

 

This district lies in the northwest region of the city. An area high in crime, low resources and known to be overpopulated. Taking these facts into account, we decided to get to the district on Sunday because it’s a sort of family day, in which you can see streets full of parents with their children and local markets.

 

 

 

 

 

Getting to Iztapalapa was an adventure: the metro line we thought we could take all the way down to our destination was blocked off halfway. From what we were told, glitches in the line had made the rest of the line unsafe to travel. We took stairs back up to the street where a free bus line stopped at every closed metro station. After that we took a small van crammed with locals deep into the heart of Iztapalapa.

Jessica sitting in the "Combi" (really small van)

Jessica sitting in the “Combi” (really small van)

Ainhoa sitting in the "Combi" (small van).

Ainhoa sitting in the “Combi” (really small van).

 

We couldn’t avoid thinking of Phoenix’s blog post about travelling in small buses in Ethiopia. The situation was funny and a little bit concerning, as we weren’t sure how safe the vehicle was. Fortunately, having women and kids around made us feel safe (this feeling has come to us in more than one ocassion). Over bumps and zig-zagging our way through what seemed like a maze, the van got us quickly to our destination.

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We felt grateful that our interviewee opened her home to us with open arms. We explained the project once again and asked if we could videotape her story, “anything to help bring attention to this,” she replied, nodding in agreement. She gave us the history of her family and it’s issues with water scarcity and contamination. With a bright eyed, joyful demeanor she began to weave a story that started decades ago, when there were no water problems at home.

The family and Ainhoa.

The family and Ainhoa.

 

 

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We climbed up into the roof to check the water distribution system and its quality.

The view from the roof.

The view from the roof.

 

We were amazed to find how a little bit of clean water can be used time and again for different household chores. It made us conscious of how much water we use daily without once thinking about how we might recycle it. Water used for showering, to flush the toilet. Water used for washing clothes to mop floors. In this case we learned that need leads people to be creative in finding solutions to survive.

This friendly buddy joined us in our visit.

This friendly buddy joined us in our visit.

 

We left the house with the feeling of a job well done, and the hope that our project brings a voice to these problems. If we can help this family by telling their story we will have done our job.

On our way back home, almost by chance, we found multiple “Pipas” (trucks used to distribute water to individual houses). We quickly took our cameras out and took photos for about 20 seconds, until we saw a guard approaching us and we quickly left.

 

Weeks before, a policeman started asking questions about “what we were doing” when on Insurgentes taking a photo of a road that was flooding. “It’s for the photo memory album, we are from a small village and have never seen so much traffic in the street,” we lied. Then the policeman started talking about the World Cup and we quickly slid away. So this time in Iztapalapa, we didn’t want to try our luck!

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South Yangon

This past week I got a chance to visit two townships in South Yangon, Dala and Kawhmu. Dala is, from what I have been told by many individuals, the area in Yangon that suffers the worst water crisis. Drinking water is highly needed in those areas in the dry season.

The differences between downtown Yangon and the south, the other side of Yangon river, strike me when I first arrived there. While the city of Yangon is developing in an incredibly fast pace, permanent buildings are rare to be seen on the other side of the river. It seems almost like I was back in the dry zone again, with, of course, more green space and rain.

There are two ways to cross Yangon river; by ferries or by bridge. Taking ferries seems to be a more promising and faster way. It takes around 15 minutes to cross the river with only 1500 Kyat (around 1.5 USD) per car and 100 Kyat (around 10 cents) per person. Though, it took us quite a while to get there and come back since the transportation ferries only come every two hours.

It is a shame to see the amount of waste in Yangon river. Yet, children are still having fun swimming, and men are still showering and get cleaned (?). The water is clearly not suitable for drinking. The mixture of sea and fresh water here is only suitable for some domestic uses such as washing and bathing.

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Yangon River

 

Dala by the river side

Dala by the river side

My first impression of Dala is that everything is lively and colorful. There are people with very colorful clothes and umbrellas walking and biking everywhere. There are some rain storage ponds full of lotus (to prevent water evaporation in the dry season), there are some areas with drainage problem, but so far there is never a flooding problem in this area.

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Dala

A JICA sponsored storage pond built by the NEPS

A JICA sponsored storage pond built by the NEPS

Kawhmu, however, is quite different. It takes another hour on a bumpy and muddy road to get there. The road is very dangerous for  locals, whose main vehicles are motorbikes. Fortunately, the road is being improved. There is an immediate plan, funded by JICA, to build the road after the rainy season starting in October. This will be a good livelihood improvement for the people living in these areas.

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lotus rain-storage pond, Kawhmu  

 

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Fence protecting animals and people to get water directly from the Pond, Kawhmu

Insufficient drinking water in the dry season is the main problem in South Yangon. People would store as much rain water as possible in the rainy season, with containers, tanks, storage ponds, and they would use the water in the dry season. Tube well is not an option here because of underground water salinity problem. In certain years (which is mostly every year now), when the rain is late, people would suffer. Starting from April and May, right before the rainy season, is when water is running out. Many rely on donated water, many, working in Yangon city, have to carry water back home after work.

Donation is not enough and long-term solution is needed here in South Yangon.

 

Acknowledgement: I am grateful for the National Engineering and Planning Services (NEPS) for making this filed visit happened. This “private company but doing works like nearly non-profit style” focuses their works on water facilities planning services and have built storage ponds in South Yangon area. I am also grateful for JICA, all the donors, and the locals who took time sharing their stories with me.

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Re-discovering the meaning of water in the land I thought I knew so well.

Villa Guerrero, Jalisco.

Villa Guerrero, Jalisco.

I’m halfway through my journey as a Peacebuilder in Mexico, and every week I’ve come to re-discover the land I thought I knew. It’s one thing to be a native of Mexico, it’s another to be a foreigner in Mexico, and still another to see Mexico and the U.S. as “home,” even when I feel like a native of and a foreigner in, both.

Let me explain.

The phrase designated to identify me by census questionnaires, law school applications, insurance agents and many other U.S. institutions is “Mexican-American.” “Mexican-American,” has always seemed to me to be a superficial oversimplification of how a person born in the U.S. might identify themselves. It’s hard enough for a person to find an identity, but doing so under this classification only multiplies the obstacles. Needless to say, I grew up confused about my place in school and U.S. society in general, not to mention how school and society saw me. In my journey to find an identity, all that was clear was that I was never just considered “American,” hence I never just felt “American,” though I was born, raised and educated in the U.S.

Crossing the border didn’t make my understanding any clearer. My parents are from a small village, Villa Guerrero, in Jalisco, Mexico, a place I’ve visited for different lengths of time just about every year since I was a child. A place filled with family, friends and memories. I was raised on Mexican traditions and culture, I speak fluent Spanish (by that I mean that people in D.F. often don’t even realize I wasn’t born in Mexico), I’m very invested in the political, social and economic progress of the country, and do in fact also call Mexico “home”. Yet, natives identify me as a “gringa.”

Today I have much to learn about myself and my identity, and though I do not call myself “Mexican-American,” I live happy and passionately as a hybrid. My dual identity provides me the ability to understand, adapt and belong to two very different countries. It facilitates my ability see things natives and foreigners of each country may not understand. As a Peacebuilder, however, I have come to see things that had escaped me; that natives and foreigners might see and understand more easily because of their long or short standing relationship with the country.

What do I mean by this? Water.

It’s not until I became a Peacebuilder that I began to see the role that water played in the village I’d known all my life. Water had surrounded me in one way or another since I was kid and now I realize I’ve known about water in Mexico for a very long time. My father and his family own ranches in Jalisco. Often he’d take me along for a ride to see the cattle, the lands, the horses, instilling in me the importance of water in keeping them healthy. He’d show me the river that nourished his crops and divided his land from others; the niches dug out to drain water and guide it to where it was most needed; the wells that collected the water supplied to the land; the water holes that kept the cattle hydrated; and the lake that provided water to the village’s inhabitants. Every visit, water was a topic of conversation and there was never enough of it.

Until this point I’d never much paid attention to the issue of water in Villa. I’d never felt its scarcity. I’d always had it when I needed it. That tends to be the norm though, doesn’t it? An issue often doesn’t come alive for someone, until they’re affected by it in one way or another. In the case of water, most people don’t worry about until they don’t have it. Now I see it, care about it, and attempt to do my part to conserve it. I feel guilty for my lack of awareness all this time.

This week I asked my mother about water in Villa, something I’d never done before. She responded, “it’s rained a lot lately” and that because of it Villa was beautiful. Now I understand this simple response in a new light. Villa is beautiful because it’s not suffering from a lack of water: it’s inhabitants have enough to drink and use for daily chores, the animals it breeds and maintains to survive are healthy because they’re hydrated, and because the soil is nourished it’s crops may flourish. Now I realize that when the answer is, “there is little water, it hasn’t rained,” the reality will be far more complicated.

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VARIATIONS ON A THEME

 

Boston Harbour Where it began . . .

Boston Harbor –A Spot of Tea, Guv’na?

Today, America celebrates the adoption of its Declaration of Independence, marking 238 years of freedom from British rule.

On the 14th of July, Bastille Day, France will honor the battle which lead to the end of feudalism and the enactment of its Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

As I walk around Mexico City, I am surrounded by monuments built in memory of this country’s myriad battles for independence, and to honor those who have continuously fought for it.

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Angel of Independence- Paseo de la Reforma

Like Phoenix’ burro in the marketplace, these testimonies to human struggle unceremoniously plowed into me today, forcing me to take a moment to reflect that almost every corner of our world seems to have been in a war for freedom from one form of tyranny or another. (One doesn’t need to tweet, twitter, chirp, or be linked-in to know that there are vicious battles for freedom  being fought, even as we sip and dip, here in our blog cafe.)

Minca, Colombia January, 2014

Minca, Colombia
January, 2014

Whether as instigator of these fights for freedom, or the tool used to quell them, the denial of access to resources required to meet even the most basic of human needs becomes a common battleground. Deprivation of basic needs is spotlighted, at times, but too often hidden behind layers of obfuscation, sometimes self-imposed. (I plead the Fifth!)

As I listen, learn and relate the tales surrounding water–the lifeblood of all living things–I wonder if there could be a day when the world’s citizens join arms around the pozo (well) to guard it from exploitation and usurpation by they who would be king(s).

Just try to imagine the size of THAT monument to independencia!

 

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The altitude of Mexico City

These last days I have been feeling a little bit sick because of the lack of oxigen in the air and the altitude at which is located Mexico City. After calling my insurance service and visiting the doctor, I am feeling much more better now that I have taken the proper medicines.

The problem is that I usually live in a city located at the sea level and Mexico City is about 2,300 meters (7,500 ft) above that level. The higher the city is located, the less pressure is in the atmosphere. Because of that, there is less oxigen in the air and each person reacts in a different way. For example Amy came from Colorado, which is located in a higher altitude from the sea level than Mexico City, so she is doing well.

Mexico City is located in the Valley of Mexico, in the central-southern area of the country. In addition, there are 2 volcanos close to the city.

Mexico City is located in the Valley of Mexico, in the central-southern area of the country. In addition, there are 2 volcanos close to the city.

 

But what is most characteristic of this area is the fact that inside the city you can go from zero level (sea level) to the highest:

In this map you can see the different "Delegaciones" of Mexico city and their altitude above the sea level. "Delegaciones" are the different districts among the city.

In this map you can see the different “Delegaciones” of Mexico city and their altitude above the sea level. “Delegaciones” are the different districts among the city.

 

And I wouldn’t be telling you all these facts if it had nothing to do with water conflicts. The altitude of the whole city and the different altitudes where the “Delegaciones” are located do affect the water problems of the city. It is all about water pressure. If the “Delegación” is located in a medium level where water reaches without the need of machinery, you will probably have no problem with water supply. However, if it is located in a higher level machinery will have to push it to the top, which generates a huge cost and does not always work properly.

For example, Jessica, Amy and I are living in “Delegación Coyoacán”. Inside Coyoacán there are different levels and as a result of that, you can find great water conflicts or the best water supply at the same time in the same area. If you had read Jessica’s last post on the blog, you will note she’s been having some problems with water at home, whereas I have no water supply problems at home because there is a lot of pressure in the water that enables it to reach homes.

Last day we were visiting the craft market of Coyoacán and had the opportunity to talk to the people working there. mercado artesanalWe met Mrs. Mónica Robles there, a woman who was selling incense, natural products and tiny zen gardens at her market stall and who, for our surprise, was majored in Antropology. She told us people living in “Colonia El Rosedal” (a neighborhood just next to us in Coyoacán) were having some water problems.

 

We will plan to gather stories in El Rosedal area for the next week. Meanwhile, the Doctor told me to stay in bed and take my medicines for the next 3 days and Jessica and Amy are also looking after me (thanks Constructoras de paz!). I will be totally recovered for the weekend, when Jessica and I are visiting a house where the family members are suffering from water supply and sanitation problems. I cannot wait to see what we find there!

 

 

 

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