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Day 9 (aka Harsh's Last Day) May 24th, 2016

Bathrooms with Harsh and Claudia

Today the day started off pretty late because we were under the delusion that we didn’t have that much to do and would finish everything pretty early. As usual we were wrong. We got to the site and all we essentially had to do today was finish the lid of the toilet and install the PVC tube that was the handle. We also had to install the lid to the digester. Three things.

The first problem we encountered was that the lid we had left to dry yesterday was made backwards…. It was supposed to have the bucket in the mold with 14 cm on the left and 4 cm on the right and instead it was 4 cm left and 14 cm right. So Harsh had a meltdown over that. But we quickly realized that we could adjust it by flipping it around. Unfortunately that meant that the handle to flush would be in the middle of the person’s legs when they were sitting -- but since everything still worked and Harsh is leaving tomorrow at 4am we really didn’t have that many options.

Then we wanted to put in the PVC handle. To do that we had to cut into the 2 layers of brick, and to do that you had to have a special blade for the saw. Which of course we didn’t have. I think Angel thought we were going to bring it today, even though we did not communicate that to him… anyway I also think he thought that he was supposed to have a blade to cut bricks. Because when we really pressed him on it he said that he could send Sandra to buy the blade. I asked him what kind of blade it was and he said that it was a blade that cost 40 bs --that was the cheapest one and the one he was going to buy because he didn’t have money. I asked him what the most expensive blade was and he said it was 80bs. For an extra 5 bucks I told him that he should just buy the most expensive one and that we would pay for it tomorrow. Sandra eventually came back and we started cutting the brick with the new blade. Which worked perfectly! Now we just had to figure out where exactly to position the handle so that the pie pan would line up perfectly with the bottom of the bucket. But first it was time for lunch.

Just for the record lunch has been getting progressively better everyday and I have really come around the weird rice/grits/unclean water mixture that we eat everyday. And also me and Harsh are remarkably healthy while Akshay was sick yesterday --so clearly we have fantastic immune systems/ the food is cleaner than we initially assumed. Today’s lunch was veggies, rice/grits and chicken accompanied by a screening of the good dinosaur. We didn’t get to finish it again so that was pretty sad for me personally. I don’t really remember what me and Harsh talk about during lunch but sometimes we talk, sometimes we look at the chickens and sometimes Luis comes in and starts harassing both of us to play with him. Lunch is always fun though.

After lunch we started trying to figure out how to align the bottom of the bucket to the pie pan. Sounds a lot easier than it is. It took a high amount of work and time to align it perfectly. The next challenge was the so called “PVC blushings” I had asked Harsh what these were before he came to Bolivia and he probably answered and it probably still didn’t make sense so I just ignored it to save stress. Well the time had come for us to actually use them and I hadn’t bought them. The point of the PVC blushings were to go around the PVC handle to so that the PVC pipe could turn smoothly around to allow for the flushing motion. We thought we could use towels instead and so Harsh practices his sewing skills and stitched the towel onto itself so we could wrap it around the PVC pipe. But when we laid it down and told Angel that we planned on covering it with cement he said that the tube wouldn’t turn in just the towel because it would soak up the cement. Fair point. As usual Angel was right. So we wrapped the towel in a black plastic covering that we had bought earlier and that worked. All the while Angel was building up the walls of the bathroom and starting to make measurements on where the shower would go… We ended up buying extra bricks and cement so we told them that they could do whatever they wanted with it. Definitely for January we will build bathrooms that are bigger and include showers because it is extremely feasible and makes people so much happier.

The final thing we had to tackle was putting the lid on the digester. This took a surprising amount of time because it had to be airtight. Angel told us to make the measurements on the cement where he would have to cut so we could put the lid on. Harsh took forever to do it so Angel came over and asked us if we could do it, so that was pretty funny. Then Angel was putting the handles through the lid to the digester using the drill and Harsh handed him the drill. Sandra said to Angel “Don’t let him hold the drill he doesn’t know what he’s doing” but Angel replied “He knows what he’s doing, don’t worry,” so that was a pretty big moment for Harsh. And in general because at the beginning of the bathroom journey we really realized that we had to win back to the trust of the community and I think that we finally have by actually finishing much of the bathrooms and making them bigger and allowing them to have a shower. Also I think it’s important to recognize that Angel did actually trust us and believe that Harsh knew what he was doing. We really try our best every day but it doesn’t matter how much Harsh wants to major in Masonry at Harvard, we will never be able to have all the knowledge that the masons have here. So to get that trust from Angel was amazing.

Then we took some time to adjust the lid and make sure it fit on the digester properly. And then Harsh was finally vaguely happy. The entire day we were both just like holding our breaths, waiting for something to go wrong, praying everything would go right. The placing of the lid was the end of the technical aspect. All that is left is building up the walls which should be done by the end of tomorrow, and placing some tile on the bathrooms for aesthetic appeal. I took a great picture of Harsh, Angel and Luis; we packed up our things; Harsh said his goodbyes and we left. As we walked down to the trufi stop Luis screamed “Ciao Amigo” behind us at Harsh until he couldn’t see us anymore. Kind of a false ending though because we forgot to get Rodrigo’s shovels and pick-axes so we had to make the trufi driver go back to the house. Afterwards Harsh knew that he had to do something nice for Rodrigo so we decided to print out a picture of the three of us and sign it on the back. The picture place didn’t have the right USB cord though so we had to go back home. Where we showered and changed and met up with Akshay and Lathan before they were about to go give a talk at San Simon --the 2ed best university in Cochabamba. Me and Harsh was dressed borderline nicely --probably looked nicer than normal because we have been in bathroom building clothes for the past 6 days -- and joked that we were going to go to Burger King and print out Rodrigo’s picture. While they were dressed in shorts and a t-shirt and giving a speech at a University. I forced them to at least put on jeans and a not wrinkled t shirt and then they left.

Then, Rodrigo came to pick us up and we all got haircuts. Which no one noticed but whatever we still looked good. Then Rodrigo dropped us off at the photo printing place --but he didn’t know we were going to print out the picture for him. So we printed out the picture and then I tried to help Harsh write on the back of it but there were some words that just don’t translate to spanish like “swagger” and “dank” so those were written in english and we told Rodrigo to google them. Today Rodrigo’s parents wanted to take us out to dinner so we went to Kansas --a super nice restaurant which actual super good food. They even had brownies for dessert. Unlike the place we went to yesterday that didn’t have anything we wanted to eat on the dessert menu. The meal was nice and it was great for Harsh to have one last time to see everyone. Afterwards Rodrigo dropped us off and Harsh gave him the picture that we printed out. But it wasn’t goodbye yet because Rodrigo said he would drop Harsh off at the airport with me at 4:20am this morning. 3 hours from now. So that was also super nice. In general I think Harsh really enjoyed his trip so that makes me happier than words can describe (yeah cheesy whatever this is my blog entry).

Presentations with Akshay and Lathan

Today was such a whirlwind day. I (Lathan) got to experience one day fame. So at 8:30 in the morning, Maria Eugenia dropped off a huge binder of data that we have to input and analyze at some point. We left the house at 8:40 to give a presentation at La Facultad de Enfermería Elizabeth Seton, a nearby nursing school. We went to train the nursing students on how to carry out the surveys we designed. Unfortunately, our taxi driver drove us to La Viedma (hospital) instead of Elizabeth Seton. Good thing he knew the right thing to do was to give us a discount on the ride since we were late. The nursing school is attached to the hospital, and it's not a very big hospital.

This presentation would not have been possible without our connection with Sister Irma, the director of the nursing school, since she agreed to help us with our research efforts. There were more than a 100 students in attendance. I was honestly not expecting that many students, so I felt extremely legitimate and professional, even if my casual clothes indicated otherwise. After apologizing many times for being late, we basically talked about how we conducted the public health surveys. We explained to them the purpose of the surveys as well as how they to conduct them. Our hope is to mobilize the nursing students to conduct surveys in all the barrios. The surveys would be finished extremely quickly, and we can compile all the data and generate a significant study on the health and water conditions of all the barrios in Cochabamba. That is our vision, at least. The training went well; I think all the med students were engaged and excited about doing something like this because a lot of them asked really good questions. We have to make a manual to send to the medical school students.

Afterwards, I experienced something totally alien. I was treated like a celebrity. It was totally crazy. The medical school students were mostly female, and they mobbed me and Akshay, asking for our Facebooks, our emails, autographs, and pictures. I took tons of pictures with them.

When I got back home, my Facebook was deluged with friend requests. It was insane.

Anyway, we had to prepare for the presentation at night at San Simon University. We were giving a motivational talk titled Como hacer lo que no crees que puedas hacer. Basically, it was focused on how to get the motivation to learn languages and also how to apply languages in the real world. Akshay demonstrated his mastery over language acquisition and multiple languages. I talked about how languages are useful in the real world. For instance, in the organization I'm part of in Pomona called Health Bridges, we provide non-medical translation services, which obviously requires language ability.

So, we got to San Simon University at around 7. And this place is a maze. At first we were directed to the "Linguistics Student Center" which turned out to be a small den not unlike a mancave. That was clearly the wrong room. As we kept wandering around and asking people where we were supposed to be giving the talk, we finally ran into a girl who recognized Akshay's name. She brought us to the classroom. Honestly, we were expecting maybe like 15 people to show up, since we organized this with Ruth, one of the students at Sansimon only a couple days beforehand. We walk into the classroom, and about 60-70 students turn to look at us. Oh my god. This is insane. All of these students are on the linguistics track.

While we were setting up the presentation (I had to download the presentation onto a flash drive because there was no internet connection where we were giving the presentation), Akshay asked if any of the students had tried learning language on their own before and what languages they were currently learning. One student said Korean, so Akshay proceeded to teach the Korean writing system. Another student asked why is Harvard better than Bolivian education system, and everyone was like "oooh". But Akshay couldn't answer that question because we don't really know how the Bolivian education system works.

I finally got the presentation all set up, and we started. It was fire. Akshay was exposing myths about languages left and right. Basically, our presentation had three themes

  1. How to make your dreams reality

  2. How to take advantage of the resources around you

  3. What is the difference between you guys and us (nothing)

Akshay talked about the mindset and motivation you need to learn languages. Essentially, you don't have to be a genius, and you can start learning languages at any age. Akshay has polyglot role models that he looked up to when he just started learning languages. And now, he is a polyglot himself. Absolutely incredible.

My portion of the presentation was talking about how you can apply languages in real life settings, like I mentioned earlier about Health Bridges.

We ended our presentation talking about Refresh Bolivia, connecting it to the theme of language and medical translation by talking about how in a lot of the communities we work with, Quechua is their primary language, so that could be a language barrier in many medical facilities. We talked about how we build bathrooms, conduct water and sanitation surveys, and teach public health workshops. One student asked if it would be possible to start their own Refresh Bolivia chapter here. Of course, we were very excited. After our presentation, there was much applause, and we were again mobbed by students asking for pictures.

We went to dinner with some of the student at Novecento, an Italian restaurant that was pretty good. I befriended a couple of the students, and ended up talking about the popularity of Kpop and anime in Bolivia.

Overall, it was an extremely fun, interesting, and educational experience for me. Honestly, words cannot describe the happiness I felt being able to be around passionate language learners in a completely different country. This is beyond my wildest dreams.

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