Erik W. Lang
Our group departed from Miami in November 1987. We spent three months at a training center just outside of Antigua. I lived with a very poor family during training. They cooked on an open fire and everything tasted like smoke, even the watery oatmeal. We ate beans and tortillas almost all the time. My stomach was unsettled during my whole two years of service, and I drank a bottle of Pepto-Bismol about every week (not really). I survived by trading my smoky tasting food for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
My project was called appropriate technology. Mostly I taught people how to build stoves. The indigenous population was used to cooking on the floor. Basically they would put a pot on top of three rocks and use wood they gathered from the nearby forests. This caused their one room adobe houses to fill up with smoke. The smoke caused eye and respiratory problems, particularly for the children. This method also used a lot of wood, which exacerbated the terrible deforestation occurring in the highlands. The stoves that we built, if used correctly, used less wood. Even if they were not used correctly, they usually got the smoke out of the house. I also taught people how to build latrines, mostly pit latrines. However, we built a few composting toilets. I did not have an official counterpart, but worked very closely with the brilliant individual named Julio Marin Quijibish. He spoke Spanish and the Quiche language. He was paid by a religious based health clinic called Clinica Christiana. It was a project funded by a church based in Falls Church, Virginia. They did exceptional work. They had North American doctors who spoke Spanish and Quiche fluently. I spoke only a few words of Quiche. We built a few solar ovens and a few fero-cement storage tanks. However the stoves were the most successful. I had a little motorcycle and traveled to many rural areas outside of Quetzaltenago. I think we built close to two hundred stoves while I was there. And I know that they continued to build after I left.