A day to celebrate

If any of you have ever planned an event before, I’m sure you know the feeling. When you look at all the (semi-)controlled chaos around you and realize that, if you just secretly slipped away, it’d all go on without you. When that heavy weight you’ve been carrying on your shoulders, built of frustrations and missed deadlines and I-can’t-take-this-heat-anymore moments, begins to crumble and, before your mind’s eye, begin to turn into fond old memories. When you take a deep breath, and begin to relax, and find yourself smiling.

Those are the moments when it all feels worth it.

Saturday was a day to celebrate. My team of masons and I – plus all the men who dug more than 200 meters into the rock-solid northern ground, all the women who carried hundreds of gallons of water on their heads for mixing cement, and all the kids who gathered wheel barrels full of sand and gravel to bring to the work sites – had been sweating over this project (literally) for almost two months. I’d be lying if I told you I never wanted to pull my hair out in the process. More than once I caught myself day-dreaming about a wonderland where deadlines were always met and cell phones were always charged and a woman’s words carried the same weight as those of a man. But that’s what make those positive moments even sweeter, right?

In fact, in the past few weeks I’ve had more of those sweet moments than I can count.

Like when one of my masons, who was building a house near mine and wanted to take a break for lunch, came over to borrow soap: “You’ve gotta wash your hands before you eat, right?” he said with a knowing grin.

Or when a mother, after one of our masons finished teaching her family about hygiene and diseases, said her kids would no longer go out in the open to “use the bathroom” – now they had one of their very own.

Or when I’d listen to one of my masons, who’s never read a book in his life and can’t even sign his name, teach his family and friends and neighbors about why using a latrine helps prevent the spread of dysentery, parasites, polio, you name it.

And then again, everyday, when I ride my bike through the village and see those brand-spanking-new latrines, I just can’t help but smile.

But back to Saturday. On Saturday, over 100 people gathered at the health clinic to celebrate the end of a month and a half of hard work, 63 new latrines completed, and the ways in which we, as a community, will continue to take an active role in improving hygiene. Here are a few of the highlights:

One of the head organizers of the project, a young man who never had the chance to study past grade school, spoke to the whole crowd about the importance of these new latrines in preventing diseases, and about the important choices we all can make to make our lives cleaner and healthier.

Over half of those who came to listen were men, who are normally nearly impossible to mobilize for events like this.

And it looked like those men enjoyed themselves!

Everyone learned how to make easy, convenient, and hygienic hand-washing stations out of empty cooking oil jugs, and each family that received a latrine took one home for their families. Here’s one of them being used for a hand-washing demonstration. (Note: that means we used 63 empty jugs, each of which used to hold 20-liters of cooking oil. And we were able to buy all 63 empty jugs in the village itself! That should tell you a bit about our diet here…)

Everyone (or mostly everyone) washed their hands with soap using the new hand-washing stations before we all chowed down on some delicious (oily) rice!

Bon appétit!

Also, the head of the health administration for the entire region, also known as the Médecin Chef de District (MCD) came out to celebrate with us and congratulate the village on their hard work. It was a surprise (we found out he was coming only the day before) and a very proud moment for the village! All in all, it was a major success.

*     *     *     *     *

Later that night, as the sun was getting ready to set and the heat was beginning to dissipate, I decided to go for a quick jog to decompress, de-stress, and reflect on all the day’s happenings. Well, I went for a jog, but it turned out to be less for reflecting and more for laughing. You see, my 8-year-old friend Manguiru spotted me putting my dust-covered running shoes on and shouted for me to wait for him as he ran to grab his strap-on sandals. Then on the way out of the courtyard, a few other little boys saw us and wanted to join in the fun, so soon our numbers grew from two to four. By the time we were out of the courtyard we were quite the sight, and everyone we passed along the path pounding millet or resting under a tree began to lift their heads in our direction and chuckle.

They’ll never make it past the schoolyard, I thought to myself as I looked down at the boys, three of whom were barefoot. Then I noticed all the boys looking behind them.

“Breejeetie! Look!” huffed Manguiru, pointing behind us. Sure enough, there were about 20 kids trailing behind us in a 50-yard tail; some young students, some toddles, and almost all barefoot. If only I ran with my camera! I thought, laughing.

Within the next quarter mile or so most everyone turned back, except the three little boys by my side from the start, plus one determined little fellow chugging along about 100 yards behind. Now, I thought I was in decent shape, but when a mini-swarm of barefooted boys can match your pace for several kilometers, and you may or may not be breathing even harder than they are, it certainly makes you re-think your exercise habits! By the time we got back to the village, however, we were all equally sweaty and exhausted. The second we reached my courtyard the boys collapsed on my cot laughing, as I went inside to get water. When we had drank our full, I walked over to some open space to stretch my dehydrated muscles a bit. It took just one bizarre stance on my part to catch the boys’ attention, and before I knew it they’d jumped up from the ground and began mimicking my every move. I could hardly stretch I was laughing so hard! Of course, the boys didn’t get the point of stretching, so they just moved around into what looked like the positions I was doing, which made it all the more hilarious. And this time, I did have my camera! Check it out.

My running buddies

It may not have been the time for reflection I imagined, but it was a certainly a way to de-stress nonetheless. :)

Oh, and I can’t forget! We’ve reached our fundraising goal for summer camp!

Thank you so so so much to each and every one of you who contributed to the project. As usual, I’ll keep you posted with camp planning, pictures, stories and updates. We’ve got about four weeks now to get everything organized…and then the fun will begin!

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7 Responses to A day to celebrate

  1. Kathy Petron says:

    Oh Bridget,
    What a great story. You described that run so well, we didn’t need pictures.
    I loved the picture of them exercising. Getting the men to participate-WOW!!!!!
    It sounds like the people are really understanding the importance of the latrines.
    You should be so proud! And I am so proud of you!
    Good luck planning the summer camp.
    With all my love,
    Kathy

  2. Galen says:

    Hey Bridget.
    it has been awhile since I commented. Alot of personal things but nothing compared to you. what am appreciation for the lifestyle and the impact that you have made OMG. Just think how much could be done if more people could get involved all over like you and have the same impact. Talk about taking an idea and running with it. YOu have truly been an inspiration to me and many others. Keep it up continue to make the impossible happen. Hope you continue to see the rewards of the seeds you have planted. I remember a time when things were not to easy, ( not that they are now.) Take care and look forward to reading about your running and daily interaction. It would fun to read a account from the villagers point of view too.
    Galen

  3. Eileen Degnan says:

    Bridget, What a tale of triumph, joy, transformation, and magic. I have this fairytale picture in my mind of Bridget the Pied Piper with the line of boys following her about (of course, you don’t steal the children, as at the end of the fairytale). But even better than a fairytale, this is real! You have helped improve the lives of these villagers in numerous major ways, and your peace corp time isn’t even up yet. You should be the poster girl for peace corp workers. Good luck on your next project! We are so proud of you Bridget, and we love you. Eileen and Mike

  4. Mary Jo Holmstrand says:

    Thanks for sharing your amazing adventures and accomplishments Bridget. We are proud of the work you are doing to help so many people lead healthier lives.

  5. Maura says:

    B, I loved the sweet moments you described – especially the one about the mason who is teaching other villagers. And, what I wouldn’t give to have seen the parade of boys running after you – what a sight that must have been!

    Savor those moments, B. That is what making a difference feels like.
    We are so proud of all that you have accomplished.
    Much love as always.

  6. fmroby says:

    Hey B! thanks again for a wonderful story. I am so happy for your “moments” where you feel the rewards of your work and that of the masons and so many others as well. Many, many health benefits will come from these efforts through the years! And I love the image of the kids running with you through the countryside! Love, Dad

  7. Hannah McGraw-Dzik says:

    Dear Bridget,

    I cannot believe what you have accomplished, truly amazing and inspiring. I hope before you leave you need contributions again I have seem to missed out on the last two.

    The pictures of those children caused an instant smile. Take care.

    Loving all in gratefulness,

    Hannah

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