Dead Bat Mate, Solar, and…Argentinian Energy Seeds

How often do you get to put Dead Bat Mate, and solar in the same sentence?  We hope we have your interest perked…we want to share a perspective on a project we are just beginning.

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This project has different partners and finds us working with an entirely new group of people from Ohio to rural Argentina and the projects are unlike anything that you might see in the United States.  After all, while Argentina is in the same hemisphere as the United States, it is south of the equator.

Most of our blog stories are about completed solar projects on schools and other kinds of public buildings inside the United States, but Argentina is different in so many ways even our blog stories will be different.   We thought you might need blog stories that would provide you with some insights into the background of this part of the world.  This is rural Argentina.  This is not Buenos Aires.  Some background on rural Argentina is important.

Below are two stories that will help you understand the location for projects that are in their early phases.  They were both written by Beatrice de Courtivron.  Her organization is MotoMedics International.

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We felt it was important for you to read two stories because the first is a little bit funny and the second is very sad.  This part of the world is inhabited by fantastic people who enjoy life, but who face indescribable hardships so their lives are often funny and sometime very sad.  The two stories seem to convey both emotions so we are choosing to give you both.  In the next few months, we will give you more stories about our partnership with MotoMedics and the people of rural Argentina.  If you want to look this area up on a map, look for Santiago del Estero, Argentina.  The second story took place in Majadas, Argentina.

And so none of you ask “where are the solar panels?” here is a picture of an installer explaining what is going to happen when the sun hits the panel and electricity is created…in Santiago Del Estero, Argentina.

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But before we show you more pictures and tell you stories about solar panels on schools in Argentina, it is important for you to learn a little bit more about this country.

Story One: Dead Bat Mate

Argentines love their mate. Its more than an herb infused drink; it’s hospitality, a ritual, socializing. Everyone drinks from the same straw, they pass the cup around. No one worries about each other’s germs. I happen to like it very much. Although I prefer it unsweetened, sweet is fine too. Argentines seem to like everything sweet so it is easier for me to drink it whatever way they do.

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In Burro Pozo, during a lull before lunch, the mate comes out. The woman prepares the cup. First the mate leaves go in then the hot water. Everyone takes it in turn then passes it around. The water is continually added between drinkers. As there is no electricity here, water is kept hot by placing the kettle on burning pieces of wood on a piece of metal that they carry around with them. When the leaves need to be changed, they put fresh mate in, add the hot water and pass it around. I enjoy this ritual; the easy socializing with our hosts.  I knew the minute we arrived at this rancho and saw a goat skin drying in the sun that we would have cabrito today. I watch the grandmother and a daughter cut and grill the pieces while I sit under the outdoor kitchen’s thatched roof and sip the mate.

Our team has divided into 2 shifts for lunch so at least one team is always working. Gerardo arrives from the small community/health center and joins us. After lunch while we walk back to the community center, he tells me about the well this community uses. It’s more of a water filled underground cave about a kilometer away and it is the only source of water for this little community. It was also home to the area bats. One of the men a while back decided it would be a good idea to smoke the bats out of the cave to keep their guano from falling into the water. So during the day, while the bats slept, they threw a bunch of burning torches into the hole, covered it up so the bats couldn’t escape and waited to rid the water of the bat guano problem. But since the bats couldn’t get out with the hole covered, they were smoked to death and fell into the water. There was no way to remove all the dead bats from the cave so there they remained. Dead Bat Water.

I look at him for a minute while my brain registers the implications and kicked into very high gear. My first desperate thought: O my God, I’ve been drinking dead bat mate. My second desperate but somewhat hopeful thought: it is made with hot water and please God help me that it was boiled for days for the constant mate drinking and had some semblance of sterility.

I waited for a couple of hours for the poisonous effects of dead bat mate to wrack my body. I pray not to get sick; I decide that if I am spared illness, I will never ever drink anything boiled or otherwise without casually inquiring about what could be in the water first. But nothing happened. I have always liked bats and found them interesting. Now I wonder if I don’t carry some part of the cute little critters around in me.

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Story Two: A Little Boy

photo5.jpgWhen we arrive at the clinic in Majadas, people are already lined up. The waiting room quickly fills up. I am taken aback by all the sick children. There is a Down’s baby who is 2 or 3 times the size of a normal baby his age. His mother smiles at me as he lies in her lap.

Both doctors start treating immediately. Graciela, a doctor from Santiago del Estero, is doing pediatrics. She quickly becomes overwhelmed. There are so many sick and not enough drugs. Many have bronchitis and asthma, there is so much dust. The antibiotics and inhalers go fast and she must resort to using the one remaining inhaler for several children to alleviate their symptoms. All the children have parasites; the drugs are gone in no time. There is simply not enough. The nearest city is hours away; there is no way to get any more and she must do what she can.

This is the second day that we are using the portable EKG that MMI has purchased and donated to Pilotos. I am learning to attach the leads and run the test. Mirtha, the cardiologist, is doing brief physicals and I do the EKGs when she asks me. There are several Chagasic patients, one with advanced TB, who come through. We’ve been working for several hours when Graciela asks Mirtha to help examine one of the children. He has been fainting and turning blue. He is brought into the room where I am for an EKG. He is 3 years old. He can’t lie down because he faints so we do the test with him sitting up. He faints when he cries so we give him cookies while we attach the leads and try to do the test. He is so little, the leads keep falling off his chest. He looks down at the wires and starts crying; we all talk to him and give him another cookie. We have to hold the leads in place. There are 3 of us who do this; I am holding the last 3 against his chest. We do manage to get a reading. He has Chagas disease and his heart is severely damaged. Both doctors speak with his mother. He must be taken to the hospital in Santiago or he will die. She is barely 20 yrs old, she has two older children and is pregnant with her fourth child, her husband works away from the rancho. He brings money when he visits his family. Essentially she is alone. She does not have the money for the bus trip into the city, who will take care of her other children and her animals? It’s a death sentence for this little boy.

I am so distraught after his mother takes him from the room that I have to be alone. People who know me know that I always have something to say. But I am speechless; without words. I go outside for a walk. It’s hot and brilliantly sunny. The sky is a cloudless blue. There is no sign of the torrential rains 2 days prior. The ground is as cracked and parched as ever. The cacti are blooming. I really need a distraction so I start taking photographs of the flowers. There are scorpions and poisonous snakes here. People die of snakebite and I am terrified of snakes. But I am so focused on my flowers that I don’t even think about them.  I am busy with my camera when Gerardo comes looking for me. I struggle trying to explain. I just have no words. He knows this forest with its seemingly insurmountable problems so well. There are thousands of such children in Argentina. Millions in Central and South America. They expect to die young; they know that not all of their children may survive. They all need help and that is why we are here. To help, to make a difference.

I know this intellectually but it was my hands holding the leads on this little boy’s chest. I felt his ribcage expand with his breathing. I felt the panic to stop him from crying less he faint. It is very personal to me. I talk about my own 2 sons. They are sick, I go to the doctor’s. They need meds, I buy them. Here, there is nothing. A few drugs, some supplies on a metal shelf. I feel completely impotent, walking in this forest, under the relentless bright sun, the cactus flowers.

We walk down the path on the way back to the clinic. I see the little boy and his mother leaving. He is sitting in the basket attached to her bicycle’s handlebars. He is wrapped in a towel. He reminds of me of E.T. as I watch them head down the dirt road on their way back to their rancho. He glances at me from under his towel as they pass by. I don’t even know his name.
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Chico’s  flower

For more information about Beatrice’s program:  http://www.motomedicsinternational.org/index.asp.

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