Friday, March 10, 2006

Earlier this week, I accepted the invitation to hike up beyond the upper campus to see work being done on the village water system. Just 15 minutes from my classroom is pure cloud forest: waterfalls, slick clay, branches soggy with moss and air so humid you couldn't tell if you were sweating or swimming. And there was this dog too. Lit by a patch of sun that snuck past the clouds and greedy leaves, the dog supervised the work with an almost regal bearing. He stared unabashedly into my lens and only turned away when I studied him too long without the aid of my camera.

The work being done was serious. Seven men were repairing the toma del agua after heavy rains damaged both the intake and some of the low-tech, high-efficacy filtering that's done up there. I didn't understand it all -- they spoke a happy mix of Español and Aymara -- but I saw them making stairsteps in the stream by heaving into place some of the rocks that had been part of the problem in the first place. After a few good minutes of photography, I offered to help. Taking one look at my skinny legs (I would have roasted alive in the long pants most of them were wearing) and arms, one guy told me I could "help by looking."

We laughed.

Then I moved 3 rocks.

Big ones.

OK, medium-big ones.

My friend Jess says "to help by looking" might just be my vocation as a photographer. I say it's a lot easier than 8 hours in the hot jungle redirecting water with rocks, pick axes and machetes.


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