Pedaling for Water
Updated: Jul 25, 2021
I wake up to a cool, damp morning. The pattering rain upon the tin roof from the night before has not yet been scared away by the dawn. It is my first rainy morning in San Miguel de Allende and the temperature difference is palpable. We begin our morning in the unrelenting gloom. F, A, M, and I will make a day out of trips to some of our partner communities.
The white truck easily slips out of San Miguel de Allende and into the arid plains that surround it. We head north along the national highway. The road is sprinkled with adobe buildings selling antiques and small stands advertising fresas con crema. Soon the stores are replaced with an endless sea of tilled land. Lush leafy greens spring up from the parched ground, their prosperity a gut-wrenching reminder of the dropping water table below. As we continue north, we are greeted by thickening clouds and the assurance of a cold day.
Our first stop is La Onza, a tiny town of ten households give or take. The youngest people of this town have quit, some never to be seen again, with the prospect of greater income in other lands. Some have made their way to the US, where they work ardently (or oftentimes arduously) to send remittances home. In this region, remittances are upwards of 40-50% of family incomes.
First, we visit the community well. The fog is thick as we step out of the car. It condenses into water droplets on our ill-equipped bodies. We make our way to the well, a rectangular chunk cut into the earth 15 feet by 3 feet wide. Water is visible 10 feet below, happily lapping as an older woman drops a plastic bucket down to collect water.
Next to the well sits an intriguing feature – a bicycle attached to a mechanism that dives deep into the water. The whole system is attached to a garrafón that holds thousands of liters of water. This is the bicycle pump that our non-profit installed. It is a first for me to see something like it. A simple suction created by rubber washers threaded intermittently along a rope provides the mechanism needed to transport the water to the surface. This bike system was designed to provide water to mix with rainwater so the community would have safe water to drink throughout the year. While the rainwater is naturally distilled, the groundwater is contaminated with high levels of arsenic and fluoride. Mixing them brings the contaminants down to safe levels.
After a few stops in vain to houses near the well where we were in search of a hand crank for the bike system, we find ourselves being welcomed into a home by an elderly woman. She is about my height. A wool shawl frames her kindly wrinkled face. Her eyes twinkle and emit a happy joy.
We duck into a standalone kitchen. It is a dark, small place with a simple plastic table in the middle. Items lining two walls make the pink room feel smaller. The woman motions for us to sit. My cold, stiff body complies. I position myself in the corner, next to a crockpot that has certainly seen many years of family crowding around for dinner.
The woman picks up a pot off the four-burner stove and ladles a steaming liquid into four cups. All the while, F and A speak with her. Soon my hands encounter the burning heat of an overflowing mug of liquid. It is a welcome guest to my cold stomach. Tastes of sugar and cinnamon mix with oat and milk on my tongue. The mixture staves off my inevitable hunger.
All the while, the conversation rolls on. The woman has children and grandchildren. They, like so many others, left years ago for more prosperous lands. She sees some of them occasionally, when they return home for a visit. Despite the lack of their daily presence, she seems happy. She chatters about the town gossip. A young woman can be seen outside moving to and fro. I cannot discern what she is doing, but I am comforted that the young woman is here, helping the old.
As the minutes slip by, the conversation comes to a close. We must be on our way, as the day is long yet still. With our stomachs filled and our bodies on the verge of warmth, we thank our kind host and make our way back to the white truck, now caked in a layer of mud splashings. The rest of the day continues in a blur.