Editor’s note: Will Kirby, former leader of Engineers Without Borders, is in La Paz, Bolivia, working for Engineers in Action, an American nonprofit created through the partnership of Engineers Without Borders and the Methodist Church of Bolivia. He plans to stay with the group until late May. Here’s his first dispatch:
Engineers in Action is comprised of some low paid engineers and staff, plus a handful of volunteers. I’ll mostly be helping with some of Rolla’s EWB projects in Bolivia, primarily in the office but will most likely be making a few trips out in the field somewhere. I’ll also be helping out with some other EIA projects. The hours are great. We get there anywhere 8:30 and 9 a.m. We typically head home for lunch just after 12 p.m., which all in all takes almost two hours. Then quitting time is about 5:30 p.m. I could get used to it, I think.
I’m living with one of the engineers that works for EIA. Technically his family: brother, sister and mother. Ruben and his siblings all obtained either bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. (Ruben) in the states at Tennessee, UConn, UC Santa Cruz or San Jose State. So they all speak English, except his mom. Ruben’s brother and sister just came back over a year ago. Their dad (a Methodist minister) died of prostate cancer a year ago. Their mom Margerita is a retired nurse who does most of the cooking, which has been very good. The other kids pitch in with cooking and dishes, so I’m trying to help as well. Not with cooking yet. They have a three-story house outside of town, pretty much like three separate apartments. My room is on the top floor, which is a workout. I also have four keys to the house and three to the office; a lot of locks in this country.
The city of La Paz is crazy, chaotic and beautiful. From the top of the city to the bottom it drops about 1,000 feet. The city on average is at about 12,500 feet, which makes it very hard to breathe, walk up stairs and hills. The hills are insane; think San Francisco on steroids. Our minibuses that we take to work most days sometimes have to zig zag to get up the hill. They cost about $.20 a ride, not bad. It’s amazing that there aren’t more wrecks though. The weather’s pretty mild with highs in almost in the 60s and lows in the 40s. Since we’re so high up the strength of the sun is incredible, so it can get hot quick. There are quite a few rain showers right now since we are on the tail end of the rainy season (and end of summer). I don’t speak much Spanish, but I’m working on it. Might be taking some lessons soon, we