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Summer 2016 Blog - Varun Khurana

Graduation Goggles

July 27, 2016

Giving my final presentation.

There had been a couple of last minute things that I had to get done before I left blueEnergy:  finishing my project and saying goodbye.

First, I prepared a presentation and report to say everything that I needed to about my project and my time here, and you may be interested to hear that my Spanish has transformed from completely incommunicable to barely be able to understood.  It was interesting to see that my biggest test of my Spanish was my presentation because I had to say the entire thing in Spanish.  Now, what is interesting is that when I asked my mentor Francis for help on my presentation delivery, he responded by saying, “You don’t need a speech, speak from the heart!”  I would have been able to do this had I been giving this speech in English, but Spanish is a whole new ball game where I had to actually think before I formulated sentences.  Therefore, I winged my speech, and I must say that it turned out great.  I was able to say what I needed and answered all the questions that I received.  It was a big day in my life!

Often the hardest thing in relationships isn’t making them but allowing them to become stale and stagnant from not working on them, and now it’s that time when I feel especially attached to people and don’t want to leave.  We’ve all sorta been there when we remember only the good times in a place and forget everything that frustrated us, kept us up at night, and forced us to live with uncertainty.  I obviously struggled with this type of detachment (if you haven’t noticed from my other blogs, I’m pretty sappy), but it was different because I loved my time at blueEnergy.  There were definitely those days where I wanted to pull my hair out, but everything from the bland food to the mosquitoes was nullified by the people.  I am really going to miss the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet here; thus, here’s a little tribute to the ones that really made a difference.

The Quiet One That Stood Out Once You Broke his Silence:  This man that I had the pleasure to become close with had a thick first skin, but I must explain what I mean by this.  There are a couple of layers that you go through with meeting someone, and the first skin is usually a constant barrage of politeness and manners.  This skin is the skin that people don’t want to take off until they are comfortable with you, and this man definitely kept his on for so long that I wasn’t sure if that was his actual personality (and I was surprised to learn that some of it was).  Once he took off this skin, however, he oozed a rich personality, full of witty quips and Community (the show) references.  Any person that I came across had potential to bring me down, but his absolute kind and funny self lifted me up in ways that were not possible by others.

The Seemingly Normal One:  She exudes a first skin like my friend above, but you quickly realize how funny and zany she can be.  You occasionally receive a nod of disapproval from her, but you can see by the glint in her eyes that she means it in the most playful way possible.  She never says anything negative about anybody and speaks with sincerity that would make Mother Teresa want to be sincerer.  I’ve also spent much time with her hanging out as friends and getting to know each other in a weird way.

The Fragile One:  Unlike the others, this woman doesn’t waste anyone’s time with a first skin.  She quickly lets you know that she can be sarcastic and has some weird idiosyncrasies.  Her small size combined with her diva personality drives you to believe that she is as fragile as your most expensive jewelry, but like a diamond, she is as tough as nails and can do anything she puts her mind to.  Her special ability is that she can tell your blood type from your personality.  I also go to school with her and have actually had a class with her.

The Mysterious One:  She is perhaps the only one whom I haven’t been able to make a good conclusion on.  She exhibits again the first skin that many of the others do, but there is something more to her that comes out spontaneously and leaves another addition to a motley of a personality that she has painted for you.  Regardless of the strokes that she paints for you with her personality, it leaves you seeing a rich piece of art with many facets and a beauty in personality that you can’t find anywhere else.  I’m also travelling with her, and she surprises me everyday with another part of her personality that I piece together in an unending jigsaw puzzle.

There are definitely many more people that I had the wonderful pleasure to meet, but I felt closest to the people mentioned above since I did spend the most time with them.  I wanted to say goodbye to all the senior fellows (I love you guys!) as well, but I didn’t have the perfect itinerary for preparing to travel.  Regardless, I have to say that the people I met here have been some of the best in a while and that I will miss you all.

 

The 3 Memorable/Interesting Events That Happened to Me Since the Last Post

July 13, 2016

There’s been a lot that’s gone on here so far.  From new bloods arriving from various US schools to me getting sick, this one’s an interesting one, folks.

New Bloods

They arrived on the fateful day of June 20th with a glint of hope twinkling in their eyes, with so much to offer, and with their own big personalities emanating from them as circular wisps of aura.  There were 5 of them, all that I’m glad to have met, but before I continue, I must confide the background to this story to you.  Before cohort 2 came, we had one of our own cohort 1 fellows leave.  After 4 weeks of being in one place with 5 other people, you sort of begin to amalgamate and form a sort of hodgepodge personality with the best of everyone’s qualities.  To be short, we all formed one giant blob of a person, but when Maddie left, the giant blob of a person that we became seemed to break apart.  As the new recruits came, I had still been reminiscing of the great bond cohort 1 developed and lost.  Seeing these new people, however, seeing their smiles and warm faces of friendliness drew me towards them, interested to see what new friendship dynamics they would offer us.  I didn’t have the same type of connection that I had with the first cohort, but the new relationship dynamics offered by this group allowed me to become settled into my own skin.  Both cohorts gifted me versions of myself that were the absolute supremes in their respected realms of my personality, and for that I am very grateful.

Missing Home and the Overdue

After Maddie left, I began missing home a bit (as I believe the rest of the cohort 1ers may have).  I missed nothing more than food because we had been eating only roots and vegetables that would survive a nuclear reactor meltdown here; and I was craving homemade Chicken Tikka Masala like it was nobody’s business.  At that point, this Peace Corps volunteer Ethan Parsons (one of the most beautiful men alive) and I gave birth to the wonderful idea of actually trying to make it; therefore, the next day I got to work and called my mom for what ingredients I’d need and how to make the curry.  Once we found ingredients and got back, we got to cooking.  Marinated chicken, garam masala spice mix, yogurt–the whole enchilada (or should I say whole chicken tikka masala).  After we finished, the curry was done and looking pretty sexy.  I gave it a little kick with the spiciness:  it was enough to scintillate the tastebuds in a pleasurable gentle heat, like being around a campfire.  The French, however, could not handle the heat.  It was a great way to keep me going in Bluefields for another 4 weeks.

In the context of work, Francis and I had been planning for weeks to build the latrine that we so proudly would display in blueEnergy, but until the construction actually began, the project seemed to be missing something key and overdue, it didn’t feel like home yet.  After construction started, however, I felt like I was doing something that was mine, I kept it close like a child and fought for the best that I could provide for it.  At this point, I am glad to say that the latrine is more than halfway built, the masonry feels impeccable to me as does the winding staircase that leads to a handsome platform.  This particular latrine needed to flow in a manner that would attract and intrigue the individual looking at it.  Essentially, the end goal was to make the latrine look so beautiful that you would want to use it.

The Voyage of Adventures, Affliction, and Appreciation

This last weekend, I was privileged with the opportunity to assist in a solar installation at a rural community called Rocky Point.  My all-star team included Aubin (a Frenchman who looks like Spiderman/Andrew Garfield), Jordan (my amazing roomie whom without I am lost), Bethany (a gentle British woman who has strong opinions about Brexit), and Pedro (the chosen one).  The journey began with a long walk through the jungle while we and some local beneficiaries carried very heavy equipment, and at that moment I realized how weak I am.  I was dumbfounded by the ethereal, almost Greek-godlike strength of a small Nicaraguan boy when he was able to carry much more than I was without even breaking a sweat.  Then we finally reached the house.  In the middle of a field of relatively tall grass stood a quaint but modest two story house with dark brown woody features with a hint of banana leaf-colored moss growing.  Surrounding the house was a motley of farm animals, and little chicks and sometimes full grown chickens would amble into the home’s first floor with a hypnotizing neck and body motion that only birds execute.  The first day was filled with straight work.  The all-star team split to do two tasks:  solar panel structure (Aubin, Pedro, and myself) and wiring/connections (Beth and Jordan).  With all of us having our individualized tasks, we got to work and finished most of the install the first day (we only needed to wire the solar panel to the lighting system and to ground the solar panel).  After work we all took a shower, but while I took a shower, I drank some of the spring water because my stupidity at the time told me that it looked clean enough to drink.  I was sorely mistaken.  During the night, I vomited plenty of times, and when mixed with an uncomfortably tied hammock, the night became sleepless.  The next day I felt super weak, but I was still able to help with what little work we had left.  We soon left Rocky Point and headed for Pearl Lagoon which was super relaxing and fun even though I felt a little weak.

The First Few Days

June 20, 2016

At blueEnergy, I am part of the Global Leadership Program (GLP) and work in the sanitation department, but I talking only about work seems a bit boring so I’ll start from the beginning.  Flying to Managua from LAX seemed okay, but I realized that I’d be flying for 8 straight hours.  Something interesting happened, however, on my flight from ATL to Managua.  Sitting next to me was another blueEnergy fellow Kelsey from GeorgiaTech, but I didn’t know that until the last five minutes of the plane ride since we were reading on our own and listening to our own music.  I’m happy to say that we’re great friends now.  But anyways, let’s move on.  Stepping off the plane in Managua was a tremendous change in climate.  Los Angeles is like an easy-bake oven compared to Nicaragua, which is more like an industrial oven where there is no escape.  Going into a room with AC may seem like an amazing idea here, but you soon realize that it’s one of the worst decisions you ever made.  The AC overtakes you soon after walking in and you feel a tsunami of cool air flood over your skin.  If you look closely in the mirror at this point, you can see wisps of steam rising from your body.  This moment is bittersweet, however, because you know in the back of your mind that you have to go back into the fire that is Nicaragua.

The next portion of our trip consisted of staying at the famous blueEnergy house (only famous to summer fellows I guess).  Hosted by a wonderful woman named Marisella, I was exposed to some of the best food I have ever tried; it was chicken stew with papaya, eggplant, and other things.  The next day, we were to leave for Bluefields.  Taking the bus and then a panga (boat) was the plan.  I soon realized, however, that the driving is super rash and scary here, could have died multiple times.  The bus driver had an addiction of honking his horn for no reason.  The bus driver had an accomplice too who seemed “too kool for skool” and he also seemed to be a little bored, to the point where he just climbed on top of the bus.  The drive was absolutely beautiful, though.  I was in awe multiple times where I saw the jungle meet with a river and random horses/donkeys were roaming around.  The boat ride was amazing since it had a constant supply of wind, and we could see mangroves for miles and miles, which would have freaked me out if I was to ever get lost.  Pedro, our host, the Frodo to our ring, made sure to bring us back completely safe back with a few laughs as well.

Next, we got to blueFields and got settled… blah… blah… blah…  Now to the good part:  I totally loved the preparation for the maypole festival that we got to see, and Kelsey, Lisette, and I got to be a part of it, which was awesome!!  We also got to eat dinner with a couple senior fellows (90% of them are French because of a whole relationship between blueEnergy and the French government) and the executive director of blueEnergy aka Mathias Craig.

After that, we woke up and got a damn awesome tour of the city featuring Pedro (you remember real-life Frodo), Brooke (the very sweet, down-to-earth woman), a few catcalling crazy locals, a pig being transported from a boat, and a beautiful view.

During the beginning of this week, I had the opportunity to learn in detail about my project.  So to give you a premise, I must explain the two different types of wastewater:  darkwater and greywater.  Now, greywater is the wastewater from the shower, the faucet, kitchen, and washing machine while darkwater is the wastewater from the toilet, which mainly consists of excrement.  My work is to deal with darkwater here since most locals use either a septic tank or just let it into the river.  The main way we want to deal with this is to make latrines that would separate and store the solid waste from urine.  There is already a design proposed by my mentor Francis (a cute old Frenchman whose looks fool you from seeing how brilliant he is), but he would like me to offer something that could possibly better the design.  The way my work schedule is planned out requires me to learn as much as I can about the design and make a few suggestions to the design, but every week after that is construction; thus, I will be working a lot with my hands at that time.  While I work with darkwater, my amazing teammates and fellow summer interns Rachel and Kelsey will work on finding solutions for treating and possibly reusing greywater.  So far, I have been reading and catching up on all the literature for latrines that would be needed for construction.  I have been told that the hard part is sort of over for my project and all that needs to be done is the construction.  In other words, I don’t have to go through all the hassel about paperwork and permission from government agencies.

Not going to lie, but a lot has happened in these few days.  Saturday, May 28, this is the day that everybody has been buzzing about for the last week.  It’s Palo de Mayo, a Bluefields holiday here in Nicaragua.  There’s supposed to be dancing, drinking, and partying all around the city today.  The parade starts at 1 pm and the festival doesn’t stop until about midnight.  Palo de mayo, it’s a pretty big deal here.  Palo de Mayo refers to the change of seasons from the dry season to the rainy season.  Regardless of the reason for Palo de Mayo, I must say that I have never seen a group of people dance more intensely and have more fun.  Partying in Nicaragua is no joke!

 

Work and Play Hard

June 20, 2016

Hello again!

There are two parts to this post:  the cool work part and the fun, touristy part.

Cool work part

To be honest, I was a little sad that I didn’t have a great say in the design portion of making a latrine; but I realized that most of the work I must do is in the phase between the functional design phase and construction.  That means that I’m mostly working on the design/methodology of the latrine.  I deal with the minutiae like how many blocks will we be using for the masonry and what is the way to lower the cost while increasing the functionality.  There were a few things that frustrated me very much, however, and the most frustrating was the stairs.  Now, let me explain.  The latrine design I received had specific dimensions to it, and any change to those dimensions could be potentially bad since it changes the amount of materials and process.  In a meeting with the construction team, we had determined the dimensions of the steps, which is great; but we did not see if changing that parameter for the stairs leading to the latrine would change the other dimensions.  My team and I found a specific location for the latrine on the bE campus, but we later found that the dimension of the stairs would not be a good fit in the location we chose because of the change in step size.  This threw us into a frenzy of figuring out whether the latrine would fit before we started construction, but we found out later that it was fine.  The reason I became an expert on stairs is that the constructionists laid out an unnecessary process for making stairs.  It consisted of bags and bags of gravel as well as layer upon layer of concrete.  Seems pretty wasteful; therefore, I proposed a new plan that I drew up.  They liked the plan and we were ready to go.  Then came the next shift in our priorities.  The supervisor for the Nicaraguan portion of blueEnergy, Guillaume Craig (Mathias’s brother), told us that it’s not aesthetically pleasing which was another fun challenge to solve.  We finally figured out that the best way to have a sexy latrine (I never thought I would say those two words together) that would work perfectly.  Which is in the picture below.  Either way, the struggle was constantly to balance how amazing the design could look with how easy it would be to construct.

Latrine Design

Fun, touristy part

I don’t know if I talked about Wawashang and Kahka Creek last time, but I’ll give a quick rundown.  Wawashang is a sustainable reserve/school where the students learn to create a self-sustaining community.  The students had skills like carpentry and permaculture that their counterparts in America don’t know the first thing about.  After Wawashang, we went to Kahka Creek, which is a sort of rainforest with exotic flora and fauna, and Kahka Creek was absolutely beautiful.  It was quite interesting for me especially because it was my birthday on the day we went to Kahka Creek.  It was sweet of Pedro (you remember him) to bring me a cake and other things for my birthday.

Although Wawashang and Kahka Creek was amazing, my favorite trip here was traveling to the Pearl Cays.  The Pearl Cays are a series of small islands in the Caribbean with palm trees, reefs, and just about everything else you would want in paradise.  During our time there, it rained, but that wasn’t too much of a problem because I was able to see a beautiful lightning storm.  I think that the best moment I had there was during the night because I slept in a hammock under the beautiful stars whilst there was a lightning storm in the distance.  I might have stayed up till 1 or 2 just watching nature on the beach, and then I woke up from the sun in the morning.  Besides the beautiful nature that I was exposed to, I was able to learn how to climb a palm tree and prepare my own coconuts.  It was absolutely amazing.

Pearl Cays aka Paradise

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