Priya (left) with friends during their hike to Chicon.

Priya in Peru - month two

Priya’s second month in Peru has been fairly eventful, with community visits, journeys to source new production materials, the first firing of the filters, and time for some weekend treks into the wilderness.

Investigating breakages

As I mentioned in my last blog entry, I had discovered that many of the filters were breaking during production. Altering their drying positions significantly improved results, but there was still a large proportion that cracked, so I came up with some more hypotheses.

Firstly, I noted that most of the filters broke during the drying process, which takes between 15 and 20 days. The filters are dried on wooden racks under a metal roof, however they are exposed to the elements from side winds that enter through the open walls of the small factory. This prevents the filters from drying evenly, and along with many parts of the production process, allows impurities to enter.

Secondly, I realised that there were many impurities present in the raw materials themselves. In fact it was necessary to sort through the clay to separate the purer parts from the more sandy parts, taking up precious labour time. So I decided to visit the sources of the two main materials used for production – clay and sawdust.

Material sourcing

After some exploring, pure, fresh clay was found in a nearby site in San Jeronimo. Following days of negotiation, the clay was finally delivered in a large truck earlier this week.

Sawdust acts as the burn-out materials which is removed during firing to create pores that allow the ceramic part to filter water and trap unwanted bacteria. It is sourced from various local wood-making factories. The cheapest way to buy the sawdust is to dive into a hole underneath the wood-cutting blade and gather the byproduct ourselves – which is exactly what we did.

Once the materials were bought and delivered to the factory, we needed to dry them for hours in the sun before they could be used. With limited space available, these were laid out on plastic sheets on the ground, and there were many animals around the site that regularly entered the drying materials – once again increasing the number of impurities present. In fact, whilst I was spreading out the sawdust for drying, I was chased by a sheep!  

Having recently sourced the new materials, it will be another month or two before the results come through, and as the rains have just begun, our ability to dry them will become severely limited.

The heavens have opened

Speaking of rain, the heavens opened for the first time during my stay whilst I was on a camping trip in the Andes. I, along with a group of ProWorld volunteers had decided to trek to a waterfall near the village of Chicon and stay the night on the mountains.  

Naively ill equipped, our tents flooded within a few hours of sunset, and we were forced to spend the night outside in the cold and the rain, with the sounds of pumas keeping us alert until sunrise. If it wasn’t for a fire miraculously revived by a well-placed blow of air from a friend, the result of our journey may have been rather different.  

Still, the trip provided us with the opportunity to see some beautiful views of waterfalls, mountains and rocks that appeared as if they had come straight out of an issue of National Geographic.

Food and culture

The journey to Peru has not only given me the opportunity to learn about Peruvian culture, but has also provided me with a surprise insight into US life too, thanks to the many ProWorld volunteers who are from our partner country.

I’ve learnt that there are a surprisingly large number of differences between American English and British English, including the addition of “super” to almost every word, which the Peruvians also appear to have adopted in Spanish. I’ve also discovered the taste of American biscuits, which are very different to our own in the UK.

Additionally, I continue to learn about the wonders of Peruvian food, as well as its production. I‘ve visited markets where boxes of crowded chicks have been on sale, as well as people’s homes where guinea pigs, pigs or various birds have been grazing, fattening up for consumption. On one occasion, I even found myself in the office babysitting my colleague’s turkey to make sure it didn’t fly away before Christmas dinner!

I also passed my 24th birthday here in Urubamba and was greeted by many friends, from both of the Americas. I managed to avoid the Peruvian traditions of egg throwing and face shoving (into a cake), and instead my host parents sung to me with a margherita pizza with a candle in it…a little taste of home.

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