The other day, I went into town for a run-of-the mill haircut. Although I’ve never had a bad experience, every time I wander into a barber shop in a different country, I sense unease. Deep down, I know that I’ll never come home bald, but if you’ve ever struggled to find a good barber, you know the trepidation that comes with testing new waters. After walking around for over a half hour with a friend, I felt defeated, it seemed every barber in Santiago Atitlan had decided to close at the exact moment I needed a cut. In typical American fashion, I refused to give up on “my schedule” and was convinced I would find something. Enter Pedro. Working in a small shop with just one chair, he was sitting outside his unmarked blue building; I noticed it was a barber only as I got closer. “Why not?” I figured.
I hopped right into the chair and began explaining to Pedro what I wanted. When his son, a little boy around 4 years-old, came over to distract my new barber, he quickly pulled out a 5Q bill and sent both is 4-year-old and 9-year-old on their way to the store, presumably for ice cream. Pedro looked back at me, pulled out his razor, and began to shave my untidy hair.
Rather than sit in silence for 30 minutes, I thought I would practice my Spanish for a bit by asking Pedro a little about himself. He began by telling me he was related to a woman down the street with whom a friend of mine lives, that he was a fisher on the days when the barbershop wasn’t busy, and that his mom had an ONIL stove. Although I was most interested in the fishing, after mentioning I worked with the ONIL stove project, Pedro practically couldn't stop talking about it.
When out In the field, I have been told many things by our clients. The majority seem genuinely impressed by the ONIL stove, but they possess reserve and have a quietness that comes from years of foreigners coming in and taking from the community and its people. I think I feel this especially when I go on one of our installation trips. When entering people's homes, I can always feel their eyes follow my movements. I feel uncomfortable conducting interviews because, unlike our installation team who are integrated members of our community, I have no tangible reputation with our clients, and I feel their unease with each question. My poorly translated jokes and terrible diction (read gringo accent) often lose our clients. Plus why should they tell me if they own a blender?
So here I am, Pedro cutting my hair, mentioning his family has a stove. As it turns out, Pedro is also a leñador, a wood cutter in the mountains. He explains that his family has a small plot of land where he goes to cut his wood, bringing down what he describes as two tareas (each approximately a chord in US standards). A tarea costs about Q.250 if you were to buy it, and Pedro found himself slogging wood down every two months for his mother. Once TRL installed the ONIL stove, however, he says he hasn’t brought wood down in 5 months -- over twice the amount of time a tarea normally lasts in his mom’s open fire. Pedro also made a point to say that his mom hasn’t had to change her cooking habits due to the stove. For example, she always has a fire going to stay warm in the rainy season, patting out her corn tortillas, or serves warm drinks to Pedro and his dad.
When I asked Pedro about the health benefits, he shared with me a scary truth. When money was tight, before she had the ONIL stove, his mom would burn plastic to make their dinner. After inhaling plastic fumes for so long, she complained about her lungs, and a doctor confirmed problems. Now, because the stove burns so efficiently, Pedro’s mom no longer needs to burn plastic, and her lung problems have all but disappeared.
The most rewarding aspects of my job are interactions like this in the community. When local folks are so excited to hear that I am working with TRL and are willing to share with me the enthusiasm and appreciation they have for our work, it truly inspires me. It is thanks to YOU and our other donors and supporters that TRL staff have been able to install over 2,000 ONIL stoves in this wonderful community. Did you know that $168 can buy one family 15 years of clean and healthy cooking with an ONIL stove? And each smaller donation contributes to our funds for families with the greatest need.
**All donations of $100 or more before November 30th will be entered into a raffle to win a 2 night/3 day stay at Cojol’Ya: Landmark on Lake Atitlan airbnb.
We hope to hear from all of you,
Corrections: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that a tarea costs approximately Q.500, this has been corrected. We regret the error.