Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 23
Left: John Winther, a lineman from Laclede Electric Cooperative, comes down from his perch
on a pole after hanging a strand of secondary wire in the village of Dos de Junio. John and the
other linemen who took part in the project reported that the poles - made from eucalyptus
wood - were some of the hardest and smallest they had ever climbed. Below: Steve Smith
normally works with heavy-duty wire in his job as a transmission lineman for Northeast Electric
Power Cooperative. But here he is helping do inside wiring for a Bolivian family. His efforts
required heating and bending plastic conduit because there were no 90-degree connectors.
alta's Hotel Avenida. The drive offers the first look at this alien land.
Motorcycles zip everywhere, their drivers oblivious to any rules of the road.
Entire families precariously perch on the overloaded "motos," some packing as many as six people. The tired Americans stare out the bus window,
shellshocked at the ramshackle dwellings that formed Riberalta.
"It really shows you how lucky we are back in the states," says Steve Smith,
a lineman for Northeast Electric Power Cooperative in Palmyra. "The poverty
down here is amazing."
No bellman greets them at the hotel, so it is up to individuals to climb as
many as 65 steps to third-floor rooms. A siesta is in order, but instead the
group eats and heads to the cooperative they are here to help.
The astonished stares continue. They watch their Bolivian counterparts
head out to job sites on motorcycles or packed in the back of a tiny truck. They
try on homemade hooks C.E.R. employees use to climb their square poles.
Here the hosts explain the project through Fernando Ghetti, an Englishspeaking Bolivian who works for NRECA International.
The task is to build power lines to two "barrios" located just outside Riberalta. Dos de Junio and El Torito II are villages carved out of the savannah by
the Bolivian government. Those who need land can have a plot for free.
The catch? The land is all they get. Services such as running water, natural
gas and, yes, electricity are nonexistent. Like rural Americans in the 1930s,
these people were told it would be at least five years before power could be
extended from the city to their homes.
Desperate for a home of their own, they build shacks from rough-sawn wood,
clay bricks cast on site and pieces of tin. Most homes have dirt floors and no
doors nor windows. Gaps in the siding let in air in a futile attempt at cooling.
Most shocking to the Americans, wells dug in the yards are spotted just
feet away from outhouses. Barefoot children stare at the Americans from dark
openings in the homes when the crews arrive for an initial inspection.
Rows of green pressure-treated poles stretch down the center of the villages'
dirt streets as far as they eye can see. C.E.R. crews set these poles by hand,
digging the holes with long posthole diggers and standing them up with brute
force, a throwback to the way things were done in 1930s rural America. The
Americans' job is to frame the poles and add the wire.
Fernando explains that some residents do have electricity, but it is dangerous and not reliable. "Someone gets a legal meter and everyone just cuts into
it," he says, pointing to the light-gauge wire propped up on sticks, sometimes
low enough that the taller Americans have to duck to get under it.
On one day, the Americans watch as a single fire truck fights a losing battle
with a blaze at a home near their worksite, likely caused by faulty wiring.
Anticipating poor home wiring, the Missouri group brought an electrician,
Steve Joannes from Central Electric Power Cooperative in Jefferson City. His
job is to work with local electricians to provide a model for safe home wiring.
The work is slated to begin on the second day. From the start, it is the sort
of organized chaos one might expect from a project taking place in a developing
world 4,000 miles from home. The problem is rounding up the materials.
The material is here, made possible by funds from the Energy Bar Association. But no one at the warehouse speaks English, and the Americans' grasp of
Spanish is sketchy at best. The group has two translators, but some things just
don't translate well. Often the team resorts to drawing pictures.
Another issue is water. The Americans were advised not to drink the local
water. But the locals underestimate the amount of water the Americans need
working under the merciless sun. By 2 p.m. on the first day of work, the dys
supply of water is gone. It took several days before supplies were adequate.
Tom Golder from Osage Valley Electric tears open a bag of water during a hot day on the job. The thirsty crews consumed an incredible
amount of water while working in temperatures near 100 degrees. Behind him are Jared Kelley from SEMO Electric and John Winther from
Laclede Electric. Below right: The exhausted linemen wait for the bus at the hotel after eating lunch. The project involved long hours
in the hot sun, but no one complained. Right: Two children roll motorcycle tires as they play near the worksite. Few had any toys, so
they made do with what they could find. Their new American friends brought them comic books, toy cars, balloons, flashlights and candy.
(Continued on next page)
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - October 2016
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - Intro
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - Contents
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 4
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 5
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 6
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 7
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 8
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 9
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 10
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 11
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 12
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 13
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 14
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 15
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 16
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 17
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 18
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 19
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 20
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 21
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 22
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 23
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 24
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 25
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 26
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 27
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 28
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 29
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 30
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 31
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Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 33
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 34
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 35
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 36
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 37
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 38
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Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 40
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 41
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - 42
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - October 2016 - Cover4