Saturday, February 28, 2009

Alejandro and water rights

We live in the country. The parcela is not huge but big enough-about 6,500 sq meters I think. This a "Mediterranean" climate which means hot days and cool nights all summer. And no measurable rainfall all summer-lots of rain in the winter, but that's another story. No rain in the summer means the canal system is very important. If we don't have canal water for a few days, our vegetable garden, flowers and grass die. There is apparently no organization of water rights or a 'ditch rider" as we had in rural Montana when I was a kid. People simply dig canals as needed and divert or shut off water as they desire. This has been a source of frustration for over a year now with no solution in sight. We talk to the neighbors, we have meetings, we cajole and beg, we get angry-all with the same result: nothing changes. Some days, we have water, some we don't. We rarely know why. If we have have water, we frantically water everything we can because tomorrow, who knows? When we don't have water, it means any trees or plants we have planted may die. earlier in the spring, I excitedly went outside in the morning to look at all the new growth around the parcela and marvel at how they had grown. Now, I check to see what has died. I have learned to plant in the fall or early spring only when the rain is still frequent.

My point here is not to complain about Chile but it made me think about that fine line between needing some organization/government intervention(the ditch rider worked for the county and had the ultimate say in water fairness-who gets water and on what days) and being left alone(in this case the neighbors argue back and forth and nothing is solved for more than a day or two).

Now about Alejandro. Alejandro is a farmer who started an alfalfa field behind our parcela. He came over to see how our canal ran through the parcela so he could make decisions about how to best water his fields. He is a little man with his pants rolled to his knees, wearing sandals, weather beaten face. In rural areas, very much like other local farmers. But he did something unexpected-he spoke some English(very few of the "country locals do)! That was nice enough. Then he told us he had been to Washington DC when Carter was President. This little old ordinary Chilean farmer had been to the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington Cemetery. Remarkable.

We see Alejandro from time to time and I always smile and imagine him as a much younger man in Washington DC. he waves at us across the field or from the road and I know he carries a fond memory of the US with him.

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