Circuit to Ride!

Even hidden behind the chin protection on his motorcycle helmet, I can tell that Kelvin is smiling. His cheeks are drawn up below kind eyes, and he extends a hand in my direction. This afternoon I will learn that it is with this same gentle manner that Kelvin works patiently with community Water Boards in the Achuapa region of Nicaragua. Kelvin is a Circuit Rider, covering miles by motorcycle, providing training in water management and ongoing support of maintenance activities, chlorination and bacterial testing, and preparing communities to be independent stewards of their water systems.

But for now, it is I who receives his kindness. He gives me a thumbs up. “Lista?” he asks. Ready, I am.

No doubt Kelvin is more efficient on his route without me tagging along. He visits up to five communities on the daily and has a schedule to keep. Despite his slow speed today, which I suspect is for my benefit, I bonk my bulky helmet into his, seated behind him and ill-accustomed to maintaining balance riding out the curves, the potholes, and the chicken-dodging on two wheels. But he seems un-phased, happy even, to take me for a ride-along. He answers the questions that I holler into the back of his helmet – my own curiosity to learn all I can about the Circuit Rider role revealing itself as I continue the interrogation even as we rattle down the road.

Kelvin, it seems, knows everyone. He is originally from this region, and his familiarity with both the people and the place gives him a leg up in this line of work. As a local, he has easily gained the trust of those he visits regularly on his route. In communities, he shares handshakes and saludos with those waiting to receive him. He provides answers to questions. He completes bacterial tests at water taps outside homes – the results of which will be available in 24 hours. Because these communities have chlorinators on their water tanks that are being regularly maintained by the trained Water Boards, the results will surely come back ‘all clear’, he assures. He is confident in the capacity of the Water Boards he has nurtured. Proud even.

We pull off the road into the shade of a tree, and Kelvin parks at the base of a muddy and rutted path that leads into private property behind a wire fence. This is the way to the Los Hornos community water tank. I follow Kelvin who is skillfully dodging puddles and cow pies and visibly fretting that I may not be as skillful, extending a hand my way at each obstacle.

The tank – a concrete rectangular structure – juts out of the pastureland at the top of the hill. We scale the tree branch wedged at an angle between the ground and the tank, deliberately placed to provide a ramp up to the top, and Kelvin opens the wooden box that sits above. The chlorinator is inside, along with a few lizards taking advantage of the protection from the elements. The chlorinator is comprised of some pvc pipes, a few elbows, a valve, and a chamber to hold the chlorine tablets. Kelvin turns the valve ever-so-slightly to the left to increase the chlorine input. The chlorine field test he’d performed at the water tap yielded only a light pink indication, he reminds me, indicating that an increase is warranted.

Kelvin knows his stuff. Beyond the workshop content that he shares with Water Boards and the science and the technology, Kelvin knows the importance of the work he is doing. As a former volunteer working with children in the area, Kelvin takes pride in continuing to contribute to the well-being of communities – especially kids – and clean water is critical, laying the foundation for building a stronger, more prosperous life for many.

Satisfied with my afternoon Circuit Rider apprenticeship, I dismount the motorcycle one last time. Kelvin removes his backpack from his chest, puts it back onto his back where it belongs, and slides back into the space I’ve vacated. I bid him adios. I don’t want to slow him down. He smiles (even though I can’t see it). He waves as he rides away just as it begins to rain.

Through rain and wind and weather, Kelvin has communities to visit!
A circuit to ride.