Eager Catholic Plumbers

It was Tuesday the 15th at about 8:15 am at our regular morning organizational meeting. Forty plus volunteers are sitting in an outdoor area of a place known as Base Camp, where at least half of the volunteers have slept the previous night in two dorm rooms. The de facto leader, Jimmy, a close-to-30, thin-framed, scraggly-bearded mix between a hippie and a guy who used to write grant proposals for a non-profit in America, is leading the meeting. He calls on Conor who has an announcement to make. Conor is a 26-year old Irish computer-science engineer who quit his job to travel South America for a year. When he found Burners Without Borders in Pisco, Peru back in January, he planned to stay with them for 2 weeks to do some volunteering. Seven months later Jimmy is calling on Conor to speak at the meeting.

Prof Plumb, aka Conor.
Prof Plumb, aka Conor.

Conor stands up to address the group with a nervous sort of bouncy twitching, looks around without making any eye-contact and simply says, “Yeah, so I’m leaving in a week and we need a couple people to be plumbers. So if anybody wants to come with me today and learn how to plumb the Shitters, then just meet me after the meeting.” And he promptly, sits back down. Jimmy, takes the reins again and moves the meeting forward. And with that, the seed for the ECP is planted.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mike and I approach Conor and let him know that we’re interested in plumbing though we have no experience. He quickly informs us that it’s not a problem; he’ll teach us. With that, we’re in. In about half an hour, Mike, Conor, and I are in a tuk-tuk heading to the market to buy plumbing materials for a Shitter.

We’re at the first shop to purchase materials bargaining with a Peruvian man behind a caged glass widow. Trying to get the best deal possible, Conor and Mike are bargaining as much as they can on every item. Amused by the whole banter, I notice a bumper sticker on the caged window that reads in Spanish “Aqui Somos Catolicos” which translates to “Here We Are Catholics.” The rest of the sticker reads, “and we do not change our religion, please do not insist. Do not waste our time or your time.” This sticker makes me laugh, so I say to the guys, “Tell him we’re Catholic; maybe that’ll help,” and point to the sticker. Without hesitation, Mike laughs then with a straight face looks at the guy and says “Somos catolicos,” and then asks for a much cheaper price on a toilet. And so begins the brotherhood known as the Eager Catholic Plumbers.

If that doesn't look like plumbing, I don't know what does.
If that doesn’t look like plumbing, I don’t know what does.

The story goes that before you can become an ECP, you must answer two questions and two questions only. The only possible answers are ‘yes,’ ‘no’ and one ‘hell yeah.’ The questions are, “Are you eager?” and “Are you Catholic?” If answered correctly then you may be an Eager Catholic Plumber. Yes, there are only two questions, and no, neither of the questions have anything to do with plumbing. Because if you’re eager, and you’re Catholic, then you’re an Eager Catholic Plumber.

Upon entering our first plumbing site, I ask Conor to share with us his knowledge of plumbing. I’m genuinely excited about learning a possibly useful skill. Conor replies, “I can teach you everything I know about plumbing in 5 minutes.” Sure enough, he sits us down, and in no more than 4 minutes his explanation of plumbing is complete. Mike and I realize that the Bible has yet to be written – we are being taught how to plumb by a non-plumbing Irishman, who learned how to plumb from a non-plumbing Englishman who watched a man plumb once. Wow – this is going to be fun!

Seven people staring at a pipe.  Can you tell which one's the plumber?  If you said, "the one with the hammer in his hand," you are correct.
Seven people staring at a pipe. Can you tell which one is a plumber?  If you said “the one with the hammer in his hand,” you’d be correct.

The following 4 days were filled with hilarity as a scatter-brained Irishman who spends more time buying plumbing parts at the market than actually plumbing attempts to train an Englishman and American with no plumbing experience how to magically get city water into a tank, down through a maze of hand-connected pipes, into a shower, a toilet and a sink in three different rooms of a concrete structure and successfully drained out through three pipes combined into a single drainage pipe connected to city sewage pipes which may or may not be anywhere near the the concrete structure, or in working order. Yes, the picture to your right shows seven people staring a pipe that isn’t at the correct downward angle. That’s Mike on the right with a hammer in his hand. Can you guess what he wants to do with the pipe that we spent half a day installing? Yes, Mike was always ready to break pipes.

Despite our collective lack of knowledge on the topic of plumbing, however, I am proud to announce that we dumped a bucket of water into the tank on a toilet we plumbed, flushed it and watched a couple gallons of water go exactly where we wanted them to go, namely into the bowl, down the hole and successful through the plethora of pipes we had constructed and connected around a faulty sewage box and on into the city’s sewer. What an amazing feeling to look at something you built, having little or no idea of what you’re doing, if you’re doing it right, or if it’s going to work and yet to see it work exactly as you hoped.

Celebrating the Plumbing Gods.
Celebrating the Plumbing Gods.


ECP – Plumbing the World.