How Mixto Got His Name

If he didn’t deserve the name, it wouldn’t be his name. This is how he got the name.

Setting: Earthquake-ravaged Pisco, Peru circa July 2008.

The mission: To build earthquake-resistant sanitation units which included a toilet, shower, and large sink for the less-fortunate residents of Pisco. The unit had been designed, and prototypes had been built. However, documentation containing information on how to construct such units was scarce. The deadline for completion was approaching and plumbing needed to occur on a fast and efficient basis.

Enter: one British and one American voluntario. Mike (aka Mixto) and I had been given the task of organizing a list of all of the materials needed to plumb a sanitation unit. We had a drawing of the unit with no parts labeled, a list in Spanish that may or may not be parts that were bought for previous units, and no experience plumbing.

Two heads together and a full night of work later, we thought we had translated every part of the Spanish list and matched it with every part we imagined necessary with the exception of the very last item on the list. There was a mysterious entry that read simply, “Mixto codo”. We knew that “codo” translated to “elbow” and determined the other listed “codos” to be necessary curved pieces of pipe. However, this last “mixed elbow” was throwing us off as we didn’t feasibly believe that we needed any other parts to complete the sanitation unit.

The next day, Mike and I are at Grumpy’s plumbing shop going over our list of plumbing materials needed for a complete unit. We basically want Grumpy to put together “kits” of all of these pieces so that if a voluntario plumber were to come to the shop, he could pick up everything he needed in one fell swoop. Grumpy is checking over the list and seemingly confirming that we are ordering the correct parts. When we get to the last item on the list, ‘mixto codo’, he asks how many we need. Actually, we were hoping you could help us with that.

Mike takes this opportunity to ask Grumpy what exactly a ‘mixto codo’ is. Grumpy explains… in Spanish. Neither of us understands. Grumpy can tell, so he explains it again, this time with hand gestures. We see that he is gesturing an “elbow.” Yes, we know that part. What’s the ‘mixto’ part? “Que es mixto?” we ask.  Grumpy explains. Our Spanish is lacking. We still don’t understand and Grumpy is getting slightly frustrated that we’re held up on this apparently simple concept.

Then Mike gestures for Grumpy to draw a picture handing him a pen and paper. Grumpy immediately draws an elbow pipe with no threads on one end, and threads (like a screw hole) on the other end. Mike and I exclaim together, “OH!… a MIXto!” We had figured out un-threaded codos and threaded codos. A mixto codo was essentially a combination or “mix” of the two!

Grumpy smiled at our exaggerated displays of understanding (we had spent a lot of mental energy trying to figure this part out and were relieved to now understand). But wait, now that we know what it is, we still don’t know if we need it for our sanitation unit. We already designed the whole sink, toilet, and shower system and didn’t come up with any places missing any parts. Now that we know what it is, I’m not sure we need it. Grumpy asks us how many we would like to purchase.

Mixto looks at me to see my recommendation. I shrug. “Zero? Maybe we don’t need it. I don’t know.”

Mixto turns from me and faces Grumpy.

“Cinco, por favor. We’ll take five,” he says.

A puzzled look attacks my face. Mixto glances at me and answers my thoughts.

“Look at that thing. It’s half threaded, half un-threaded. It’s beautiful. We need at least five of them.” I couldn’t argue with that.

Henceforth Mike became known simply as Mixto.

Mixto on the toiletEpilogue: Days later, after plumbing our first sanitation unit to near completion, we had used 4 of the five mixto codos. While in the back of the truck, riding back to Base Camp after a day of plumbing, Mixto pulled the 5th mixto codo pvc pipe from his pocket. I remarked that he had done a good job ordering 5 of them when at the time, we didn’t even know we needed them. Then I asked what he was going to do with the fifth one. He responded, “I’m going to drill a hole in it and make a necklace out of it.”

I looked at him for a second while the wind blew in our faces and the truck bumped up and down the pot-hole-riddled street. I politely reached for and took the small piece of pipe in his hand, looked at it, and asked, “you’re going to drill a hole in it?” I waited for him to realize that it was a piece of pipe designed as basically a curved hole, and thus did not need to be drilled in order to become the charm of a necklace. He caught my intention and we laughed together.

The next day, on the job, Mixto was found wearing that mixto around his neck… with an extra hole drilled into it and the string threaded through this extra hole. What can I say? His name is Mixto.