31. Volunteer

Story 31, Merazonia.
Most of you already know about Merazonia and my relation with this starting animal refuge. However, to give you a better impression of the process that this starting refuge is going through, I wrote a little story:
It was a rainy Monday morning November 2005 and the Merazonians went to their land. There had been a rumor that some people went up to their land on Saturday.
At first the Merazonians didn’t see any differences around their new house, so they walked further. They followed the trail over the north hill and did a stunning discovery on the other side! They found a very old, little house in an area that had just been cleared from all of its trees! Who did this?
The Merazonians went to Inda, an Ecuadorian governmental, environmental organization that provides land to people who want to work there.
They asked if they “could kick” off the trespassers. But Inda told them that that wasn’t possible. Why not?
We go all the way back to September 2004.
Jonny, the owner of an animal refuge near Quito, talks with some volunteers. He tells them that he wants to extend his refuge in a more tropical area. Only he doesn’t have enough money. Three volunteers, Toby, Jennifer and Alex, offer him to help, but they want to be involved in this new project.
They all agree that they would build a second animal refuge that would work independent, but in very close relation with the first refuge.
Jonny knew a piece of 100 hectares of rain forest that was for sale. It was close to a little, calm village called Mera.
Since none of them had an Ecuadorian passport or even a permanent visa, it was a lot easier to put the land on Jonny’s name.
However, then it turned out that Jonny was unreliable and also didn’t have enough money to fulfill his part of the deal.
Toby Jennifer and Alex decided that they would try to continue this new project on their own. All right, they got company from their first rescued animals; Machita the blond dog and Rocky the kinky cat.
Toby works with computers and software and had been a volunteer coordinator in Jonny’s refuge;
Jennifer is a psychiatrist, who worked for a few months in an animal refuge in Bolivia (Inti Wara Yassi);
Alex is a traveler, who had done an environmental study and also worked in the Bolivian refuge.
None of them had much experience in working with animals, nor construction. How can they start up an animal refuge? It takes a lot of courage and a strong will to do this. But they were full of faith.
Alex was the first to get his permanent visa, so they would try to put the land on his name. From here a slow bureaucratic process of paperwork started.
Meanwhile it was already 2005 and the Ecuadorians decided that they didn’t like their government anymore. The president got kicked out.
Along with the new government, some laws changed as well. It became now more difficult to get a permanent Ecuadorian visa.
Not really a good start of the new year, but Toby, Jennifer and Alex wanted to go on. They decided to continue working on their land, but they had to be careful with their money, since there were now only three of them.
Around May they got new hope. Frank, a journalist who knew Jennifer and Alex from the Bolivian refuge, was looking for a new challenge in his life. He wanted to see if this refuge could be that challenge.
After two months he became an associate and the four of them gave their land a name. Merazonia was born.
Now four men (3 men and a woman) strong, they had enough money to start building. They started to make a big bridge to get easier access to their land. Of course a very practical decision, but you can also see it symbolic: crossing this bridge will mean entering a new land, a new way of living full of adventures and uncertainties.
One of these uncertainties became the paperwork for the ownership of their land…
They went through the whole process of legalizing, only to find out at the very end that they couldn’t put the land on Alex’s name yet!?
The land officially still belongs to the Ecuadorian government, represented by Inda. Inda gives land to people who want to live there and start their own farm or little company. If those people stay on this land for more than 5 year, they earn the right to be the only one allowed to live on that part of the land.
However, if they don’t use their land for more than 2 years, they lose that right again.
The Merazonians were now in process of buying that right to live there. But it turned out that that right is only given to people with an Ecuadorian nationality. The land first needs to be privatized on an Ecuadorian name, before it can be sold to a foreigner.
The Merazonians needed to find a trustful Ecuadorian with enough time to visit different offices and do a lot of paperwork. Where to find that person?
In August, after 3 months the bridge was finished. But as usual, the bureaucracy goes slower than the building; the Merazonians were still in process of finding a trustful Ecuadorian with time, when they started to build the volunteer house.
They wanted to build the house in a hexagon shape of 5x5m and 3 floors high. Not the most easy shape to build, but it looks nice in the jungle.
Just at that moment a Dutch volunteer/friend came by to say “Hello” and to learn some more Spanish. He had some construction experiences and decided to stay longer to help building the house.
Now how would you build a house in rain forest? When there is no electricity, the closest dirt road is a 20min. walk away and you don’t have much building experiences? Have some faith in the Merazonians…
Back to that rainy morning in November: as if the building concerns are not big enough yet, from now on faith has to endure even more pressure. Now the house was nearly finished and the preparations for building the kitchen had started, they had a new concern: their land had been invaded and there was nothing they could do about it, because they still didn’t own the land.
Who are those trespassers, which all of the sudden showed up?
They are the 5 brothers from the guy who sold the land. From now on I will call them The Daltons.
These Daltons got the smell of money. They wanted a big cut from the money that their brother received for the land. They said that the land was given to their father and for that reason they all had right to a part of the land/money.
At first their brother refused to pay a big amount of money and when he changed his mind it was too late. The Daltons found out that the land not yet belonged to the Merazonians. Now they tried to claim a part of the land, so they could sell it again.
How does that work? you will think. We’ll go back to where I wrote that you earn your position on the land if you stay there for more than 5 years. But you lose it when you don’t enter the land for over 2 years.
Now the Daltons were lucky that one of them still had a tiny, little, broken house on the land. It was a “house” that he left at least more than 3 years ago, but how to prove that? Especially when the Daltons put a bed in the house, cut a lot of trees down and put 2 calfs in that area. Not to forget the fact that the Merazonians are all gringo’s and the Daltons Ecuadorian.
Now the Merazonians not only had to privatize the land, as soon as possible, but they also had to prove that they’re the only ones who’re allowed to live there. This would maybe not be too hard in a western country, but this is still Ecuador where things can go slightly different…
They decided to try to get the land on Guido’s name. Guido is a reliable workman who already worked for a long time for the Merazonians.
A new tiring process started. A process that involves a lot of time and patience. They had to visit lawyers and offices and got two inspections on their land from Inda. Damn, they even got threatened by the Daltons!
Still they Merazonians didn’t give up! Between the visits to offices and now with the help of a handy English volunteer as well, they managed to finish the kitchen and started to build an eco friendly dry-toilet. They also managed to get two written reports saying that they have the right to live on that part of the land.
That sounds good, no? They only problem is that it wasn’t written down that they’re the only ones who are allowed to live there! It was now up to the Inda Director of Puyo to make the decision. He was saying before that, in his opinion, the Daltons were trespassers. But now he had to put it on paper, he got afraid and told the Merazonians that he couldn’t make that decision.
There had to come a new, ultimate inspection from the main office of Inda in Quito. This inspection would be next year.
Yes, it is already 2006, Tuesday, the 17th of January to be precisely, the inspection had been done, but there’s still no answer from Inda.
With all these legal problems, you would almost forget the practical problems and the difficult decisions that have to be made when you want to start an animal refuge;
How to keep the wood good in a rainforest; how to prevent the roof from leaking; how to use the water from the river; where to build which cages, so they wouldn’t be in the way in the future; (when) do we want electricity? And most important, especially with all these lawyer costs; How to pay for all this!? 
Time for a writers note:
What do you think when you read this story? What do you really think?
Damn those Daltons, damn bureaucracy, damn bad luck. Or: “damn those Merazonians”)  
Damn those dreamers…
You can feel sorry for them. Yes they go through a lot of problems and more will follow. You can also be jealous on them. Jealous that they do what most people can’t/don’t do, they follow their dream. They don’t follow a carrier or business plan. In fact they hardly have any. No they follow their heart and it might not always be an easy way, but it is never the wrong…
Wednesday the 18th of January, today the final report arrived. It is still not sure what the results are and if these results will be enough to keep the Daltons from the land. The first impression is at least positive towards the Merazonians. The next few days they will try to find out if these results are enough to keep the Daltons away. This weekend will probably the final test, since the Daltons usually come in the weekend to border the Merazonians.
To be continued...

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