Those who frequented the Plaza during summer 2010 might remember Jim McDonald as the juggling man on a large plastic ball. Before coming to Santa Fe, McDonald spent a year hitchhiking across Mexico, where the money he earned from street performing paid his expenses. When he isn’t putting on public displays, McDonald attends Santa Fe Community College’s Solar Energy Program. His current project: renovating an old bus in which to travel through Mexico bringing solar energy to rural communities without electricity.
SFR: I guess when you start juggling at age 10, you get a lot of practice.
JM: I really didn’t juggle for years until I started traveling. I found myself in Mexico throwing machetes at stoplights—hitchhiking across the interior of Mexico. I moved here, and [the City of Santa Fe] told me no machetes, so I got my clubs, raised up the money and bought this ball, and this is where I stand.
So you paid many of your travel expenses with street performing?
Oh, yeah, that’s how I fed myself.
Where did you go in Mexico?
I traveled down to the Baja, over to Guadalajara, over to Nayarit, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Mexico City. I was there for about a year.
How do you respond to the complaint that solar energy is inconsistent?
What I would like to see is just different ways to think about it. Like, these [houses] have solar panels. Now, you can put them over there. You can use it for a pump out in the field, and you don’t have to worry about filling up your water system because you have a pump that’s pumping up water every time the sun is up. Right here in New Mexico, you get seven hours of pumping water a day, so you can just run a little DC pump off a solar panel.
A common complaint about solar energy relates to production costs.
No doubt. The thing is, a lot of people are outsourcing to China now. China is really pumping them out.
So is the prospect of creating jobs in the renewable energy sector to fix the economy realistic?
It helps out a little, but not really because you can’t really deal with China—because they just have the manpower and lack of labor laws.
How do you hope to incorporate fresh ideas about solar power in Mexican villages?
What I’m hoping for is a little community-center area, where you can build a couple of schools and put something as simple as a 10-, 15-watt panel on top, maybe 20 or 30 watts. Then just install something like some LED lights that require only 3 watts an hour. They can have lights through the night; they can have classes longer; kids can do their homework.
What do you think of using solar energy to power computers for internet access?
You have to realize that, when you put the internet in, you bring the evils of society to these indigenous people. By giving them more money—they could sell their goods on the internet…the problem comes, are they just going to buy food? Is it going to cause turmoil?…I was talking to a guy I was setting up solar-thermal panels for up in Peñasco. He was telling me, when he went to Thailand in the late-’80s, he would be putting them up for people. All anyone would ask him about was, ‘Will this run a television? Now, we can make more money. We can do this.’ So he was warning me about the realities that you might come with the best intentions—like I want to set this up so they can have schools and make enough money for their village, and they can do this and that. But the reality comes that human nature takes over. So I just want to make lights, just something as simple as lights, so that they can have a fully lit classroom in which to teach the kids; the kids can keep reading at night. Education is the most important thing.