Selfie in front of the ocean

There’s a reason why I haven’t been posting every week. Well, there are two reasons, and they’re rooted in the same thing. First, I’ve been so busy that every moment not occupied by work is taken up by me trying to maintain my sanity (aka flopping on the couch and doing nothing productive). Second, work is essentially all that’s been happening, so there’s nothing exciting to report anyway. If you feel like my last three posts have been almost the same, you’re not wrong. Things are chaotic, I’m not sleeping enough, and I continue to hope that the light at the end of the tunnel will appear anyyyy second. I’m sure it’s just around this bend…

Yellow and orange flowers
Pretty flowers in Lima!
Selfie in front of the ocean
Me, Jocelyn, and Paul on a walk along the coast in Lima
Flowers strung up across the sky at the mall
Decorations at the mall for Mother’s Day.

Remember when I said that construction was starting on May 13th? Well, make that May 15th. And this time, it’s actually going to happen. Really, it is! Are we ready? Hmm. I can say for sure that I’m not. I don’t know about Debbie. I still have things to finish figuring out in my designs. This whole “designing a building” thing is a lot of work!

Things are definitely coming together, though. Last week, Debbie and I went shopping for light fixtures! Up until then, I was making lighting designs with hypothetical fixtures and crossing my fingers hoping we’d be able to find something similar. If you think that sounds less than ideal, you’re right. I didn’t realize how much that was weighing on me until after our shopping trip when I finally felt like I had a grasp on things.

Light fixtures hanging from the ceiling
Most of the pictures I’ve taken over the last few weeks have been VERY exciting shots of light fixtures. This is from the lighting market where we went fixture hunting.

After our shopping trip, we met with the guy who is going to do the electrical work. He’s done work at EA before, and he’s also an engineer which means he can help to make sure that my designs make sense! Hooray! It’s VERY reassuring to know that my plans will have a second set of eyes checking over them. Even if I was fully confident in everything I’m doing (which I’m not), I would still want someone looking things over. People make mistakes! And it’s like anything else. When you’re staring at the same thing for so long, you get to the point where you don’t even really see it anymore. You look at whatever you’re working on at the moment and ignore the rest. Even though I walked out of our meeting with drawings covered in notes about things to fix or change or update, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted. Yes, I have work to do, but at least I know I’m headed in the right direction.

So, all in all, things are good. Crazy, but that’s to be expected. Construction starts on Wednesday, and our next church team comes on Tuesday… and then they’re here for a week and a half, and the next church team comes two days after. Like I said, no “light at the end of the tunnel” in sight yet, but I’m holding out hope that it’s coming soon.

 

Jocelyn's classroom with her new projector
This job has been a long time in the making. I finally finished mounting the projector in Jocelyn’s classroom! We installed the outlet for it like 5 weeks ago when the team was here, and last week I got the wood ready for mounting to the beam. And now it’s finished! Fingers crossed it doesn’t fall from the ceiling. A nice, low-pressure job.

The last couple of weeks have been overwhelming, hence why I haven’t been posting recently. Last time, I wrote about trying to maintain a work-life balance. It wasn’t going very well then, and it hasn’t improved since. That’s why I’ve been missing in action recently. I could feel myself starting to fall apart, and I needed to cut something out in an attempt to give myself a chance to recover. I think it worked? Maybe? A little? But I’m still in the middle of a period of chaos, so we’ll see if I can make it out on the other side in one piece.

Let me try to catch you up on all of the happenings…

1. Our construction start date got pushed back again until May 13th. I know it sounds like we’re never actually going to start building, but this is the final final final start date. On May 20th, we have another team coming from the US, so if we don’t start before then, it’s really never going to happen. This is a good thing, though. We were so not going to be ready by the other date, partly because…

2. Our new structural engineer may be a miracle worker, but he’s still human and needs time to get everything done. I mentioned in my last post that we switched engineers because the first one wasn’t working out. Basically, they delivered a half-finished design, and a bunch of people found errors in their work that they refused to fix. Good, right? It was unfortunate to have to make a change in the middle of the project, but this new guy we’re working with really has it together. His design is SO much better, he meets deadlines and communicates well, and we’re actually confident that he knows what he’s talking about. Imagine that.

3. Two weeks ago was simultaneously the best and worst week because of the Easter vacation. We only worked Monday – Wednesday which would have been more fabulous if I didn’t need to fit 5 days of work into 3. It was stressful, to say the least, and by the time I went to sleep on Wednesday, I didn’t have much left in me… energy, patience, or brain functionality. So maybe it was good that it was only a three-day week.

Most of the time, I’m not thrilled about our lunches… but this was on a day with my favorite lunch, aji de gallina. It’s rice with a thick sauce filled with chicken pieces, potatoes, and a boiled egg. This picture was taken after I got seconds and was the most excited!

4. For the holiday break (Thursday – Saturday), we went on a mini-vacation into the mountains! The pretty, green, not-in-the-middle-of-the-desert mountains! It was exactly the break I needed (until I got a reality check back at work on Monday). I can’t even explain to you how nice it was to be away from the compound. Everyone was so relaxed. The mountains were beautiful. The weather was cooler. We didn’t talk about work at all. I think we all needed a bit of an escape from reality. I’m going to write more about our trip in another post because I have lots of pretty pictures to share!

The vacation crew! In the front, it’s me, Jocelyn, Julie, Dina, and her daughter Rachel. In the back, there’s Paul, Julie’s friend Kylie, and David. Look at all of that green behind us!

5. Last week was a mess. Our deadline for “finishing” our drawings is next Saturday, and yesterday we had a sort of pre-submission to prepare for a meeting this week to make final decisions about a few things that are currently up in the air. I feel overwhelmed. There are so many things left to do, and it seems like I keep getting surprised with more and more. Like maybe I asked a month ago if we wanted ‘x’ in the building, the answer was no, and last week, the answer became yes. I had a bit of a meltdown. It’s been worked out, though, and I’m praying for focus so that this can be a productive week. It needs to be.

I thought this sunset was cool until the next one…
Fiery sunset
This sunset is insane!! I took this in the stairwell on my way home from work. There’s always like a “pink hour” when the sun is setting where the whole landscape looks pinkish. It’s crazy. I call it “radioactive hour”.

6. The reason I said “finishing” in quotes in #5 is because we need to put together our drawings for pricing, but we haven’t had time to look at light fixtures yet. That means that I have maybe 20% confidence in my lighting layouts because how can I be sure about something that is based completely on speculation? At least construction happens from the ground up, so there’s some time to do research before they need to start installing pipes for the wiring and such. Still, it’s stressful to feel like I’m being pushed to make decisions without nearly enough information.

7. Even though actual construction hasn’t started, pre-construction has! This week kicked off some of the site preparation work. We had a bulldozer here on Thursday to put in a gravel driveway, and the guys are putting up a little building with a bathroom/shower and storage and changing areas for the construction workers. Legit construction companies make plans for this kind of thing – where materials will be located, where to put construction fencing, how pedestrians will be re-routed, etc. It might be okay to just wing it on a smaller project here, but this is going to be a big disruption to the programs no matter what. We want to minimize the impact as much as possible.

The bulldozer clearing the way for our fresh gravel driveway.
Then, the gravel truck came through and dumped piles of gravel for the bulldozer to spread out. I don’t have any after pictures, but imagine a gravel driveway and you’ll be spot on, I’m sure.

Okay, I think that’s all. This week is sure to be another one of chaos with the goal of making next week slightly more manageable… until construction starts the week after, and we’re right back to chaos! Hopefully that will be an exciting chaos, though, and not the type that makes me feel like I’m going to implode.

The weeks keep flying by, and if all of my drawings were ready and we didn’t have a deadline, that would be okay… but of course, my drawings aren’t ready, and the construction start date keeps creeping closer and closer. Well, it keeps creeping closer with the exception of the one little jump backward that it did, moving from May 1st to May 6th. But that’s where it’s staying which means I need to keep chugging along.

I stepped outside for my workout at exactly the right time this day. Check out that sunrise!

All in all, it was a good week. I finished the first draft of my floor plans and started working on the technical specifications which are definitely going to be the most tedious part of the job. That’s where you put all the details about how things should be constructed and what products should be used and such. I’m struggling for two reasons: 1. Even when I was working, I almost never touched the specs which means I don’t have a good reference point for what is really important to include. 2. Spanish. This is all technical Spanish, too, which means that I know approximately zero of the words. I suppose the vocab lesson will come in handy once construction starts, but right now, it’s just overwhelming.

The good news is that I have some example projects to use as references, so I started out by translating their specifications to help me decide what to include in mine. That was a fun day… if by fun you mean that I couldn’t even think straight by lunchtime because my brain was so fried. It’s good though. Now, I have the beginnings of my first spec attempt and a VERY long list of things to look up in the Peruvian electrical code… another task that, as you might imagine, I am SO looking forward to.

In other project-related news, here we are, three weeks from the start of construction, and we’re in the process of changing structural engineers. No big deal. Except kind of a big deal because from the sounds of it, practically everything with the structure is likely to change. The structure is like the bones of the building, the frame around which everything else is organized… so on the bright side, it takes some pressure off of me because I can’t finalize my plans without finalized structural drawings. On the less bright side, we’re supposed to be three weeks away from construction and we’re changing bones! This is where we trust and pray and hope that the new structural engineer likes to work long hours and can pull off a miracle. Whenever I get worried, I force a smile and tell myself, “It’s going to be great!” because maybe if I say it enough, it will be true.

 

These funky flowers are on a maracuyá (passion fruit) vine growing in the compound. I think they’re super cool because the flowers close at night and reopen during the day.
Here are the maracuyá vines from afar.

Personally, I’ve been having some struggles recently. One of the biggest is maintaining a work-life balance and figuring out what that even means in this context. We all live and work on the same property, 30m x 170m of walled-in desert. The physical separation between work space and personal space is about a 2-minute walk from work in the back of the property to home in the front. My coworkers are also my roommates are also my friends. Sometimes, work things creep into personal time, and when I try to maintain a boundary, I feel bad because technically, the work is the reason I’m here. I start wondering if I’m being selfish or needy for wanting some time to myself.

I know that’s not right, that even though I’m here for the job, I also have to live and function and have some sort of balance in my life. It’s hard though! It’s already hard enough to find a balance when you’re living and working in a normal situation, and this is not normal in any way.

Jocelyn and I have started a “Sunday night pancake” tradition. Pretty sure this is one of the things keeping me sane.

Hopefully this week can be a bit of a reset for me. We only have a three-day work week because of Easter holidays on Thursday and Friday, and some of us are going on a mini-vacation for a few days! Some time off the property will be good for me, and I have my fingers crossed for a fun and refreshing trip. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Selfie with the neighborhood in the background

This week was rough. I know I said that the team week was hard, but I think I’m going to update my previous statement to say that the week after might be worse. At least there’s some excitement during team week because there are new people here and fun things happening. The week after, it’s like you’re trying to pick up the pieces of everything that completely fell apart while you were distracted.

Selfie with the neighborhood in the background
I went on a “little walk” with Debbie and Jocelyn today. That’s how Debbie pitched the idea to us, and we ended up walking 3.5 miles through the sandy, desert mountains. Do we look like we’re melting? I am so ready for winter! Enjoy these random pictures from this week (because if they were relevant to what I wrote about, you’d have all pictures of me sitting at a computer).

I felt like I was getting sick at the beginning of the week, probably because I hadn’t been getting enough sleep and wasn’t exactly going easy on my body. In an effort to avoid a complete meltdown, I tried to get more sleep each night, skipped working out in the mornings to give my body a chance to recover, and used that extra time to pull other parts of my life back together. I also consumed lots of vitamin C which I know there are mixed opinions about whether or not it’s effective, but whatever. If there’s even a chance that it helps, I’m in.

The good news is that I think it might have worked. I wasn’t feeling great during the middle of the week, but it definitely never got to the point of feeling like I had a real cold. Maybe this is premature, but I’m going to count myself as healed and get back to running around like a crazy person next week.

 

Cemetery crosses with our neighborhood in the background
This small cemetery near our neighborhood was the destination of our “little walk”.

 

Our neighborhood
Brown, brown, brown. Desert living definitely isn’t for me.

 

 

Work-wise, things are going well. Oh! Exciting news… we have an official construction start date! May 1st! We kept pushing it back and pushing it back and decided that if this is going to happen, we need to just pick a date and stick with it. This is kind of funny to me because meanwhile, I still have to finish my drawings, and May 1st is in less than a month… but things here don’t work the same way they do at home. Technically, I don’t even need to have everything completely figured out before they start construction because the foundations come first, and they don’t affect me. I will be finished by then, though. I want to be able to focus on the construction when that’s happening instead of having to split my attention.

I can’t get over how crazy this is! I know in my head that I’m going to be here for the entire construction process of this building, but when I REALLY think about it, I’m like, this is insane! There’s (mostly) no building there now. By the time I leave, there will be a whole building and the things I helped to design will be inside. And I’m going to watch it happen from Day 1 until Day whatever when it’s finished. How. Cool.

Pretty pink flowers
You can find some color, but you have to search for it. We literally have green envy… some of our neighbors have SO MUCH green on their properties and I just want more plants in my life.

I really got down to business on my drawings this week. I feel like I have a good handle on things, but I definitely have a few more days of code brain ahead… aka the days when you spend all day reading code books and feel like your brain is made of mush by the end. That feeling is amplified here because I’m doing my best to use the Peruvian electrical code which means I’m combining Spanish brain and code brain, and the result is extra mush.

Aside from work and the threat of getting sick, things have been good! It’s fun living with Julie, Jocelyn, and Debbie (we have a little apartment-type space with three bedrooms, a living room, and a bathroom. I share a room with Debbie). We’re starting to fall into a good rhythm. We’ve had a few very competitive game nights (with Paul too), and today we’ll have our second Sunday afternoon movie. It’s nice that we have time apart where we do our own things and also come together for fun activities. It’s basically summer camp haha.

Projected movie on the wall and my cake plate!
Last week’s Sunday movie was a celebration of the 20th birthday of “10 Things I Hate About You”. Julie and Jocelyn went all out and bought a cake to celebrate.

Anyway, my hopes for this week are to 1) stay not sick (healthy seems like maybe a stretch, so I’ll settle for not sick for now), 2) feel like I kind of have things under control again, 3) make good progress on the drawings, and 4) take some time to just relax and not feel like I need to always be working on something. Pray for me! I need it.

Sunset over the Pacific

What. A. Week. Practically every evening last week ended the same way. The other girls went to their rooms/to bed at 9:15PM. I tried to stay up to get things done (like my journal or blog posts) and was falling asleep on my computer within half an hour. I would think, “Okay, I’m just going to write one more sentence and then I’ll go to bed,” and then I’d blink and fail to re-open my eyes for at least a full minute. I’d wake up to nonsense sentences typed on my computer, delete them, and start the cycle over again until finally realizing it was hopeless and going to bed.

We had a mission team of 8 people visiting from a church in Illinois. I knew that I was going to have an exhausting week, but I don’t think I realized just how tiring the combination of extra long workdays and spending each day out and about, rather than on my computer in the office, would be. For the week, all building project-related tasks were put on hold, and our attention was entirely focused on the team.

The group with water splashing in front of us
The team (and us) near the Boqueron in Pucusana (pic by David Espinoza)
Birds' eye view of our neighborhood from a nearby mountain
Looking out over our neighborhood. We went for a walk with the team so that they could get some context, and we prayed over our community – for the people, the leaders, the local church, etc.

My mornings started with 7:15AM breakfast prep. Aside from the fact that it means I have to start my day earlier, I don’t mind being in charge of breakfast. It’s not like it’s very mentally taxing. I take out cereal and other breakfast items. I cut a bunch of rolls. I scramble mass quantities of eggs. Not hard. It’s even kind of fun.

Breakfast is at 8, and the team is in charge of clean up at 8:30 (cooking is even better when you don’t have to clean up too!). Community worship is still at 9AM, and after that (usually), we split everyone up and send them off to their service projects for the day. I was responsible for a few painting projects, and it was fun to lead and have a chance to get to know the people on the team.

Selfie with the team
Van selfie on our way to church!
My electrical buddy putting the finishing touches on our outlet
Working on installing an outlet for a ceiling mounted projector

I also got to spend some time helping one of the men from the team who has experience doing electrical work. I was super excited because I’ve been wanting to learn more practical, hands-on electrical, and I got to work with him to install some lights, fans, and an outlet. I also felt useful because the electrical system in Peru is very different from that in the States, and I at least understand how things are supposed to function here. The extra challenge is that things at Esperanza de Ana (and I’m sure in plenty of other buildings across the country) weren’t necessarily wired the way that they’re supposed to be, so every job took like 4x as long as it should because we had to decode the wires first. What a mess. So awesome though!! I finished up installing some lights and a ceiling fan yesterday (since we ran into so many problems that we didn’t get it done last week), and when I turned the building power back on and the lights worked as they should and the fan didn’t blow up, it was such a satisfying moment. It’s awesome to feel fully capable of doing something that has intimidated me for so long (simply because electricity is kind of scary). Maybe I’ll add “electrician” to my list of possible future careers. Orrr maybe I’ll just keep it as a useful side hobby.

The office where we installed new lighting and a ceiling fan
The finished product!

Work on service projects goes from about 10AM – 2PM, lunch is  2:30, and then it’s back to work after recess from 3:30PM – 5:30PM until it’s time to clean up. We have a team leader meeting at 6 to talk about the day’s progress and plan for the next day’s work. Dinner is at 7, and there’s some time afterwards to play games until 8PM when the kids go to bed and we’re finally released to personal time.

It ends up being like a 13-hour day which maybe doesn’t sound so bad, but apparently my body would argue because by about 9PM every night, I was fighting to stay awake.

Massive group picture
The team, the staff, and the kids! What a group! (pic by David Espinoza)

Team weeks also have some bonus fun activities. We went to Pucusana, a nearby beach town, for lunch and a boat ride on the first day the team was here. We saw sea lions, penguins, starfish, a bunch of birds whose names I don’t remember (except for one, the blue-footed boobie, because seeing one is apparently a very exciting), some pelicans (which were almost disconcertingly large), and probably more that I don’t remember. It’s always fun to do something a little different!

The marina from our boat
Pucusana
Pelicans sitting on the roof of a dock
Pelicans on the roof!
A big, concrete building on the coast in the shape of a boat
Houseboat! Except I think it used to be a restaurant. Restaurantboat! (It’s empty now… maybe it’s for sale! If you’ve ever wanted to live on a houseboat, here’s a rock-solid option).
Penguins on bird poop-covered rocks
Penguins! Excuse the pixelation on these pictures. Phone camera zoom strikes again!
Blue-footed boobies standing on the rocks
The blue-footed boobies! You get a gold star if you can spot them (there are two standing next to each other).
Sea lion lounging on the rocks
Sea lion! That position does not look comfortable…
A flock of birds flying out across the water
I don’t think nature photography is my thing… you really have to be ready at any second. I barely snapped a picture of these birds flying away before they were gone, but it would have been way cooler like 5 seconds earlier.
Chocolate ice cream cone
Chilca Day ended with ice cream, so of course I thought it was a good day!

We also spent Thursday morning on an adventure. It was “Chilca Day”. The team goes into Chilca and tries to buy various things that EA needs, armed with nothing but shopping lists (in English), envelopes of money, and whatever language skills they have (anyone with even elementary Spanish is excluded from participation). Julie splits the team into groups, and each group has to wander the streets of Chilca and attempt to find all of the things on the list. This is the only instance where my Spanish skills are considered “too good”, and I’m not allowed to participate. That’s fine with me. I like getting to walk around with a group and experiencing it from a distance, without actually having to stress about where to go or what to say. I’ve done enough of that over the last few years.

My team in a hair products shop
Two of the other members of my shopping team, plus a shopkeeper. If everyone looks confused, it’s because they are. (pic by David Espinoza)
Chilca's Plaza de Armas with its gazebo and the cathedral
The Plaza de Armas in Chilca where we waited for the rest of the team after finishing our shopping day (because we won, obviously).

As exhausting as the week was, I really enjoyed having the team here. It’s fun to have new people around and a different rhythm to the days. It snapped me out of the feeling of monotony that I was slowly sinking into, where each day feels like the last and the weeks simultaneously drag and fly by. I’m also happy to go back to the old rhythm this week… the one that doesn’t have me falling asleep on the couch every night. I have a little tickle in my throat that’s starting to worry me, but hopefully if I take care to go to bed early and drink a lot of water over the next few days, I’ll be able to hold off whatever sickness is trying to catch me. Fingers crossed!

Selfie in Lima's Plaza de Armas
Group selfie during our day in Lima!
Sunset over the Pacific
Saturday’s sunset
Full moon over the campus

This was quite the eventful week! Work-wise, it wasn’t much different than last week. I spent more time hunched over my computer and slightly less time pulling my hair out. At least that’s an improvement, right? I guess I should work on the hunching part next so that I don’t get stuck like that.

Anyway, the building plans are slowly, slowly coming along. I have a bunch of questions that need to be answered before I can put together a complete first draft, but at least there’s something on the page now! A tiny bit of progress is still progress.

Full moon over the campus
Moonlit night. Fair warning I forgot to take pictures this week (and there wasn’t much to take pictures of), so whatever your expectations are, lower them (and look forward to the many pictures that will be in my next Patagonia post).

The eventfulness of the week was more related to environmental factors. On Wednesday morning, I woke up early and noticed a weird glow coming from our living room… aliens! Kidding, it was our emergency light which meant the power was out. That was around 5:30AM. We’re not positive about when it went out, but Paul said he woke up around 2 because his fan stopped working (it’s still very hot here).

A pot filled eggs for breakfasts
Irrelevant picture of the week: My weekly egg boil, prepping breakfasts for the week because 1. I’m lazy and 2. we have to be out of the kitchen by 8AM, and I’m usually entering the kitchen at 7:50 which means no time for actual cooking.

We think it was actually a planned outage, but what good is a plan if no one tells people about it? I guess someone knew, but that someone wasn’t anyone connected to us. I would have charged my electronics and printed things out the day before to make it possible to keep moving on my work. But nope, it seemed like everyone’s laptops and phones were on the brink of death. Obviously, the wifi also wasn’t working. All of the essential ingredients for a productive day.

On top of that, no electricity meant that the water pumps weren’t working… so there was also no running water. The morning was a mess of running around and trying to minimize the impact of the outage. Debbie went and got bags of ice to put into the fridges and freezers to keep them cool. Paul and I scooped water out of the storage cisterns and distributed them around the campus so people could bucket flush their toilets.

At home, if the power goes out in an office or a school with no generator, the rest of the day is a wash. You’d almost definitely be sent home. In this case, the programs were still happening which meant that we needed to be ready for the kids at the end of the school day. There were still lunches to cook and classes to teach. It’s not like power outages are necessarily THAT big of a deal on a small scale, but at an institutional level where you’re trying to avoid interruptions to operations, there’s a little more work involved.

I really lucked out with the whole thing. After we made sure everyone had the water they needed, Debbie invited me to join her on an errand run to Lima since it wasn’t likely to be a very productive day in the office. Yes please! We went on quite the shopping adventure. I got to tag along while she went to wood suppliers to get quotes and put in a wood order. We went to the hardware store and got tons of paint and other supplies for the mission team that’s coming next week (more about that later). I got to check out what electrical products are available here which will be helpful for finishing up my drawings. We went to KFC for lunch, and I celebrated having a break from beans (we usually have some variation of beans and rice for lunch on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Tuesday and Thursday are special meals and are generally more interesting). The day was exhausting, but I was happy for the change of scenery and the chance to experience something new!

The van filled with wood and other supplies for the upcoming week
The inside of the van at the end of our shopping day

The other big event of the week was an earthquake! That’s not as dramatic as it might seem because earthquakes are common here, but this one was a little bigger than just a tremor. I was in the bathroom washing my face, thought it was a truck driving by at first (because the streets in our neighborhood aren’t paved which means you feel EVERY truck), and after a few seconds was like, “NOPE THAT’S NO TRUCK,” and ran out of the building. I met Debbie, Julie, and Irma (the head psychologist) outside, and they said this one was stronger and lasted much longer than most. Julie looked it up afterward, and there was a 4.9 magnitude quake about 20 minutes south of us. Cool! (I can say that because we’re all okay.) There was a little shake last week too, but this is exciting because it’s the first earthquake that I felt and actually recognized for what it was.

That’s about it for the significant events of the week. Next week (starting today) is going to be insane because there’s a mission team coming from the States. During team weeks, everyone is running around constantly. My daily schedule will be pretty nonstop from 7AM – 8PM. Prayer requests for a good week for the mission team, endurance for me and the rest of the crew, and for safety! (Hopefully I’ll remember to take more pictures than I did this week…)

Does anyone have brain re-forming tips? Because my brain has turned into a pile of mush and I kind of need it to be functional instead of mushy. Last week was my first full week here, and that meant finally getting down to business and figuring out what needs to get done for this building project. Part of me wishes that I was still in a state of blissful ignorance, but that ship has sailed. This project is going to be A LOT of work, and in order to do my part, I’m going to need to learn very quickly.

To give you a mini-rundown of the project, it’s a relatively small 3-story building. On the first (ground) floor, there’s a bathroom that’s existing, and we’re adding two classrooms, one on either side. On the second floor, there will be three classrooms, and on the top “floor” (it’s being called a “half floor” because it won’t have full-height walls), there will be a multipurpose space and a kitchen.

Here’s the general plan of the ground floor. The two red boxes are classrooms, the blue is the existing bathroom, and the green is the stairs. On the second floor, there’s no big bathroom, and there are 3 classrooms instead.
This is one of the renderings from the EA informational booklet about the project, showing what the finished building will look like (kind of). The building to the right is existing, plus the bathroom which is in the middle of the ground floor in the building straight ahead. The rest will be all new!
Volleyball game on the “soccer court” at recess. The new building will be straight ahead (the bathroom is behind those little white tents).

Thankfully, I don’t need to worry about any large equipment or electrical panels. That infrastructure already exists, so we’ll be able to simply connect the new into the existing system. The major “uh oh” factor is coming from the realization that even though I did have a relevant job for a couple of years, the things I did were only a small portion of what’s needed for a full design. And, to make things even worse, I don’t know anything about what products are available here or Peruvian design rules-of-thumb. Debbie lent me her code book which is great… but of course, it’s in Spanish. I can understand it well enough, but it’s just one more thing on the list of tasks that are going to take a liiiiittle bit longer than they would at home. Add all of the “littles” together, and I have a lot of work to do.

Here’s an awkward panoramic view of the office. We have 5 people sharing the space which is an adventure! My desk is the wooden one straight ahead. This is where the magic and hair-ripping happen.

Most of last week was spent on the world’s most tedious task… formatting. You don’t have to know anything about architecture or engineering to know that formatting documents is the worst. In this case, it’s the necessary prep work that will make the actual work go smoothly, but I feel like I accomplished next to nothing because there’s no physical result from my work. It’s also relatively mind-numbing. By the end of the day on Friday, I felt like my brain was made of mush (and it felt like it was functioning about that well, too). The one positive is that I mostly finished, so this week I can get on with doing actual work!

Instead of having a restful weekend, Debbie decided that we should go on an outing on Saturday. To an architecture seminar. On urban acoustics. In Spanish. She wanted me to meet her architect friends, and I’ll admit, I’m happy that we went. It was fun and the people were cool, but I would absolutely not describe it as a restful day. The morning involved about four hours of attempting to follow acoustics-related Spanish (which thankfully isn’t terribly different from acoustics-related English) and straining to remember the things I learned seven years ago (eek!) in my university acoustics class. Ha.

The topic was interesting though. The presenter just returned from a year studying in Spain, and he presented foundational acoustics information, plus his thesis topic. Side note, I was the only engineer in a room of architects, and that interaction is apparently the same no matter what country you’re in. Any time math was involved, I was basically called out with a, “but you already know this, don’t you?” I mean, no, not necessarily, but I do know how to use a calculator so I can figure it out..? Ugh. Architects. (I’m kidding, I’m kidding.) ANYWAY, his thesis looked at different road geometries (like raised roadways vs. sunken roadways vs. roads with walls, etc.) and analyzed how well the various configurations controlled the noise from the traffic. There was also a practical portion in the afternoon where we took sound measurements at various locations along a nearby street. It was fun! It reminded me of university because architecture/engineering students are always doing weird things in public for their classes. Buses kept stopping and trying to give us a ride because it absolutely looked like we were waiting for something.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted, and my brain was even more like mush than the day before. So yeah, probably not the best strategy for a brain revival, but good nonetheless.

View of the mountains from outside of the office.

Aside from work and my mushy brain, I’ve just been trying to keep myself sane. I’ve been attempting to work out on weekday mornings… I feel like I should at least do SOMETHING to offset the fact that I spend the rest of the day hunched over my computer screen, slowly pulling my hair out.

On one final note, if you’re wondering why you have yet to hear about Patagonia, it’s because of the internet. And also me. And mostly the interaction between me and the internet. Long story short (and vague), I decided I needed to change some big things about how my blog is set up to better suit the complicated disaster that it’s grown into… which meant that I needed to learn things about how the internet works. Which is something that my brain refuses to understand. BUT we survived (both me and my brain), and I think I kind of maybe sort of figured out the things that I needed to figure. I know, I’m oozing with confidence. In conclusion, ignore anything that doesn’t look quite right about my blog page because it’s a big ‘ole work in progress (but if you find something that doesn’t work, please tell me and then ignore it), and fear not. Soon enough, I’ll be confusing the heck out of you by talking about Peru and Patagonia at the same time.

Hooray! Welcome to Peru (again)!

I’ve been here for about a week now, and I’m already feeling settled in which is good. It is a little strange to think about the fact that I’m going to be here for the rest of the year. I haven’t spent this much time in one place in three years! Let’s see how long it takes for me to get stir crazy. In reality, though, I don’t think I’m going to have time to start feeling that way. Once things get moving on the building project, whew! It’s going to be hectic.

So far, I’ve mostly been getting my bearings again. Last week was the final prep week before the programs started up again, and we had an incredibly long staff meeting on Friday to get everyone on the same page about how things are going to work this year. That was perfect for me because now I feel like I know exactly what’s going on!

With my parents as they dropped me off at the airport

Today was the first day for Esperanza School and Casa Esperanza. Esperanza School is mostly an after-school program, but this year they’ve added an English preschool pilot program. There are 8 kids here all day, doing whatever kids do in preschool and also hopefully learning English! Cool, right? The rest of the kids go to school in the neighborhood and come afterward for lunch, homework time, and supplemental lessons.

After Esperanza School lets out, some of the kids stay overnight as well (during the week). They eat dinner and have other planned activities until bedtime.

My workdays generally go like this:
8AM – 2:30PM – staff worship time, workday, trying not to starve because lunch isn’t until the kids get out of school at…
2:30PM – 3:30PM – lunch and recess with the Esperanza School kids
3:30PM – 6PM – work
7PM – 7:30PM – dinner with the Casa Esperanza kids

I’m attempting to exercise in the mornings and relax a bit in the evenings… I’ll keep you posted on how that’s going, but I can’t say I’m terribly optimistic. Debbie (one of the full-time missionary staff/architect) and I met today to get on the same page about the building project, and well… we have a lot of work to do! We’re hitting the ground running this week with the designs and will hopefully start construction next month. Craziness!

Most of the US staff… me, Paul, Julie, Debbie, and Jocelyn. We went to a nearby beach town, Pucusana, for lunch over the weekend.

Hi friends!

If you’re thinking it’s been a while since you last heard from me… yes, it has. It’s been a crazy time for me! As you know (though from my much-delayed blog posts, you’d never guess), I’ve been home for about 6 months now, trying to discern my next step. Much has happened over the last few weeks. My brother Mike and I went on a somewhat spur-of-the-moment trip to Patagonia (more on that later)… and even more excitingly, my plans for the rest of the year came together!

What are these exciting plans?” you ask. (Or maybe you didn’t ask, but I’m going to answer anyway.)

I’ll be spending the next 10 months in Peru, returning to Esperanza de Ana, the Christian ministry where I volunteered two years ago (January – March 2017). Esperanza de Ana is dedicated to family preservation and restoration, partnering with families in crisis in order to create stronger, safer, and more stable home environments.

Looking out over the Esperanza de Ana campus

Last time I was there, I co-taught a summer school class called Mini-Engineers with the goal of exposing the kids to new ideas and career paths. We taught a unit on urban planning, and the students built their own “kid cities”, complete with stop signs and traffic lights! Then, we changed gears and built robots! (That pun was 100% intended.) It was fun to see the kids get so excited about the things they created.

Me with one of the completed “kid cities”, holding a robot.
One of the kids made a little playground, complete with puff-ball people!

I spent the rest of my time in Peru focused on the campus’s lighting and electrical systems. There was no accurate documentation of the existing conditions, so I surveyed the buildings, created updated documents, and recommended changes for a more effective system.

Now, Esperanza de Ana is in the middle of an expansion project. Their after-school programs have outgrown the current classroom space, and they’re planning to construct a new building with five additional classrooms and a multipurpose space. I’ll be joining the team to design the lighting and electrical systems and help manage the construction! Whoa.

Playing games at a summer school birthday party

“That’s so cool,” you say. “How can I be involved?

I’m thrilled you asked! First, if you know my mother, you can assure her that I will be careful not to fall off any cliffs, that airplanes DO travel to Peru and she is allowed to travel on one of them (long shot, I know), and that I am not lost to her forever.

Second, you can pray, specifically for my adjustment to life in Peru; for safety throughout my time abroad; for the project planning and execution to go smoothly; for Esperanza de Ana, the work they’re doing, the staff and the families; and for my fundraising efforts.

Debbie (my architect teammate in this expansion project adventure), me, and Julie (one of the other full-time missionaries at EA).

Third, if you’d like to help make this project and my involvement possible, you can support us financially. Since this isn’t a paid position, I am fundraising for the 10 months that I will be in Peru to cover room and board, flights, and other expenses. If you would like to join my support team, contributions for room and board can be sent to Armenian Martyrs’ Congregational Church (tax-deductible) by check (memo: “Lara Kaiserian mission”, 100 N. Edmonds Ave, Havertown, PA 19083) or electronically via PayPal (amccpa.org/give/, “Make Other Donation”, type “Lara Kaiserian mission” in ‘ special instructions’), and those for flights and other expenses can be sent to me directly (via mailed check or electronically, message me for info).

Also, fundraising for the expansion project is still in progress, and you can donate to that through Esperanza de Ana’s website HERE (that’s also a good place to see more information about the project).

Finally, fourth, you can keep reading my blog to stay updated on all the happenings in Peru.

On that note, what does this mean for the blog?

I’ve thought a lot about this, and I don’t want to abandon my last adventure. I visited some amazing places with some amazing history (increasingly becoming my favorite thing to learn about), and I still want to share it all with you.

That being said, get ready for your head to spin. I’m going to keep you updated on what’s happening in Peru (probably about once per week) while also continuing our jaunt across Europe. BUT, just to confuse even more and to get you in the South American spirit, we’re going to hit PAUSE on Europe and explore Patagonia together first! Mostly because I’m so excited about Mike and my trip, and if I wait to talk about it chronologically, we’ll be lucky to get there by 2020.

In summary: Peru posts will be ongoing, Patagonia posts coming soon, and we’ll head back to Europe after that! (Pretend that’s not confusing at all.)

Okay, that’s all for now! Thanks for bearing with me, for encouraging me during my six months of uncertainty, and for being my faithful travel companions. Pack your bags for another adventure!

❤ Lara

Sunset view… I don’t mind getting to see sunsets like this again!

I’m happy to inform you that I didn’t, and I’m sorry to have worried you.

In case you wanted proof that my blog hasn’t been hijacked by a robot: As you can see, I’m alive and well and enjoying catching up with friends! (Or maybe that’s NOT real Lara and I’m just a robot with very impressive disguising abilities. We’ll never know for sure.)

I know you haven’t heard from me in a while, and as you might guess, we have a LOT to catch up on. For starters, I’m back in the USA! I got back about a month ago now (whoa! Time flies!), and I’ve been spending my time catching up with family and friends and readjusting to life in a country where I can actually communicate with people. Reverse culture shock is VERY real, and I honestly think it’s worse than regular culture shock.

To answer the #1-most-frequently-asked question (please please don’t ask me this), I don’t know what’s next for me yet. At the moment, I’m working on a few personal projects, helping my parents out, and looking into every option for my future. If anyone has any thoughts, I’m now accepting life path suggestions! I’m not kidding. If you have any ideas about jobs that you think might be a good fit for me, I would be happy to hear them!

While that’s all getting figured out, I want to finish what I started with my blog. My last blog post was from Bath in England, but that’s far from the last place I visited. Between the travelling, sightseeing, getting to know people, and keeping up with my journal, most of my days were packed from morning to evening. I was getting stressed out trying to keep the blog going as well, so I decided to stop worrying and focus on enjoying the rest of my time abroad. Now that I’m back and have a little more free time, I’m excited to tell you about all of the awesome places I visited over the last few months! Trust me, you’re going to want to stick around to hear about them!