I think I’ve maybe had half a second to catch my breath since I last wrote. My gosh, the last four weeks have been insane. I don’t even know where to begin… The first two weeks were busy, but that was expected. We had two church groups come back-to-back, and team weeks are always crazy and exhausting. Then, instead of having a chance to recover, Debbie and I had to scramble to put together up-to-date drawings of the entire property. I’ll talk about that later. Let’s start with the team weeks so I don’t start rambling. This will be long enough as it is.

Staff, team #1, and kids (pic by David Espinoza)

The first team was from Gateway, the same church that sent the last team we had in July. I had met the two team leaders on the July trip, so it was both fun to see them again and to meet the new people who came with them. I was nervous going into the week because I was totally in charge of the service projects for the first time (Debbie was still at least somewhat involved during the other team weeks), but it ended up being great! It was nice to have more autonomy and be able to adjust the plans based on how things were going without worrying about overstepping.

The team only had 8 people which, I have now decided, is the perfect size for a team. It was enough people to get things done but not so many that I had to manage like 20 projects at once. I had people working on just a few different things, giving me time to slow down and help with the work rather than having to constantly run from group to group to supervise.

One of the women is a hairdresser and gave everyone haircuts! Sooo… look at my hair! So long!
Andddd… it’s gone!
I’m donating it, so I laid my little ponytails out in my room to dry. Does this make me look like a psychopath?

They did a ton of little things here and there, but the big project of the week was to build a bamboo shade structure in the front entry area where the kids wait for their parents to pick them up and parents wait for meetings and such. In the summer, the sun is brutal, so without any shade, it’s not the most welcoming environment. I had some big dreams for how much work we could accomplish each day… I actually thought we would have the structure assembled by the end of the week. Ha! We only got as far as finishing the foundations and cutting/prepping the bamboo for the structure. Still, they did an awesome amount of work, and it was super precise which is the most important thing.

Patio pre-shade structure. Here we have the footer locations marked out, but my gosh I wish I had taken a picture of myself inside one of the foundation holes we had to dig. They were intense. Thankfully, the construction crew let us use their concrete mixer for the foundation concrete because otherwise, I think we would have finished one per day. Each hole took about 4 wheelbarrows of concrete to fill! Can you imagine hand-mixing that? NOT fun.
Cutting the bamboo for the shade structure
Bracing the columns. This is as far as team #1 got with the assembly.
Jocelyn, me, Julie, and Debbie. The team made these shirts to help fundraise for their trip, and they brought some for the whole staff!
One of the side projects: The endless job of fence-wickering. We use wicker, the same stuff they make wicker furniture out of, to help secure the posts, and the wrapping takes FOREVER. Approximately. (pic by David Espinoza)
Mural touch-ups! (pic by David Espinoza)

At the end of the week, it was sad to say goodbye to our new friends, but we had only four hours to mourn them in the airport food court before the next team arrived. Julie, Jocelyn, and I said hello to the next team with as much enthusiasm as our “it’s 1:30AM and we’ve been at the airport for five hours after an entire day out” selves could muster (for me, it was “not much”).

Lima day adventures!
We walked around the hipster/artsy part of Lima, Barranco, where there are a bunch of funky murals.
Pretty flowers in Lima!
The guy at the gelato place put so much effort into molding this beautiful swirl that I felt like I had to take a picture.

And so, team week #2 began! We got permission to skip the usual Sunday activities because we “looked like death” (accurate, I’m sure) and spent the day sleeping instead. That night, it was right back to work. Thankfully, the second team was similarly fun, small, and easy to work with, so what could have been a disaster of a week was actually pretty good. They kept working on the shade structure from the week before and got the frame assembled! They also rebuilt an entire bamboo fence and planted some ground cover… it was a busy week!

With the columns all braced, we filled up the bottoms with concrete to tie them in to the foundations. (See me in the back? With the hat and my fresh haircut.) (pic by David Espinoza)
Here’s the current status of the shade. We have to get a little more bamboo to finish off the structure, it needs to be treated with the insect stuff and varnished, and then we’ll put the shade on top… soooo we’re kind of close to being finished? ish?
Disassembling the fence to clean the posts and get rid of the termite-ridden pieces. (pic by David Espinoza)
Cleaning the fence posts (pic by David Espinoza)
We ended up having to replace more posts than expected, so we had to run to buy more bamboo in the middle of the week. How do you transport 6m bamboo in a van? Well, it looks something like this.
This is the view from my seat where I held onto the bamboo for dear life and prayed that it didn’t slide out of the back… and that I didn’t slide out of the back with it. We all survived.
Here’s the fence! You can see the new, green bamboo mixed in because that’s all we could get at the store, but it should dry out in a few weeks and will all be the same yellowish color. We still have a bunch of finishing work to do before the fence is truly complete, but since it looks pretty good, I’m pretending that it’s mostly done.
Planting more green! (pic by David Espinoza)

We all hibernated the weekend after they left. I felt like my brain was complete mush, plus I was physically exhausted from running around for two weeks (this is me giving you excuses for why I didn’t write an update that weekend).

We managed to sneak off to the beach for a couple hours one Saturday morning. You know, in an attempt to fool the world into thinking we have lives outside of work.
Crab!

I would have loved to take it easy the next week and use that time to pull myself together a bit, but NOPE! No time for that! Like I mentioned before, Debbie and I had to update our drawings for the entire property to submit to the municipality. They’ve submitted drawings before, but the electrical drawings were a disaster. Besides the fact that I don’t think they look very nice, a lot of the information on them isn’t even correct! Or it doesn’t even make sense which gives me very little confidence in the people who are approving them. I suppose we could have just submitted similarly incorrect drawings again, but if you think I could ever convince myself to do that, you don’t know me at all.

And so, the next week and a half were spent mostly on that. Thankfully, the deadline kept getting pushed back. I thought originally that I was going to have 1 day to finish them. Now, I laugh that I ever imagined that was possible. I mean, I could have had SOMETHING done, but it would have been embarrassing. Instead, I spent 7 days squinting at my computer screen and tearing out my hair trying to understand the current drawings. Oh, and we had another surprise day off of school/work for All Saints’ Day… but I had to spend the day working because of the darn drawings. (Don’t talk to me about this as I’m still a smidge bitter.)

As a result of my weeklong vigil in front of my tiny computer screen, I’m pretty sure my brow is now permanently scrunched, and I have a hunchback and arthritis in my hands (no, I’m not dramatic at all. NEVER). So that’s good. But, what’s actually good is that my drawings are now finished, they look beautiful, and they’re kind of correct. And still kind of not correct, but it would take weeks of poking around the property and head scratching to fix all of the problems. (That’s one of my goals for the rest of my time here.)

Want to hear the worst story ever? Great, here it goes: Once upon a time, someone (who will remain nameless) dropped a mercury thermometer. It broke. The next 1.75 hours were spent cleaning up the mercury and estimating how many years the experience was cutting off the ends of our lives. The moral of the story? Don’t drop your mercury thermometer. And if someone else does, get outta there ASAP and don’t make the mistake of being a good friend and volunteering to help with the cleanup.

Finally, through all of this, the building project has gone on. We have walls! The drywall team has been hard at work putting up the interior walls, plus the few exterior walls that are drywall. They’ve also been installing the acoustic ceilings in the classrooms! We have a carpenter building the doors and window people making the windows. And the regular construction crew is still hard at work on the stucco and pouring the finished floors. We hired an electrician, and he’s getting ready to start pulling wires next week! And we went on a shopping trip to buy the classroom lights and some others, plus wire and outlets and eeee!! This is really happening!!! I’m excited. I’m terrified. I’m excited. I’m terrified. I’m only here for another month. AHHH!

Anyway, enjoy these pictures, and hopefully I’ll talk to you soon!

Putting up the insulation in the new drywall walls!
THIS is why you always design closets into your building… so that you don’t have to run a thousand electrical tubes up the side of a column into a single box of chaos like this one will most definitely be (also because never has anyone ever complained about having too much storage). Thankfully this is going to be hidden behind some drywall, so after it’s closed in I can pretend that it’s not such a disaster.
Remember how last time I told you about Milton and my horrible experience draining bamboo after it was treated in the bug-killing chemicals? Well, this is the solution to that problem. Much better than having to drain each piece one at a time!
It’s starting to shape up! New walls and some stucco
More stucco. Isn’t it looking good??
Bam! It’s like a real building now! Totally closed in (well, besides the unfinished windows and doors… and the missing roof… but you know what I mean).
View of the nice, stuccoed front
First floor classroom. Now, it’s just missing the tile floor… and the windows… and the lights… and the door. But like, it’s almost there.
Second floor classroom. Look at how pretty it looks with the ceiling tile in and the nice big window holes!
This is what 45 classroom light fixtures look like in the back of the van. Also here (but hard to see) are about 15 rolls of wire, 50 outlets, 20 switches, a few other light fixtures, and various odds and ends. Things are happening! It’s becoming too real!
One of the team members and me working on the fence

Are you tired of reading updates where nothing has changed? WELL, then today is your lucky day. Things are happening! My gosh, and it’s such chaos that part of me wishes FEWER things were happening, but isn’t that always the way these things go? There’s nothing nothing nothing and then EVERYTHING hits at once.

I’ll start off with the words I’m sure you thought you’d never hear… construction started!!! We had the first workers onsite two and a half weeks ago, and things really got going about 4 days in when they brought the front-end loader back onsite to dig the foundation holes. That was also the day when our next mission team arrived, 15 people from ACF, one of the Christian campus ministry groups at Penn State.

The site with construction materials organized
The site back when it still looked remotely organized. The wooden formwork for the concrete is in the background, the concrete mixer is to the left, and the steel rebar for reinforcing the concrete is under the blue tarp.

If that sounds like a lot happening at once, just wait. To say that construction got off to a rough start would be the understatement of the century. In ONE day while they were digging the foundation holes, they cut FOUR tubes that were not supposed to be cut. Four tubes that were in known locations. It’s so sad that it’s almost comical, but at the same time, it’s not funny at all because that kind of thing should not be happening. The water lines to the two back buildings were cut, plus the electrical ground line to one and ALL of the electrical power to the other. So besides being a bit stupid, it also had the potential to be dangerous. Thankfully, no one was electrocuted, the water lines were quickly repaired (though then there was dirt in the lines which clogged up the plumbing fixtures. So, all of the toilets ran constantly after the first flush until they went through the property’s entire water supply. A water truck came to refill our water tanks, and the toilets were shut off and bucket flushed until the dirt could be cleaned out. Fun, right?), and the electricity was restored a few days later when we luckily already had the electrician scheduled to come.

The front-end loader getting ready for another go at the hole
The front-end loader digging out one of the foundation holes. This was pre-pipe breaking.
A large hole in the ground
The second foundation hole
A giant pile of dirt from the foundation holes
Our lovely dirt pile. The grounds are looking a bit rough at the moment…

Thankfully, since then, there have been fewer… mishaps… with the construction, though every day still does seem to have its share of crises. They poured the concrete for the foundations on one side of the building on Friday, and now they’re working on setting up the steel for the foundations and columns on the other side. Seeing the columns sticking up makes it easier to imagine a building there, and it’s insane. This building is going to be huge compared to the existing buildings because it’s going to have a whole extra story! I don’t think anyone really understands how massive it’s going to look.

The beginnings of the foundations
On side #1, they started by assembling the steel for the foundations and attaching the columns. You can also see the wooden formwork starting to go in to contain the concrete when it gets poured later.
The building progressing
More steel, more formwork, and the world’s most terrifying scaffolding.
Most of the rebar and formwork for the foundations on side #1
Almost ready for concrete!
Concrete pour in progress
The concrete was poured on Friday, and it was an all-day event. They had extra guys working, and it was nonstop mixing and dumping wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of concrete into the foundations. The guy at the bottom is using this tool that vibrates to help the concrete settle and eliminate air pockets.
Concrete foundations poured!
The end result
The concrete mixer, piles of materials, and crew
The mixing crew. Gravel, sand, concrete, water, repeat.

The construction alone is enough to make life here crazy, but that’s not all that’s been going on. Like I said, we had FIFTEEN additional people on the property for the last week and a half. I didn’t think the number sounded like a lot until I saw it in human form. Trust me, it’s a lot. Especially when they all need to be managed and directed. They mainly worked on three projects: 1. Digging a trench to put in a new septic line (at the deepest point, it had to be something like 2 meters deep), 2. Finishing the drywall and painting the bathroom/break room for the construction workers, and 3. Building a new bamboo fence near the soccer court.

My major job while they were here was managing projects #2 and #3. You ask, “What do you know about drywall, Lara?” WELL, I watched a very informative 2-hour-and-15-minute video about drywall installation, so I’m basically an expert now (I can send you the link if you’re interested. It’s truly thrilling. Strongly recommend watching it at 1.75 speed). You ask, “What do you know about bamboo construction, Lara?” WELL, um… nothing. You know that saying “Fake it ‘til you make it”? Story of my life right now. It’s the same strategy as when I’m in an unfamiliar city and don’t know what direction I need to walk… so, I take a guess and march confidently in that direction until I get my bearings. And then I turn around and march confidently in the opposite direction.

Debbie and the two bamboo guys looking for the perfect bamboo
Debbie picking out bamboo from the bamboo store for our fresh bamboo fence… because obviously there are bamboo stores because where else would you go to buy bamboo?
Bamboo standing on end at the bamboo store
Bamboo forest
The delivery truck loaded up with bamboo
Our bamboo delivery vehicle.

Debbie did go over the general processes before releasing me into the wild, but as clear as everything seemed when it was being explained, it was a whole different story when we got to the actual execution. I had a lot of follow-up questions.

How did it all turn out? Surprisingly well, actually. The drywall/painting project is finished and looks better than I expected, honestly. There are definitely some parts that are a little rough, but it’s a utility space which means that’s not a huge deal. It’s just going to get banged and dirtied up anyway. The most important thing is that it’s finished, so the construction workers can actually start using it for their break room/changing area instead of the little closet they’ve been crowding into.

Mudding over the joints to get ready for painting
Some of the drywall/painting crew, hard at work.

The bamboo fence is still a work in progress, and I’m very optimistic about how it’s going to turn out. So far, we have all of the pieces prepared (they had to be cleaned, cut, sanded, painted with insecticide, and varnished), and the columns are in place. At least half of them are properly aligned which is promising. The other half was just installed, so we haven’t checked the fit of the horizontal beams yet. Fingers crossed! Hopefully the next team (which is already here. They came in last night!) can finish it off this week.

Bamboo laying out to dry
The treated and varnished bamboo for the fence
One of the team members and me working on the fence
Working on the columns for the fence with one of the team members (Pic by the EA photographer, David)
Me and a team member tying caution tape around our fence-in-progress
Putting up a worthless caution-tape barrier around our columns as their concrete footers set. The kids all proceeded to ignore the caution tape completely during recess. We basically had a human wall in front of the columns, trying to keep balls and kids from knocking them out of alignment before the concrete could harden enough to hold them in place. (Pic by David)

The septic trench is also not finished, though they did make amazing progress and even started to lay the pipe. The deepest part is finished, there’s a tunnel underneath the sidewalk, and the next segment is marked out and started. It’s crazy! They managed to make it so deep and skinny; it’s like a crack in the earth. They started having to reassign the shorter people on the team to other projects because the sides of the trench were getting too high for them.

Septic trench
The trench! It doesn’t look super deep in this picture, but the far end is at least 2m from top to bottom.
The trench and under-sidewalk tunnel
The tunnel under the sidewalk! So glad I wasn’t involved with the digging of that…
The team standing in their trench, holding digging tools
The team in the trench. I’m looking awkward on the far left. Also it looks like I have a double hand and super wide arm, but I promise I haven’t mutated in the last few months, so we’ll blame it on the picture.

The final craziness of the last few weeks is EARTHQUAKES! During the 10 days that the ACF team was here, there were THREE that we very clearly felt. The first happened on the team’s third day. We were at lunch, and it was super short but felt STRONG. In my head, it was like I was seeing through broken glass. Sharp and very pronounced. I don’t know how else to explain it.  There was no question in my mind that it was an earthquake, and the kids and staff were on the same page because we all stood up practically in unison to evacuate… except for the team. The teachers started grabbing little kids out of their chairs, and everyone started moving to the doors. I figured I should clue the team members in, you know, just in case the building was going to decide to fall down. I thought that they’d figure it out quickly once they saw me, but that was definitely not the case. It went something like:

“EARTHQUAKE!” At this point, I was yelling because it was loud but still very calm.

“What??”

“EARTHQUAKE!!” Starting to lose my calm…

“Huh?”

Jocelyn and me in front of a pile of mud bricks
Jocelyn and me at Huaca Pucllana, an archaeological site in Lima. We went with the team on their sightseeing day. That’s a giant pyramid of adobe bricks behind us!

“EARTHQUAKE! WE NEED TO LEAVE!” I signaled with my hands. I was ready to just leave them if this didn’t work. Finally, they got it and joined the crowd headed out to the soccer court. Geez, good thing the building didn’t fall down! No one on the team felt it, and I think they were a little skeptical that it even happened until enough other people confirmed it. Really though, why would I make up an earthquake??

The next one was the extra crazy one. It happened at 2:40AM last Sunday morning. I woke up VERY quickly, and when we were still shaking after like 10 seconds, Debbie and I got up to leave. She pounded on Jocelyn’s and Julie’s doors on the way out, and when we got downstairs, it was STILL going. Our “safe area” is in the dirt outside, and usually, once you get off the sidewalk, you can’t feel anything. Not this time! Even on the ground, we could absolutely feel the shaking, like a deep rumble underneath our feet.

It seemed to go on forever. In the quiet of the night, Julie’s cat meowed his distress from inside his crate. Our metal stairs “thunk, thunk, thunk”-ed against the building, and the steel for the new building’s columns clinked together like wind chimes in the distance. And all we could do was stand there and wait. It was eerie. In the morning, Debbie said that it lasted 2 whole minutes. Two eternities in earthquake time. It was an 8.0 magnitude earthquake about 500 miles away from us, at the edge of the Amazon, 70 miles below the surface. Whatttt?! I don’t think there was much damage, thankfully, because of the location, but you can bet that EVERYONE was talking about it the next day. What a weird thing. As someone who comes from a nearly earthquake-less area, the feeling of the ground shaking beneath me is insanely discomforting.

The EA family
The kids, teachers, team, and us. I’m sure it looks just like the picture from the last team that visited… and I’m wearing the same shirt but shhh. It’s different, I promise.

There have been a LOT of smaller earthquakes since then, way more than the usual (aftershocks maybe? I don’t know how these things work). Two nights later, there was another one strong enough to make us evacuate. Three in one week, and one an 8.0! What is happening!?

I know, this was quite the long update, but I suppose that’s what happens when things get busy and I don’t write for three weeks (oops). I’ll do better next time!