Guys working on the brick walls

I barely had a chance to settle back in after coming back from the States. My first day back at work was a Tuesday, and by the next Sunday, the next team was here. Talk about a reality check! Not only was the actual team week full of extra responsibilities, but I also did more than usual for the pre-week preparation. Debbie put me in charge of making the work schedule and supply shopping list. No pressure! She was there if I had any questions, of course, but it was still stressful because I wanted to do a good job. Thankfully, the projects for the week were pretty straightforward, and we already had a lot of the supplies we needed. That made for a short shopping list… which almost worked against me because I felt like I must be forgetting something. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t! We had everything we needed, and the projects all went just fine. Phew!)

Green mountains out of the bus window
This is the craziest thing. These mountains are all usually brown. This is right near where we live. Recently, they’ve been turning green because it’s been such a damp winter. I wish they looked like this all the time! I like calling them the moldy mountains. The so green that they’re practically glowing, though. Radioactive moldy mountains.

This team was from Hudson, North Carolina, and it was my first time having a team come with a few people I already knew! When I was here in 2017, I was around for one team week, and it was this church. The only repeat people were the two team leaders, Rick and Kirsten, but it was exciting to see some familiar faces! Last time they were here, Rick helped Debbie and me with the soldering for our robots, so they hold a special place in my heart.

I feel like I say this about everyone, but every time I say it, it’s absolutely true… this team was so much fun! Team weeks are an extra burden no matter what because there’s simply more work to do, but there are things that can be made easier by a good group of people. Everyone listened and wanted to do a good job on the work projects, and on top of that, they were all interesting and entertaining people. We have a unique opportunity in being here to build solid relationships with people from all sorts of different places and backgrounds. It’s pretty cool!

Selfie by the ocean
Me and Jocelyn by the ocean on our team sightseeing day in Lima

We kept plugging away at the work projects, and guess what? The bamboo fence is finished!!! It only took like 3.5 weeks’ worth of work. Like I said in my last post, the team from Pleasant Ridge finished putting it together, but there was still a bunch of detail work left. My Hudson fence crew helped with some final sanding, stuffed the tops of the bamboo with this material that I think is a type of plaster? (not really sure about the English translation, but we put it in there to keep the kids from sticking trash inside – hehe – and to keep bugs out), reinforced the connections between the poles and the horizontals with wire and wicker, and finally, touched up the varnish job and varnished over their wicker wrap. Things I never thought I would do in my lifetime: wicker a fence. What a ridiculous concept! So yeah, that all took seemingly forever to finish, but now it’s done and I’m a bamboo fence expert!

Half of the fence
THE FENCE!
The fence with all of its beautiful, finished details
IS FINISHED! Look at that fabulous wickering! (Wrapping pattern designed by wicker experts Lara and Jocelyn.)

One of the other work groups kept going on the trench for the septic system. That has also been an endless project, and I still have no idea what they’re doing. I assume they did a good job… they dug and dug and the hole looks different from when they started, so let’s just say that everything went well.

Wooden thing getting varnished
One of the side projects was finishing these wooden covers. They’re going to go in the ground to cover holes in the sidewalks where we have water tanks/pumps/whatever other secrets are hiding down there.

The last big project was setting up an irrigation system for some new plants with the optimistic goal of actually planting them before the team left. Have you ever installed an irrigation system? It’s not terribly easy. I mean, I suppose someone thinks that it is, but that person has probably done it a million times. All I know is, getting the system to work across the entire planter was quite the feat.

The trench the team dug for the irrigation line to the new plants
The irrigation trench

Friday morning was a stressful mess of adjusting the pipes, raising and lowering them to try to get water to flow the way it needed to. It seemed like maybe it wasn’t going to happen, but after lunch, Debbie announced that we were going to plant the flowers! I can’t take any credit for getting it to work, but I was happy to share in the fun of planting. It was exciting to see that project finally coming together, too. If you count from when they started building the planters, it’s been a work-in-slow-progress since March!

Team members digging out holes for the plants
Getting the planter ready!
The irrigation tubing in the planter
Check out that beautiful irrigation line
The flowery plants that we put in
Pretty flowers!
Cutting off the bottoms of the plant bags
Getting the plants ready to go in the ground

In other news, WE HAVE WALLS! Sorry, topic change. The construction is moving! We’re making some VERY visible progress. WE HAVE WALLS!! Enjoy these pictures of the construction site that actually is starting to look like a building! AHHHH!

Brick walls in progress
Starting to lay the brick for the walls in Module 1
Walls starting to look more wall-like
A mere 5 hours later…
Finished walls in Module 1
We might as well stop now because it’s basically finished
Module 1 with its brick walls
Like… what is this? It’s like a real building! Almost. Nearly. You can see the formwork up for the column in the back right corner.
Brick walls around the future stairwell
Future stairwell
Pouring the concrete for a column in the dark
A little late-night concrete column pouring in Module 2
Module 2 with formwork-encased columns
Here are the Module 2 columns still in their formwork
Module 2
Module 2 looking good with those fresh columns
Module 2 pre-walls
No walls
Module 2 with some new brick walls!
Anddd walls!
Guys working on the brick walls
I can’t get over how quickly this happened in comparison to everything else in the construction process thus far! We went from no walls to all of the walls in like 3 days

And so, we wrapped up another successful team week. As always, it was sad to see everyone go. This time, I was half asleep because we didn’t say our goodbyes until about 10:30PM (I started feeling like I was falling asleep around 8. Is this old age setting in?), so it wasn’t as traumatic as usual. Plus, a few members of the team were sticking around for another week to do a medical clinic for the families, so it wasn’t a full goodbye. AND we picked up a new arrival from the airport, an intern, Betsi, who is going to be here for three weeks. So even though one busy week ended, it didn’t mean things were going back to normal. I’m not sure I even know what normal looks like anymore.

Wave coming into the beack
We stopped at the beach along the way to Lima, and though I don’t think the picture shows it very well, the waves were huge!
The group walking through the pretty walk to the ocean
Sightseeing with the team in Lima
Foliage-covered walk down to the ocean
So much green! (This is all it takes to make us VERY happy. We’re very easy to please, after living in the brown desert.)
Me and a team member working on the fence

Remember when I said that I was going to post weekly blogs? Well, if you don’t, then please, continue to not remember. If you do, whoops. As you can see, things aren’t exactly going as planned. The thing is, life has been VERY busy. I know, life anywhere is busy, but there’s something about being here that makes everything a little bit harder and a little bit more tiring. Recently, with all of the teams coming through, it’s been extra hectic. When a team is here, we’re running around and trying to manage everything that goes along with that. When there isn’t a team, we’re running around and trying to catch up on the things that fell to the wayside when there was.

So, what has happened since my last update? That’s a big question! It’s been five weeks, but I’m going to focus on the first four right now because that’s basically the month of June and is already far too much to talk about in one post. The first week was another team week, two days after the previous team left. The second was a “normal” week, the third I was in the USA, and the fourth was another normal one. My gosh. Like I said, I definitely need to be better about writing updates because have a lot of ground to cover! Let’s start with the team week…

Team selfie on our way to Pucusana for lunch on the team’s first day

Last time, I told you about the team week with ACF, a Christian student ministry at Penn State. Usually, teams are here for seven days. ACF was here for TEN which is essentially a 10-day marathon. And on top of that, they’re a bunch of college kids with lots of energy (they made me feel old, but I’m surprisingly okay with it). So, at the end of that “week” we were, understandably, all feeling a bit drained.

They left on a Thursday afternoon, giving us only two days to recover before our next team arrived. This one was also 15 people, they flew in Saturday night, and we hit the ground running on Sunday. It was interesting going from the college crew to a team with more varied ages and skills. This team was from Pleasant Ridge, a church in rural PA. I can’t possibly say enough nice things about them, and it’s not even just because I’m putting this on the internet for the world to see. They were incredibly hard workers, fun and nice and interesting people, and thankfully very easygoing. It was such a joy to have them here.

Sea lions flopped on the rocks
So many sea lions! Also, the sea was INCREDIBLY choppy, and except for the moments when I opened my eyes to look at the animals and take these pictures, I was trying not to get sick from all of the rocking and bobbing we were doing. I don’t get motion sick easily, so it was an exceptionally rough ride.
Penguins on the rocks by the ocean
Can you see the penguins? I’ve never seen so many at once! Though this is kind of a terrible picture. They blend in a bit with the white poop-covered rocks.
Selfie with Pleasant Ridge at Huaca Pucllana
At an archaeological site with the Pleasant Ridge team!

We made an amazing amount of progress on the service projects! We had one crew, mostly of the younger guys, who continued the work ACF started on the trench for the septic system pipes. They worked like a well-oiled machine. I felt like every time I looked over to check on them, they had a new piece of pipe installed, the dirt filled in on top of it, and a new section of trench already dug out.

The three trench-digging guys working hard
The trench squad, doing an awesome job (Pic by EA photographer David)
Small remaining section of trench
Where the trench people left off. The pipe they installed stretches straight from here to the end of the concrete patio you can see on the left
The septic pipe route
Then, the pipe cuts diagonally along this whole stretch of dirt
The septic trench stretching across the property and under the swing set
Here’s that section before it got filled in. Look at how deep and skinny it is. I honestly don’t even understand how they managed to dig it so skinny.
The last stretch of septic pipe
And it goes underneath the sidewalk and through the grass patch… you can see exactly where it goes because the grass was removed during the digging process, and the grass around the trench died from getting stomped on so much.

My bamboo fence squad finished installing the fence posts, and at the end of the week, it finally looked like a real fence!  It’s a bit of a pain, though, because it’s one of those jobs that is 95% finished, but the last 5% of work seems to take as long as the first 95. There’s lots of tedious detail work to do after the posts are installed, and that’s slowly been getting checked off in the weeks since.

Two of the team members attaching vertical poles to the bamboo fence
The two most dedicated members of my fence team. They made it happen! They were determined to finish attaching the poles by the end of the week, and they did it! (Pic by David)
Me and a team member working on the fence
Me working with my fence post buddy! She and I worked super well together and helped with the attachment of the vertical posts when we weren’t off working on other things. (Pic by David)
The fence, nearly completed
The fence! The fence! They’re almost finished!!

Besides those two big jobs, they crossed off so many other, small jobs that have been lingering. For example, there were some concerns about the construction fencing near the school buildings because the little kids are completely oblivious, and there was a real chance of one of them wandering past and falling into one of the foundation holes on their way to the bathroom. We had some of the team members build a more substantial barrier using plywood which has been very good for the peace-of-mind of our teachers.

The soccer court with a new wooden wall
The new construction site wall separating the site from the school area. It’s so much better!
Team member taking some measurements for the construction barrier
Putting together the construction site barriers (Pic by David)
Some of the team members painting the workers' shed exterior
Finishing up a second coat of paint on the workers’ shed. (Pic by EA photographer David)
The new ties to attach the canopies to their frames
They also helped out with a project to fix the shade canopies we have. They were all falling apart, getting disconnected from the frames every other second. One of the team members and I came up with a new system for attaching them (see the ties on the corners and the middle of each side?), and so far, it’s been working!!
Julie toasting a marshmallow with her hat pulled over her eyes
At the end of the team week, we had the world’s hottest bonfire. Julie used her hat to attempt to block her face from some of the overwhelming heat while toasting her marshmallow
Me, hiding behind a chair to toast my marshmallow
We all had our own strategies for staying protected from the heat… mine involved sacrificing a chair to save myself. Just kidding, the chair survived unscathed. My fingers still nearly melted off.

Meanwhile, the construction has been steadily moving along. The foundations are finished! No more giant holes in the ground (so I guess there’s no more danger of the kids falling in, but definitely still better for them to be kept away from the site either way). It’s exciting/nerve-wracking/strange to see something that looks like a building finally starting to take shape! They poured the bases of most of the walls which means that we can actually see how big the interior spaces are going to be. I’m starting to go into a bit of a panic because this means it’s nearly time for some of my conduit to be installed (the pipes that they put the wires in), and after that, it’s concreted in which means it isn’t changing. I hope I didn’t mess anything up! Eek!!

Rather than trying to explain everything that’s happened, I think it’ll be much more effective to show you in a series of approximately 1 million pictures. So here you go! (Brace yourselves, it’s going to be a looong ride.)

Foundations of Module 1
Module 1 foundations, poured and with the formwork removed and the foundation coating painted on
Foundations with dirt haphazardly thrown on top
After the foundation hole was filled in… they didn’t do a very good job of compacting as they added the dirt, so re-doing that process correctly was a big pain.
Columns going into place in Module 1
Putting on the formwork for some columns!!
One of the construction workers leveling off the dirt in Module 1
Leveling out the ground. And check out those columns!
The dirt in Module 1 looking nice and level
Nice and flat!
Packed dirt in the footprint of our stairs
The beginnings of our staircase!

So that’s the first side of the building… and now, on to the other side:

Rebar for the building foundations
The steel for the foundations on the second side of the building (henceforth to be known as Module 2). The foundations for this building are CRAZY. Look at all of that steel!
Rebar for one of the big foundation beams running underneath the classroom
LOOK AT ALL OF THAT STEEL!
The foundations in Module 2 with the formwork for the concrete
The formwork for the foundations. This side of the building is just out of control. So. Much. Wood. So. Much. Steel. So. Much. Concrete.
Module 2 foundations setting in the formwork
After the concrete was poured for the foundations
Module 2 after the foundations were poured
A view from (kind of) above
Module 2 foundations without formwork
And the formwork was removed!
Module 2 with the beginnings of the walls in place
This is how it looked when I came back! The ground is getting filled in, and you can see the concrete has been poured for the bases of the walls!
Front-end loader moving dirt into the foundation hole
Starting to fill in the dirt in Module 2 with some help from our friend the front-end loader
Filling in the dirt!
Module 2 with some new formwork on a column
Getting ready to pour some more columns. You can see the new formwork on the middle column on the right.
Two guys working on wrapping the rebar around the columns
Working on the columns. Is this not the sketchiest scaffolding you’ve ever seen?

They have already installed the conduit that goes underground from one side of the building to the other, so I’m crossing my fingers super tight that I sized those correctly. My gosh this is a stressful situation! Why on earth did I become an engineer? I should have picked something where mistakes are more easily remedied. Not that I think I made any big mistakes (I already found and fixed a few little ones), but I think it would be abnormal for me to NOT panic at least a little about this whole thing. It’s my very first time having a design that’s all mine actually get installed. Sure, when I was working, there were a few projects where I played a large part in the design and felt a sense of ownership when I walked through the finished space, but this is different. This is me being trusted to make the major decisions and hoping more than anything that I’ve created a design deserving of that trust. No pressure or anything.

I’m rambling, I know, but I ramble when I’m nervous. I’m nervous. It’s weird because I really am confident in the work I’ve done so far, but it doesn’t matter. Until this building is finished, everything is installed, and it’s operating properly, I won’t feel completely at peace. I’m insane, I know. It’s going to be a long year of unrest, that’s for sure.

With all of that happening, it was probably a great time for me to take a break and go back to the States for my friend’s wedding. It was fun getting to catch up with friends, plus the week I had at home beforehand was so nice and relaxing. I think I needed it, and it left me feeling prepared to come back and jump right into the work ahead.

Sunset view from the airplane window
The sunset on my flight back to Peru

We had another team here about a week after I got back, so it was back to the chaos of running around and managing service projects and hoping that things go according to plan. It’s always fun to get out of the office and actually get my hands dirty, but it also makes for an exhausting schedule! I’ll tell you more about that week in my next post… which is coming soon (and by “soon” I mean definitely before another 5 weeks go by).

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!

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 front-end loader 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 front-end loader clearing the way for our fresh gravel driveway.
Then, the gravel truck came through and dumped piles of gravel for the loader 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.

​When we got to the farm this morning and John asked me if we wanted to use the hoes or the machetes, I thought it had to be a trick question. Why on earth would he think for a second that we would choose the hoes? I instantly answered, “machetes,” without even consulting the others, but luckily they confirmed later that they all wanted the same thing. Phew.

Kind of “before” picture… More like an “in progress after I realized I hasn’t taken a before picture” picture.

After

It’s a good hint that we’re going to get to do something fun with the machetes when they take the time to sharpen them. When we do things like sowing corn with them, there’s no need for them to be sharp. When we do things like chopping down dead corn stalks, we need sharp machetes. Today, we got to chop down tall weeds in another field that I didn’t know was part of our farm. I really need to stop pretending that I know anything about where our farm starts and ends because every time I’m sure I’ve finally gotten it, we go somewhere else that I didn’t know existed and my head explodes. It’s painful having your head explode so many times… but seriously, how could we have gone 6 weeks in the same parts of the farm and now in the last 4, the area we’ve covered has at least doubled what I knew about before? Sorry, I digress.
We got to chop down some tall weeds, and chopping things with a machete is one of my favorite farm activities. I feel like I’m doing what I was born for (this is the Ghanaian inside of me talking). It really is satisfying though… until you look down and realize that you have a million blisters and your hands hate you. This is another one of those “Did I have gloves? Yes. Did I wear my gloves? Of course not.” situations.

I obviously didn’t take any pictures of the work we did at the clinic… But I did take this picture of some of the adorable kittens they currently have there. Priorities.

I was feeling invigorated when we left the farm, which was good because the next stop after breakfast was the clinic for another day of construction work. The task of the day was to make more blocks! Nick, James, and I got to help mix the cement/sand/water together, pack it into the molds to make the block shape, and push perfectly formed blocks like little concrete [sand]castles onto the ground to dry. Nick and I missed some of the beginning work because of the farm, but we spent about 3 hours there and made 300 blocks total! How did my hands feel by the end? Ha. Haha. Hahaha. Horrible. But you can’t show weakness in front of the guys! So I pretended I was fine and tried to adjust what I was doing so that I could spread the abuse out over my whole hand.
You’ll also be happy to know that the “Princess” nickname is now officially a thing. ALL of the masons have started calling me Princess Lara, plus some other various people in town. I just go along with it because that’s way easier than trying to fight it. Plus, who doesn’t want to be a princess?

Everyone went to Juapong in the afternoon because it’s market day there! A bunch of us wanted to buy fabric, and Avy’s birthday is tomorrow, so I had to secretly buy supplies for her surprise birthday cake. I got in touch with the same woman who made the cake for Evans’s birthday, and this time I asked for it to just be a chocolate cake because the last one was a swirl, and the chocolate part was so much better (though they were both good). Anyway, I was hoping that Avy wouldn’t come with us, but no such luck. Instead, we had to make up some clever stories to split up and sneak around the market, hoping she wouldn’t see us. There was one close call when I was trying to buy eggs and had to stop mid-sentence to run away from the egg stand, but I think we’re okay. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow! And hopefully she’s a good sport and plays along even if she knows.

The cassava sticks we planted (the little angled sticks coming out of the ground)

This was a great day! I feel like the last week has been so productive, and today was no exception! James, Yara, and Anna were travelling for the weekend, so it was just me at the farm this morning. I was nervous about managing to wake up and motivate myself to go without any company, but it actually wasn’t that bad. AND I got to do something new at the farm! We planted cassava sticks. You start out with a pile of sticks that are about 4’ long, dig a hole, shove the stick in, push the dirt back around it, and chop it with your machete to be 8-12” long. I haven’t gotten to use a machete to actually cut things in a while, but don’t worry, my skills are still exceptional. After John showed me how to do it, he and Anthony watched me try once to make sure I had it right. No pressure. My machete instincts took over, and I chopped that cassava stick like a Ghanaian. Yes, you should be impressed. I ended up planting most of the little field by myself, so I must have convinced them that I knew what I was doing.

Before they started work today, there were no walls at all. This was at the beginning of the day when I arrived and they had been working for an hour or so.

I was the most excited about the next part of my morning… I got to help with the construction at the clinic! I’ve been telling Joe for weeks that I want to help, and a couple days ago he finally asked me if I wanted to go and work. We headed over after breakfast, and after I jokingly gave him a hard time for saying hi to a guy on a motorbike without asking for a lift, he called one of his uncles to take us there. Yes, it’s less than a 15 minute walk, but it was hot and as Joe pointed out, princesses don’t walk. I guess that nickname is going to stick, but if it comes with motorbike benefits, I’ll keep any complaints to myself.

Elisha and me carrying mortar to one of the masons.

We got to the clinic, Joe shoveled some mortar for maybe a minute, and he vanished. I didn’t know where to go or what to do, so I just stood out of the way and watched how they did things until the guy mixing the mortar, Elisha, called my name. He knew my name! I was excited about that, and when he said, “do you want to help…”, I’m pretty sure my whole face lit up, and I ran over without even waiting to hear what he wanted. I started out by just helping him carry the mortar to the masons who needed it. They were starting to put the walls up, and honestly, I didn’t mind standing around just watching for a while because it was cool to see how they did things. Anyway, I gradually started getting more responsibilities. I got to mix mortar with Elisha, shovel sand, clean the site, measure things, make sure walls were straight, wind up the strings (that they use to line up the blocks), carry blocks, fetch things, etc. You know, all of the high-level tasks. I was just happy to be there. I felt like I was part of the team when Senyo, one of the masons who is really good, made me his designated tape measure holder. After that, he started trusting me to break blocks for him! When there was a gap that needed a block smaller than a full one, he measured, told me the size he needed, and I broke it to that size.

Breaking one of the blocks. Refer to the dreaded ax hammer in my hand.

They kept asking me if the work was hard or if I was tired, and I kept saying no because I wanted to prove myself. They asked if the sun was too hot and told me I could go in the shade, but I shook that off too. I was doing fine until my hands started to fail. I had gloves with me but obviously didn’t use them because no one else uses gloves, and I don’t want to look soft. I know, stupid. Extra stupid when the tool they use to break the blocks is a mini-ax with a handle that’s like a piece of rebar (imagine a metal cylinder with a thick metal wire wound around it… aka not smooth at all). I got to the point where I couldn’t even break a block because of my blisters. Senyo figured out my issue, felt my palm, shook his head, and said, “too soft,” before showing me his hand for comparison’s sake. I have a lot of work to do.

Shoveling sand to mix more mortar.

When it was time for me to go home for lunch, I said goodbye to everyone and headed out with Joe. I actually think that they looked sad to see me go! They were all saying, “wait, you’re leaving??” That made me feel better because I was a little worried that they were just tolerating me because they felt like they had to, even though I told them that I was happy to help if I could but would happily stay out of the way if I would just be a bother. I told Joe to follow up and see if they’d be okay with me coming back because I really enjoyed myself.

For the way home, Joe asked if I wanted to take another motorbike. I said, “oh no, we can just walk,” and he looked at me, shook his head, and said, “no, it’s too hot.” Well like I said before, I’m not going to argue with a free ride. He had trouble getting in touch with anyone, said we just had to walk, and we got about 50 feet down the road before someone stopped to pick us up. That’s the princess life, I guess.

This is what it looked like when I left. They were pretty close to finished for the day by the time I left, but they did add a bit more afterwards.

The rest of the day was quiet. I was exhausted after working for 5 hours in the sun during the morning, so I mostly just hung out and enjoyed some time in our mostly empty house. Clarina left around 3PM, and I stood with her by the street until she got a tro tro straight to the airport. I really am an emotional mess now when it comes to people leaving. I almost started crying AGAIN. I can’t even think about the fact that someday soon it’s going to be my turn.
Anyway, for now, I’m going to ignore that unwelcome truth and instead focus on enjoying my weekend with the house basically to myself. It’s so nice to have some quiet and time to sit and relax without a million things going on around me. At least until tomorrow when new volunteers come, AND NICK IS COMING!

 

Anna carrying some branches

Our farm numbers were back down today; only Anna and I went. We were rewarded with a morning of carrying massive palm branches from a nearby farm to ours. The pig house roof is made from palm branches, and it broke in a couple places. We cut new branches (by “we cut” I mean John and Anthony cut and Anna and I carried) to replace the ones that were crumbling. I was just happy to have something new to do, and it was a fun challenge to carry the branches without toppling over or running into anything. Plus, the actual labor wasn’t very hard which was a nice change from hoeing.

Measuring the boys

After breakfast, I took a trip to Baptist to see some of the kids getting measured for new uniforms. Avy is using some of her donated money to replace the uniforms of some kids whose are in bad condition and whose families aren’t able to afford new ones. I don’t know that the kids understood what was going on, but I can’t wait to see their reactions when they get their new uniforms!

Working hard

I didn’t spend the whole morning at the school as usual because Joe and James were taking cement to the clinic and asked me to come along and help. Turned out that they really didn’t need help because you only need two people to pull/push a cart with five cement bags on it. Joe told me to get on the cart too, and I thought he was kidding until he stopped walking and insisted. Well okay, I’m not going to refuse a ride if it’s repeatedly offered. I got on, and he and James took me the whole way there. I don’t think the people in town had seen anything like it before because they were all laughing and taking pictures. Joe started calling me Princess Lara, and I’m a little worried that it’s going to stick.

We dropped the bags off, and I feel like I made up for my ride there because I pulled the cart most of the way back to the market and insisted that James ride for part because he was whining about being tired from the malaria (but then refused to take it easy, so what can you do?).

If you were wondering how John managed to nail the roof in the middle of the poop hole…

I took it easy for a couple hours after lunch because it’s so incredibly hot, and around 3PM, John stopped by to pick me up and walk over to the farm. I decided that I couldn’t keep procrastinating on this poop hole roof, especially since it’s been raining and the hole is just going to keep getting wetter (the hole is to turn the pig poop into fertilizer for the farm). Really, it’s stupid that I’d been putting it off because I didn’t even need to build the roof. John and Anthony built it, and I just had to supervise and make sure they did what we wanted.

Presenting: the most fabulous poop hole roof ever!

We fixed the last two columns in place, added the beams to support the roof, and put on the roofing material. I can now confidently say that this is the most beautiful and intense poop hole in all of Ghana (*disclaimer* this statement is pure speculation. But really, how much competition can there be?). The whole thing took maybe an hour and a half, and after seeing the construction in action, I’m positive that having them do it was the right choice (even if it wasn’t totally intentional). John took about three hammer swings to do what would have taken us ten, and I’m pretty sure that we wouldn’t have been able to manage parts of it. Anyway, it’s finished now, and I’m happy for that. All that’s left is to finish filling in the dirt around the walls… ehh that’s a project for another day!

The P3 outdoor chalkboard. We’re really excited about the P3 teacher because he was so determined to not let the day go to waste. With this, they were able to have normal class, just with better ventilation.

Okay so I apparently know nothing about the size of our farm because when we got there this morning, guess what John handed us? Machetes. More sowing. I could tell that Anna was a little bummed that we were doing the same thing, but like I said, it’s just because this is her first week. I’d be happy to sow every day until I leave if you told me I’d never have to hoe again.

Mixing the sand and cement for the new floors.

This time, we went to another field that I didn’t even know existed. How have I been working on the farm for 2 months now without having any clue about how big it actually is? Crazy.

P3 classroom – “Before” shot. The light parts are where the floor still is and the dark parts are all of the holes.

The floor after they tore out the old one.

Starting to put the new floor in.

The finished product!

School today was kind of awesome. They’re redoing the floors in some of the classrooms because they’re in such terrible condition (I think I mentioned this before?), and the work started today on two of them. That obviously means that those classes (P2 and P3) couldn’t use their classrooms, so they moved all of the desks outside and they had class underneath the big trees in the schoolyard. The P3 teacher had a makeshift chalkboard, and Avy and I taught P2 using little whiteboards. One of the things I love about being here is that there’s a much smaller separation between the indoors and the outdoors. At home, we’re so cut off from nature. Here, it feels like the indoors and outdoors are less segregated… each one is like an extension of the other.
Avy doing song time during one of the breaks.

The P2 teacher, Everlasting, was overseeing the construction, so Avy and I took over his class for him. Avy did some reading stuff with them and I taught them about greater than, less than, and equal to in Math class. The difference in where the kids are skill-wise never ceases to amaze me. Some of the kids got it no problem when we gave them exercises, and others totally did not. I spent some extra time with one girl in particular who got all of them wrong. I wrote out all of the numbers from 1-100, and I pointed at them one by one while she said their names. We got to about 49 with no issues and then everything fell apart. No wonder she couldn’t do greater than and less than… she didn’t even know what the numbers were. We practiced that for a little while and then I moved on to the greater than/less than stuff. I can’t say that I think she understood it completely when we finished, but hopefully it was a bit better. The other thing you need to remember is that we have a language barrier, especially with the younger kids, so me explaining anything is a lot of hand motions and acting and pointing. Not ideal.

Me teaching about the greater than/less than fish who likes to eat the bigger number. This is actually still how I think about which way the symbol goes…

After lunch, Avy and I went back with Evans, one of the staff members from VCO (the org we’re here with), and checked out the drainage issue at the school. Evans has some architecture training, so the two of us tried to come up with an inexpensive but acceptable solution. Basically, the school is a U-shape and all of the water pools inside the U because of how the land slopes. There are two drain pipes at the bottom of the U, but they are way too small to handle all of the water. So the schoolyard floods and eventually overflows into the school building and the classrooms. Good, right? I mean, I look at the design of the school and where they decided to put it on the site and just shake my head. Anyone who took one second to think about it would have been able to tell you that there would be a problem. We came up with something, and hopefully they’ll get the funding to do it.

Seriously the best classroom… as long as it doesn’t rain.

We have another project planned for the school, so after we left, Avy, Clarina, and I went to Juapong (about 3 towns away) to buy some nails. Some of the desks at Baptist are in really horrible condition. Some are missing pieces, some are clearly falling apart, and ALL of them wobble. I can’t even imagine trying to learn while also trying to avoid getting stabbed by the nails sticking out of my desk. Anyway, we bought some nails and we’ll see how things go.