Us with an American flag at the beach volleyball court

Whew! It’s been a while since we last talked, but for once, it’s not because I’m just super far behind on updating you. This time, the delay is because of a much-needed vacation! I’m actually in the States at the moment, and I have been for a couple of weeks now. I’m headed back to Peru soon, but it’s been a very refreshing time catching up with friends and family.

The last two weeks in Peru before I left were fun and busy. During the first week, we had another mission team visiting, this time from Kansas City, Missouri. Like I said in my last post, this was an extra exciting team week for me because the team included a couple of electricians!! I spent the two weeks before the team came trying to get everything ready for their service projects, and the electrical projects added some extra complexity into the usual planning. It was cool, though, knowing that I was going to get to watch everything come together. I guess it’s kind of the same with the building project, but that seems like a much more overwhelming situation whereas the team projects feel manageable.

Brown brown brown neighborhood
The neighboring neighborhood (hehe) where a bunch of our families live. You can see some of the team members climbing up the hill!

The demographics of this team were also a little different than what is typical. Often, there are a few team members in their teens, maybe one person in their 30s, and everyone else is 40s and up. This team had the whole range of ages represented, but there were more 30-somethings than the usual. It felt a bit like hanging out with my friends from home which was a lot of fun.

The team with our neighborhood in the background
The team!
The team's boat heading out to sea
Headed out on the boat ride! I haven’t been joining the teams for the boat ride recently because last time I went, the water was really rough and I mostly spent the ride with my eyes closed trying not to puke. Not my favorite feeling.

On top of all that, Betsi’s (a 3-week intern) mom came with the team, and Betsi filled her in on how much we like brownies (we’re basically in a constant state of desperate for anything that feels like home). She brought 5 BOXES of brownies with her. Talk about an MVP. They made three of them during the week and left two for us! I know that this probably doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but just trust me. There’s nothing better than having our weekly Sunday movie night with a warm brownie on the side.

Selfie with Dina and Betsi
Me with my friends Dina (she’s a translator at EA) and Betsi

In general, it was a great week. The brownies didn’t hurt. Also though, it was fun working with everyone, they got an amazing amount of work done, and the results of their hard work were super visible. For example, the property has felt very dark since the construction started because they took out some of the exterior lights, and there weren’t very many to begin with. The electricians installed a bunch of new lights outside, so the night after they put them up was the first in a long time where I was confident that I wasn’t going to unexpectedly walk into/trip over anything while walking around the property. Imagine that!

Electricians at work
The electricians installing some switches for the irrigation pumps we have underground
Disassembling the temporary roof on the bathroom
There’s been a “temporary” roof over the bathroom building for the last 5 years, but it needed to be removed because part of the new building is going on top!! The team helped to disassemble it. This new building is getting VERY real!
The bathroom without its roof
No more roof! And within an hour, the construction team was already storing materials up there… probably not the best idea structurally to have stacks of bricks on a roof not designed to hold them… but no one else seemed to think it was a problem sooo here we are.
Parade in Chilca for Peruvian Independence Day!
Colorful Barranco buildings
Lima sightseeing with the team!
Friends!
Jocelyn, me, Betsi, and Julie in Lima

I was the most excited about the lights along the sidewalk. They’re the first lights that I’ve picked out that I haven’t just felt neutral about. Usually, I’m picking things that are simply functional. These are functional, AND I think they look cool. They turned out exactly how I hoped, and the fact that we found lights that were actually what I was looking for is a miracle in itself.

Linear lighting underneath the walkway roof shade
The new walkway lights!! Aren’t they cool? (Feel free to keep your opinion to yourself if you don’t like them.)
Pump house with a new over-door light fixture
This is also the best thing… The front of this building used to be completely dark, so good luck trying to find the keyhole to unlock the door. But now there’s a light right above the door! And it’s also overgrown with the passion fruit vines, but that doesn’t matter for lighting the keyhole.

I’m going to totally overuse the word “exciting” in this post, but I’ve accepted it and you should too. Do you know what else was exciting? The construction! GUESS WHAT? We have our first ceiling!! It’s crazy because now I feel like I can really begin to imagine what the new building is going to look like. It’s the ceiling for the first floor on module 1, and that’s the side of the building that’s adjacent to the existing 2-story building. There’s a railing between them still, but you can climb over it and move from construction site to existing building. It’s awesome.

In the process of preparing to pour the floor/ceiling, they put in the electrical conduit (the tubes they’ll run the wires through) for the lights on the first floor and the outlets on the second floor. I had to dimension my drawings… talk about stressful! I had to make the exact final decisions about where things should go, and now there’s no changing my mind because it’s literally set in concrete.

Getting the ceiling ready for concrete
Almost ready to pour concrete! The big brick area is over/under classrooms. The corridor is the bricks to the left. The stairs are the bottom right where there is SO MUCH steel
Formwork in place for the stairs
Future stairs!
Electrical conduit zig-zagging the future ceiling/floor
This mess is all of my electrical conduits. Not quite the same way it would look in the States… Debbie and I went and checked to make sure that everything was in the right place before it was time to pour the concrete.
Ceiling with tubes in place
It looks like someone threw a handful of giant spaghetti at the roof and then decided to use that as a guide for the tube placement.
Pouring the ceiling
Pouring the ceiling!!!! We had two concrete trucks bring the material, and it was crazy how quickly it went compared to when they’re hand-mixing it
A dude with a board texturizing the top of the concrete
I was totally fascinated by the whole process. This guy came by after they made sure there were no air pockets in the pour and finished it off
Wet concrete on the stairs
Stairs!
Almost finished pouring the concrete
Just a little bit more…
Module 1 second floor!
The next day… voila! New floor!
Debbie using a hose to water the concrete floor
Debbie watering our new concrete floor to help it cure
Module 1 second floor with the beginnings of a wall and some columns
Wasting no time after putting in the floor… it took one second before they were working on the walls and columns for the second floor!
Two brick walls on the second floor
I love how quickly the walls go up
Finishing the second brick wall
Almost there!
Back view of Module 1 and the bathroom building
It’s starting to look like an actual building!

Since I left for vacation, they’ve been working on the ceiling on the second floor. Eek! It feels like they spent forever getting set up for the first ceiling, and I wasn’t prepared for Debbie to send me a picture of them already working on the next one. I feel like I’m missing too much! But I can’t be in two places at once, and this really has been a nice break. So, who even knows what it’ll look like when I get back? We’ll be surprised together.

Oh! I almost forgot. One more exciting thing! Every four years, in the year before the summer Olympics, the Pan-American Games are held. It’s like a mini-Olympics just for countries in the Americas. This year, Peru was the host country! Julie, Debbie, Jocelyn, and I bought tickets to watch beach volleyball. I don’t think any of us were expecting much, but it was a ton of fun. We cheered on a bunch of random countries until the last match where we got to see the U.S. women beat Paraguay in the quarterfinals (they ended up winning the gold). It was cool getting to see an international competition live. Now I feel like I need to go to an Olympics someday!

Us with a Lima 2019 sign... and the "9" is cut off
We asked someone to take our picture… and this is what happened. LIMA 201!! Hahaha
Selfie with the sign
We decided we’d better just do it ourselves
El Salvador vs. Guatemala men's match
There were two courts: the “A” court with the big games, and this one, the “B” court with the losers’ bracket games. We went here first and had fun being 4 of maybe 7 people in the stands. We picked whichever country to cheer for and then screamed our heads off.
Selfie at the main volleyball court
At the main court
USA vs. Paraguay beach volleyball game
We moved closer before the USA match, and we ended up with awesome seats!
Us with an American flag at the beach volleyball court
Julie, me, Jocelyn, and Debbie with Karissa Cook of Team USA! We only saw one other group of U.S. fans, and we asked them after the game if we could take a picture with their flag. Pretty sure they were Karissa’s family because they called her over to be in the picture too (and she listened to them haha).

What a crazy week! I’ve been trying to get as much of the electrical stuff finished as possible, but I’m running out of time, and there’s so much to do! Then yesterday, I gave a presentation to a few of the staff about electricity in general, the electrical system here, and lighting design basics. It was fun getting to share my knowledge and knowing that everyone was actually interested in learning about the things I presented. Debbie translated and did an amazing job. Knowing how to speak Spanish and knowing how to speak construction Spanish are two very different things!

At the beginning of this whole adventure, I thought that it would be nice to have a break from lighting and electrical work. I was adamant that I wanted to do something different. I’ll admit that I have enjoyed growing in other areas, but these last few weeks of electrical work have been much more enjoyable than I would have guessed. It’s nice to know that I do enjoy the field that I spent seven years training/working in because there have definitely been times where I’ve second-guessed my choice. These last couple weeks have pushed me to learn and do new things with my knowledge. I get to walk around and investigate and measure and make real decisions, and I don’t spend all day sitting at a desk. It’s so satisfying to make my brain work on a higher level!

It kind of looks like actual Emma Watson is in this picture.

Today was the beginning of Lara’s Last Weekend of Fun, Peru edition. What could be better than a princess day to start things off? Tony, Debbie, Julie, and I went to see Beauty and the Beast, and it was so good!! We had to go into Lima to find a theatre with Spanish subtitles and English audio rather than a dubbed version, and it was so worth the effort.

Piñata time!

Part two of Princess Day was a 4-year-old’s princess-themed birthday party. During the week when the team was here, we had a translator to help out with things. She is super cool, and we got to spend a lot of time together that week. The birthday party was for her daughter, so it was triply fun because I got to experience a Peruvian birthday party, pretend I was a princess, AND see our friend again!

Purple is definitely her favorite color, and Sofia the First is kind of a big deal.

The party was, as you might imagine, somewhat insane. I’m all hyped up on sugar right now because I basically just ate candy for 3 hours. The party consisted of some games for the kids, lots of sugary snacks, dancing, princess dresses, and a piñata. In other words, it had everything required to be considered a fabulous success. It was funny seeing the kids go from being kind of shy and quiet at the beginning to wild and crazy after they got some sugar pumped into them. Sugar never fails.
In conclusion, life is great, sugar is magical, and every day should be Princess Day.

Thank goodness it’s Friday because I’m ready for a break! All of the thinking I’ve done this week has taken a toll on me. I know that sounds pathetic, and it’s not like my time here has been mindless. It’s just a different kind of thinking, and one that generally leads to me sitting in a chair for extended periods of time. Yes, it’s kind of like I’m back in an office job. It’s okay though… it might be a weird adjustment back to what feels like a former life, but I’m enjoying the challenge and the brain workout.

My home away from home

Yesterday I actually did spend the entire day at my desk. I did a little more background research and checked out the building plans that they have. The plans aren’t terrible, but after looking at them, I had the feeling that they might not be completely right. That’s how, today, I found myself surveying Building A (I still have to do buildings B and C). I did the easy part this morning. I went through and checked to make sure that the outlets and light fixtures shown on the drawings were actually installed. That part was extra fun because I put my computer in tablet mode, opened the PDFs of the plans, and used my stylus to draw on them. I felt super cool, and I got to use pretty colors. That’s all that’s required to make it a good day… having an excuse to draw with pretty colors.
The brain frying part of the day started after lunch when I looked more closely at the plans and realized that they contradict themselves. The information about what is connected to what is completely wrong. Ugh. That makes this a much bigger job than anticipated, and to do it right, it would take longer than the time I have left. I’ll just have to do my best.

Debbie using three frying pans to make three pancakes at a time.

Now I’m sure you’re bored out of your mind… sorry. The problem is that this is my life right now, so I can’t just make up something more exciting. Probably the most exciting parts of the last two days were dinner yesterday and dinner today. Apparently Thursday nights are pizza and movie nights for the kids! Delia made a bunch of pizzas, and Julie and I helped hand them out and then hid in the kitchen and chowed on the leftovers. Tonight, we made pancakes and slathered them in peanut butter and Nutella. It’s been a healthy couple of days because cheese has calcium, sauce is a vegetable, I needed some carbs to get me through our run this morning, peanut butter has protein, and chocolate is good for your brain. And I skipped dessert BOTH nights!

I don’t know that I’m really cut out to be a teacher. The last three days have proven to me that I like kids a lot more when I’m not spending all day in a classroom with them. Maybe that sounds horrible, but some people are “kid people”, and some are not. More and more, I’m convinced of my place in the latter category. For any of you who have never taught before, you can just trust me on this… Preschool and elementary school teachers are cut from a very special mold.

While the fabulous teachers here have been getting back into the swing of the after-school program, I’ve been holed up in the office with Debbie… hence the lack of pictures again today. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take a picture of my desk so that you can see where I’ve been spending my days. Exciting, right?

Actually though, it has been exciting. This might be super nerdy (okay it’s definitely super nerdy), but I spent yesterday doing research to help me understand the electrical system here. I had some awesome “ah-ha!” moments where things I’ve learned a hundred times finally clicked, and I think I made some real progress with making a plan of action. Even if I can’t come up with any great recommendations that can fix all of the electrical problems here, I can at least pull together some documents that show the existing system. The current documentation is lacking a bit because the ‘design’ was mostly just done in the field by the electrician and documented later. I think it would be helpful for them to have some drawings that are up-to-date and accurate.

Today was even more fun! Debbie let me play architect a bit, and we talked over some ideas for how to update the master plan for the property. It was last done fully in 2014, and the ministry and vision for the future have changed a lot since then! We got to walk around the property, measuring things and sharing thoughts, and then spent some time sketching up our ideas.

Dinner tonight was the dreaded chicken soup… usually, chicken soup is a Tuesday night event, and Debbie and I thought we had outsmarted the system by making our own dinner last night. Instead, I guess the system outsmarted us.

When I use the word “dreaded”, that makes it sound like no one likes it, but that’s not the case. Really, just Debbie and I don’t like it. I’m not a huge soup fan anyway, but this soup has all of the parts of the chickens that don’t make the cut for lunch. That includes feet, livers, necks, etc. Yum. The rest of the soup is actually not bad… tonight there were noodles, potatoes, carrots, corn, and a few other things I’m sure. But I’m not interested in stumbling upon a chicken foot in my soup bowl. Thankfully, I think Delia knew that and didn’t give me any chicken parts. Potential crisis averted.

In summary: brainstorming + research + sketching – chicken feet = a good day!

School started today! Our schedule has completely shifted now, and it’s going to take a little getting used to – mostly because eating times have shifted and that changes everything. Here’s how the new schedule is going to go:

5:30AM – the kids wake up

6:00AM – we wake up (on running days… on other days we can sleep later)

6:15-6:45AM – run time

7AM – kids’ breakfast

7:40AM – kids depart for school

9AM – worship

11:30AM – staff meeting, Monday and Friday

2PM – I help set up for lunch

2:30-3:00PM – lunch

3:30-5:30PM – after-school program (which I’m not involved in)

5:30-7PM – overnight program kids shower, do laundry, do chores, etc.

7-7:30PM – dinner

8:30PM – kids’ bedtime

I wasn’t completely sure about what I’d be spending my last 3 weeks here doing, but don’t worry, I figured it out today. Debbie had a bunch of questions about the electrical system here and some issues that an inspector doing an unofficial inspection came up with. She wants me to study the electrical system and keep an eye out for a few things. To name a few: if anything jumps out as unsafe, if the equipment is sized appropriately to accommodate the new buildings they’re planning, and if there are any other things that should be looked at more closely. They also want me to check out the electric bills and see if they seem reasonable.

With all of those things together, I’m going to have more than enough to keep me busy for the rest of my time here. I’m happy though. I feel like I’m being of real use and have been doing things that actually take advantage of my skills and background. That’s a good feeling to have!

Debbie and I spent the whole afternoon going over what she knows and then walking the property so that I could check out the equipment for myself. Maybe this is weird, but I’m excited to get started! I’m going to learn a lot by doing this. It’s much more hands-on and involved than anything I did while working, and I’ll definitely have to do some research and studying in order to be successful (electrical friends – expect a call from me! I’m going to do a lot of phoning friends for advice haha). It’s cool that I’ll have a real chance to figure things out and be able to make recommendations that will be taken seriously. Hopefully I’ll be able to leave something useful behind!

Fun, right?

My only pictures today are of pumps and electrical panels, so enjoy this beautiful picture of a hole that 1) shouldn’t have water in it (so we’re off to a good start) and 2) I climbed into to get a closer look at a couple of septic pumps. Woo! If you want some slightly more interesting pictures, you can go back a couple posts to the one from Friday… I got someone else’s pictures from the staff team-building exercises and added them in!

​After having some time to relax and settle in yesterday, today we got to work! The morning started off at 9AM with a staff meeting… in Spanish. I’m going to put my comprehension at maybe 50%? And if I’m being completely honest, that might be a little high. Either way, I was proud of myself because I at least got the general idea of what was being discussed. I’m sure that more than a few details fell through the cracks, but expectations of my language skills are low, so no one is really expecting me to know much after group discussions and meetings.

The compound is located in a part of town where the properties are bigger and everyone’s lot is surrounded by walls. I never realized how nosy I am until I saw how much it bothers me not to be able to see what’s going on behind the walls. It also makes for a sort of ghost town feeling because everyone is hidden from view.

To give you a better idea of the dynamic, there are currently 5 of us who are from the US: Jim and Tony Kay (the directors who I mentioned before), Debbie (a Penn State architect!), and Julie (a teacher). Everyone besides me can speak Spanish, though they all mostly learned after arriving in Peru which gives me hope that I’ll at least have passable skills by the end of my 10 weeks. The national staff members obviously speak Spanish and have varying levels of English knowledge. When the group is together, Spanish is the language. Even though it makes it much harder for me to have any clue about what is going on, I’m happy that’s the case. It’s forcing me to work on my Spanish, and I can see how much better my experience will be once I feel more confident and can actually communicate back to people rather than just semi-understanding what they’re saying to me.

A five-week summer school is starting next week, and Debbie and I are teaching a “Mini-ingenieros” (mini-engineers) class together. We met once around the holidays when she was in the States to come up with some ideas, and today we had to actually plan out the classes and fill in some details. We have a much better framework now, but there’s definitely still a lot of work to do. To give you the gist, we’re going to talk about urban planning, transition into talking about building types and space planning, and have the kids each design the exterior of a building that takes up a “city block”. The hope is to inspire them to make some funky designs and interesting shapes and decorate them, and afterwards we’ll put everyone’s together to make a “kid city”.

Here you can see the one green part of the neighborhood up ahead to the right. Bright green grass looks very out of place in the middle of the desert!

Part 2 of the class is a robotics project that may or may not go well… Theoretically, we’re going to have the kids build these little, simple robots and then set them free in the city like it’s a robot takeover. That’s the current/still somewhat a work in progress plan, and Debbie and I are going to test build a robot next week. Cross your fingers for us because it should be interesting.
We have two classes of older kids (7-9 and 10-12 years old) and two classes of younger kids (2-6 years old). Obviously the younger kids aren’t going to be doing these projects, and we thankfully have only 30 mins – 1 hour with them each week. We’ll have three 2 hour classes each week with the older kids. The big challenge now is coming up with “engineering”-ish projects to do with the younger kids. Now accepting suggestions…

Besides planning our classes, I got to use some of my technical knowledge today! That was exciting because I was feeling a bit like this whole year was going to be me out of my element and not really using my education for anything. It wasn’t anything complicated, but they’re planning to add fans into some of the classrooms here, and I helped with some electrical investigation and gave a few options for how it could be done. Like I said, nothing too exciting or complicated, but I finally did something that made me feel like my knowledge from 5 years of college and 2 years of working could be useful in this context!

I didn’t do a great job of taking pictures today (aka I took zero), so the ones above are just more that I took while walking around yesterday. I’ll be better tomorrow!