Selfie in front of the ocean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View of the mountains from outside of the office.

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

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

One of the negatives and also sometimes positives of extended travelling is that you don’t necessarily have time to do a lot of research. I make sure that I hit the major sights (thank you, tripadvisor) and put a LOT of trust in the people working reception at my hostel to tell me what I should go see. Sometimes, that means that you know you should visit something, but you have no idea what it is… and then you go there and learn about it and are like, “DUDE! THIS IS SO COOL!”

SO COOL

For me, that happened with the Basilica Cistern, or Yerebatan Sarnici in Turkish (Sinking Cistern). The “basilica” part of the name comes from the fact that there was formerly a basilica on the site. I had no idea what it was, but I saw a bunch of tour groups going and the self-guided walking tour I was following mentioned it, so I figured I should check it out. I know, all of this makes me sound like a complete idiot, but sometimes the best way to learn about something is to just go and experience it (things I tell myself that may or may not be completely true… sometimes it’s probably good to have a clue, but that’s not the way I’ve been operating recently).

The Basilica Cistern was constructed during the Byzantine days, between 527-565AD by Emperor Justinianus I. It’s a ginormous underground water cistern, 140m x 70m and with 9m tall columns. The capacity is around 100,000 tons of water which translates to 26.5 million gallons. There are 336 columns total, placed in 12 rows of 28 columns. These are joined by arches and vaulted ceilings that carry the weight of the city above. The brick walls are over a meter thick, and they and the floors are plastered with a thick layer of special brick dust mortar for waterproofing.

Seemingly endless

The cistern was in active use until the Ottomans conquered the city. They preferred fresh water as opposed to sitting water, so the underground reservoirs went mostly unused with the exception of feeding the nearby Topkapi Palace gardens and a few homes. In the 1540s, a Dutch traveller visited Istanbul in search of Byzantine monuments. When he noticed residents pulling water out of their floors, they directed him to a staircase that led into the reservoir. He explored it using a small boat, took measurements, and published his findings in a book that piqued more Western interest in the cistern.

There were repeated renovations in the 1700s – early 1900s to reinforce various part of the structure, and it wasn’t until a major 1985 restoration that the complete scale of the cistern was discovered. After removing 50,000 tons of mud (and probably trash and bodies and who knows what else), the full height of the columns was visible.


You can see that the column capital (the thing at the top) on the closer column is different from the column behind it

The columns are all made of different materials and are of different architectural styles because, in classic ancient fashion, they were swiped from other structures. They always say that it was from ruined structures, but I like to imagine that there was a big column-pilfering problem in ancient times and sometimes people would wake up in the morning to discover that the columns on the local temple were gone… and then they would go steal some others and so on until someone finally sucked it up and just made some new ones. Estimates are that it took 7,000 slaves to construct the cistern, and that doesn’t even include the workforce required to build the 12-mile long aqueduct that fed it.


Check out those ceilings!

Tear column

There are three columns of particular interest. One is carved with the images of eyes and tears, paying tribute to the hundreds of slaves who died during construction. (It’s a good reminder that all of this amazing ancient stuff usually came at a high human cost.) The other two are normal columns, but the bases are two big Medusa heads that scholars think came from the Temple of Apollo near Ephesus (another city in Turkey), but no one knows for sure. One is sideways and one is upside down, a configuration explained by scholars as showing the change from pagan religion to Christianity. Other legends say that they were placed there for protection and are oriented that way to keep them from turning people to stone. I think that they were just so tired of moving them that they said, “This is close enough, we’ll leave them like this.”


Hey, Medusa
The girl who took this for me definitely thought I was a weirdo
Upside down selfie!
First view when walking down the stairs

Now, there are walkways for tourists to tour the cistern, unfortunately replacing the boats that were formerly used. That would have been awesome.

As I took the steps underground, my jaw literally dropped when I got my first look. It’s huge. I know, like duh it’s huge, but when you see it in person and realize that you’re underground, it’s unbelievable! And it was chilly down there which I suppose would have been nice if it wasn’t also chilly outside. My brain couldn’t even imagine the whole thing filled with water, and with no lights down there it would have been CREEEEEPY. Eek. Imagine going in there while it was full, with no clue what you were going to find in a little boat in the darkness with just a lantern. No, thank you. It probably smelled weird too.


I’m obsessed with this brick work

Anyway, despite the fact that I didn’t get to ride on a boat, it was spectacular. The space seems to go on forever, and when you think about the logistics that went into actually constructing it, it’s mind-blowing. All of that. Underground. Over 300 huge columns. So. Many. Bricks. And the ceilings are super high which means they had some sort of scaffolding. And then the aqueducts to feed it! Geez!

After wandering around much longer than anyone else and in a constant state of marveling, I made my way to the exit. Then, if you aren’t already aware of the expanse of the thing by the time you leave, you pop up on the surface, blocks away from the entrance. And it’s bright outside and noisy and bustling and you’re like, “WHAT IS HAPPENING?” because you just emerged from this underground cave and now you’re in the middle of the city. The whole transition was very confusing, and I felt like a time traveler or something.

In conclusion, the Basilica Cistern is super cool, and if you’ve ever wanted to feel like a time traveler, it’s the place for you. Except now that I’ve warned you, maybe you’ll just go and not feel it and think that I’m insane. Maybe I am.

You might be wondering how my Architecture, AutoCAD, and Laser Cutter class ended up going. It wrapped up about a week ago, and things didn’t quite go according to plan. I’m sure you’re shocked. I’m also going to maintain the claim that none of it was my fault, but I guess you can decide that for yourself.

Last time I talked about this class, I’m pretty sure I was recounting the saga of getting AutoCAD installed on the computers. Like I said, the program finally got installed, and I had my first software teaching experience. That all went well, at least in my opinion. I spent about 4 classes teaching different commands in the program.

Basically, I made a list of all of the things that I thought they should know how to do, and then I tried to put them into an order that made sense. I consulted some online AutoCAD tutorials, but there was a lot that I just made up on my own. Before each class, I would go into the lab and draw up practice exercises for each of the different commands. I tried to make things that would challenge the students who were catching on quickly but still be doable for the students who were a bit slower. That’s hard though! It never got easier, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I refused to move on unless everyone understood what was happening because I’ve been on the other end of this. There’s nothing worse than getting lost on something and then never being able to catch up because the teacher just keeps going.

After my four classes of instruction, I gave them a mini-project to design a house. I said that it needed to have 2 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom, but everything else was up to them. I really just wanted everyone to practice drawing, use the different commands I taught them, and be a little creative. Some of the students came up with some amazing designs. Some of the students came up with less amazing ones, but I know that they tried hard on the assignment. It was a very good way to see what level everyone was on. I also made them give little presentations about their houses. That was a mess and a half because no one wanted to present, but I forced them all to get up and say something about their houses anyway. Presentations are a part of life, and if you don’t practice giving them, you’re never going to be comfortable in front of a group!

One of the house designs. He said that he needed a lot of rooms because he has a lot of friends who are going to come and visit him.

The last week of the class was supposed to be laser cutting. I was going to have each of them design the exterior of a little house, use the laser cutter to cut out the pieces, and glue them together into a model. We got all the way to the week before the laser cutting portion of the class, and I still didn’t know how to use the laser cutter. I mean, I had an idea. I read the manual, did some googling, and asked Debbie (my architect friend from Peru) for some tips.

With no time left to space, Carineh (my friend who also worked at GTC and speaks Armenian) and I made plans with the guy at GTC who knows how to use the laser cutter to come in on the Friday before my last Monday class so that he could teach us. We asked the day before if he was free to meet sometime before noon, and he said that we could just call him when we were ready and he’d be there in 30 minutes. Okay, great… until we called at 10 and he was asleep, 11 and he said he was “waiting for something”, and 1 and he said that the workshop coordinator was supposed to talk to us. Huh?

I checked my email, and about 5 seconds earlier, I had gotten an email from her saying that we couldn’t use the laser cutter because we didn’t have approval to use it until October… which makes no sense because my class ended in August. We went to talk to her, and she said that we needed approval from the director,  she was on vacation, and we wouldn’t be able to get an answer until the end of the day. That wasn’t going to work. Even if we did get approval, when was I going to learn how to use it? Carineh asked why they hadn’t requested approval two months ago when they decided that I should use the laser cutter in my class, and her question was met with a blank stare. Wonderful.

This is one of the activities I drew up for the students to do during the final class.

Here’s the most ridiculous thing about the whole laser cutter story… I was literally sent to Gyumri because of the laser cutter. Originally, I was supposed to be placed in the technology center in Vanadzor, the third biggest city in Armenia (which means not very big). I talked to a woman who works for the organization that is responsible for the technology centers, and after we discussed some ideas for my class, she decided that I should use the laser cutter (even though I told her I had no clue how to use it), and that meant I had to be in Gyumri. She talked to Birthright, and my location was switched. Literally because of the laser cutter.

I decided to cancel that portion of the class because it just didn’t make sense to try to do it, and I didn’t need to be stressing myself out unnecessarily about another thing. Instead, we spent the last week doing more AutoCAD practice. I found some exercises online and also drew some things myself when there was nothing that I liked.

It actually went much better than I thought it would, and it was good because the students who were super fast workers actually had to spend the entire class working in order to finish the assignment. Perfect!

A mash up of the GTC staff and volunteers.

I can’t say that I was upset at all when the last class ended. This thing has been such a mess since the very beginning, and it took so much time outside of work to get all of my prep work finished. It was definitely a good experience to have. I hope that I never have to teach through a translator again (especially not while teaching computer software!), but I feel like now that I’ve taught it in that context, it could be fun to teach it in a normal class if the opportunity ever arises.

When I was talking to the jobsite coordinators for Yerevan about what job I wanted to have after moving to Yerevan, my only requirements were that I wanted to work for an NGO, I didn’t want to teach, and I didn’t want to deal with children. I need a break after this whole ordeal.

This has been a crazy week! It was one of those ones that simultaneously feels like a lifetime and a split second. It started out on a rough note… Last Thursday was our last class doing pre-activities before starting AutoCAD, so I wanted to check out the program after class to make sure that it was in English like they told me. That turned out to be the least of my worries because the program wasn’t even installed! On any computer! Maybe I should be blamed for not checking sooner, but I thought that considering 1) I was literally brought to Gyumri to teach AutoCAD and 2) when I asked how many computers had it and what language it was in, I got answers to both questions, it was safe to assume that the program was installed. Wrong.

I have no relevant pictures, so instead, you can enjoy a random selection of wildflowers and this nice sunset picture of Gyumri’s main square.

This was probably my first T.I.A. moment in reference to Armenia (for anyone who wasn’t around for Ghana, T.I.A. – This Is Africa – became our mantra anytime something happened that our foreign minds were unable to comprehend. Having that mindset makes it much easier to just accept it, regardless of how seemingly ridiculous, and move on). So here we are, the new T.I.A. This Is Armenia, aka I shouldn’t have assumed anything even though in my mind, that was a natural conclusion to draw.

I immediately told the workshop coordinator, and she seemed shocked. That was comforting… not. She assured me that it could be installed by Monday’s class, but with my expectations shattered, I didn’t let myself believe her. Since I only work at GTC on Mondays and Thursdays, I wasn’t going to be there again before class. I asked if she could send me a message when the job was finished so that I didn’t have to worry… guesses, anyone, about whether or not I actually expected to get a message? Correct, the answer is no, I didn’t expect to, and no, I didn’t receive one.

I sent follow ups on Saturday and Sunday and was assured that they would be ready in time… until Sunday at about 7:30PM when I got the “there’s an issue, it’s not going to be ready for tomorrow” message. Ah. At last. I made the call to cancel class because there was no time to prep something new for Monday, and even there was, we would have just been killing time.

Thanks to one very helpful and hardworking person at GTC, the computers WERE ready for Thursday, and AutoCAD WAS in English. Phew. So my class turned into a combined English/AutoCAD class as I taught everyone the English words for the different commands and other relevant words. It was interesting. I feel like no matter where I am, I’m teaching everything for the first time the absolute HARDEST way. In Peru, yeah, let’s teach kids about robots in Spanish. In India, sure, let’s teach Shakespeare to kids who are at a 4th grade reading level. In Armenia, perfect, let’s teach AutoCAD in English to people who only speak Armenian. On the bright side, if I ever do any of these things again, they literally can only get easier. I’m sure of that.

It actually went fairly well today which was encouraging. There’s a huge abilities gap in the class though, so some people catch onto things really quickly, and others have to be walked through every step. It’s going to be a challenge to keep everyone busy and challenged, but all I can do is my best. That’s just the way computer program classes are, and if you’re one of the fast people, you need to either find some ways to entertain yourself or help the slow ones.

My amusement of the week has been discovering the Armenian way of pronouncing English words. For example, I was helping my friend Carineh (Cah-ree-neh) out by buying some Twix bars for her class. I went into a little store near GTC, and the shopkeeper asked if I needed any help. Normally, I’d say no and just suffer through trying to find what I wanted, but I decided that the evil of trying to speak Armenian was less than the evil of poking around the tiny shop while being stared down.

Me: “Twix oonek?” (Do you have Twix? with Twix pronounced the English way)

Shopkeeper: “Huh??”

Me: “Twix?… Tweeks?… Tweeeks??… Tveeks???”

Shopkeeper: “Ah! Tveeks! Ayo?” (Yes? – She points to a normal size Twix bar.)

Me (relieved): “Ayo! Vetz.” (Yes! Six. – My attempt to tell her I needed six of them.)

Shopkeeper: “Medz?” (Big? – She points to a bigger Twix bar.)

Me (ready for this to be over): “Che, vetz.” (No, six. – Also holding up six fingers because obviously words aren’t working.)

Shopkeeper: “Ah. Vetz.”

She goes and gets six Twix bars and rings me up. Success in the slowest way possible.

This was not the first time that pronunciation completely eliminated our chances of being understood. My first week, we were trying to confirm that GTC has a laser cutter, so Carineh asked one of the guys who works there if he knew where the laser cutter was. She said it all in Armenian except for “laser cutter”, and he just blank stared at her until she said it a few more times with different emphases. Finally, we got an Armenian, “ah! You mean the lah-zer cooter!” Right. That’s exactly what we meant.

This week, I was explaining in Lar-menian (that’s what I’ve started calling the horrible Armenian I speak) what I teach at GTC, and I said “I teach a class on architecture (I said this in Armenian) and AutoCAD (not in Armenian because there’s no translation, except apparently pronunciation-wise)”. Again, blank stares from people who definitely know what AutoCAD is.

“AutoCAD?… Ow-toe-cad?… Ow-toe-cahd??”

Finally, a response, “OH! Ahv-toe-cahd!” But of course. How did I not see the “v” in AutoCAD? Silly me! Carineh said that’s probably because the Armenian word for “automatic” is “av-toe-maht” which makes sense, but at the time I was thinking “WHAT THE HECK??”

As a result of all of this, my current favorite thing is saying English words with a heavy Armenian accent whenever I don’t know the Armenian word. The best is that sometimes, I’m actually right because there either isn’t an Armenian word for it or they use the Russian word which sometimes sounds like the English word. Candy names are the most fun though: “Keet-kaht”, “Sneekers”, “Muh yev muh” (M and M), “Skeet-ulz”. I could keep going, but I’ll spare you for now.

 

I have a new project to work on! Since we’re off school today, Pastor Daniel took me to the Bible college in the morning to check out the construction work they’re doing. There are four buildings on the campus, and they’re currently adding a second floor onto one of them. The first floor is a big assembly hall, and now the second floor is going to have a conference room and some classrooms.

Work in progress… the part I’m supposed to be designing would be on the top of this building.

My task is to make a plan for the third floor. One of the ways they’re considering using the space is by creating mini-apartments that can be rented out to people who are travelling to Bhutan. Since we’re right on the border, hotels and short-term housing are in high demand, and this could be an easy way to generate some revenue for the school and the ministry.

That means I get to play architect again! I’ll probably give some lighting recommendations too, but I’m sure they’ll do whatever they were going to do anyway. I think it’s funny that whenever I say I’m an architectural engineer, it’s like people get bored and stop listening after I say the “architect” part.

Me: I’m an architectural engineer.

Person: Oh, you’re an architect!

Me: Well… not really. I’m an engineer specializing in lighting and electrical systems in buildings.

Person: Oh, you’re an architect!

Me: Yes.

The construction site. Not quite what you’d see in the States, but this definitely isn’t the States so it’s about what I expected. Watch your step!

Luckily, we did take some architecture classes, so I usually know enough to be able to satisfy whatever thoughts they have about what I can do. Plus, I DO have a minor in Architecture which is basically the same thing as a bachelor’s, right? (By the way, the answer to that is no, not even close.) Anyway, usually I’m fine. This task, for example, is simple. It’s not like they’re asking me to design the structure or anything (which is something that everyone assumes an architect can do on the spot… but like, there are structural engineers for that). I don’t have to tell them how to build it. The local builders know, much better than I do, how to build things here. What they want from me is more like the solution to a puzzle or a logic problem than a true architectural question: fit as many comfortably sized rooms as possible in this predetermined space.

 

Roof with a view! These roofs are my blank canvas. Imagine the possibilities!

Once again, I’m comforted by knowing what the alternative to me doing this would be. Like in the school, the alternative to me being the English Lit teacher was no one being the English Lit teacher. Here, the alternative to me designing the layout is someone with literally zero training just making something up. I can at least do better than that.

 

*Note: I know the title is dumb, but I think it’s funny so that’s all that matters.

I had a nightmare a few nights ago. I don’t remember a lot of the details, but I do remember being in a car with my mom, driving up a very steep road. When I say steep, I’m talking probably an 80-degree incline. We were halfway up when these massive spools of wire started flying down the hill towards us, and we avoided every one of them until the very last which left a foot-long gash in our back left tire. What does this dream mean? Who knows? But if we’re taking guesses, I’m going to say that those giant spools were probably filled with solder wire, and I’m officially having robot-inspired nightmares.

Explaining/demonstrating the soldering process

It’s amazing how wrong you can be when you take a guess at how long something is going to take. These robots are one of those times. Our time estimate: 3 classes. The actual: hahahahahahahaha. TBD. We got the kids as involved as possible in the assembly process, but some things, like the soldering, are not in the scope of things we’re comfortable letting the kids do. If we had only three kids in the class and could fully supervise and give them some training, maybe it would be a different story. With these circumstances, though, Debbie and I are doing all of the soldering. That led to a late night on Friday and another late night yesterday as we tried to get the C4 kids’ robots ready for their shells to be glued on today. We also had to do some jerry rigging to get the antennae to stay in place (it involves a complex system of dental floss – the strongest thread known to man – and hot glue), and the method we came up with was way too precise for most of the kids to handle (a lot of them are still at the age where detail work is a challenge. As architect and engineer, Debbie and I are trained in painstaking detail work).
The C4 city!

Aside from the extra hours yesterday, things went very well! We only have 2 classes with each older group this week, and we need to assemble our cities!… while also finishing the robots… Yesterday, we reviewed the city project, did some city planning by deciding where we wanted to put each building, and split into teams to paint/name streets, make stop signs, traffic signals, trees, and street lights, and glue the buildings into position. Everything is starting to look really cool! We had the C4 kids again today, and their city is almost completely finished. The trees, street signs, and other details got installed today. I’m excited about the work the kids have done!! I think they have a couple things left to finish, and hopefully Ingrid will give them some time before Friday to wrap everything up.
A few of the finished robots

The last robot steps are to glue on the shells that the kids decorated and test to make sure everything is functioning correctly. It was a lot of fun to see the kids play with their robots for the first time and how excited they got when the robots ran into walls and turned around like they’re supposed to (I was also excited because it seems almost inevitable that someone’s robot out of the 29 we made shouldn’t work… but fingers crossed because at this point, we’re still doing okay). At the risk of sounding like all I ever say is that everything is “great!”/“awesome!”/“so cool!”… the robot shells that the kids made are all of the above. I’ll work on some new adjectives, but for now, I’m going to back up my claims with photo evidence so that you can all agree with me.

Some intense glitter application

The C3 kids have one more class on Thursday, and they still need to finish up the details of their city. They’ve done some awesome (yeah, I know) work so far, though. Even the kids who seemed completely disengaged produced great buildings! Debbie and I also have to finish up their robot soldering and antennae installations before class so that they can glue on their caps. Thank goodness for class-less Wednesdays!
One of the girls working on her “stores”, complete with window displays, a swingset, and little puffball people with sequin eyes.

Some intent block-work

Finally, this afternoon was our last class with each of the younger classes. Julie deserves a round of applause (and a paid vacation) for helping me out every week. We started in her class (2-3 year olds) and decided to do another lego day because our creativity was wearing thin, and we had to mentally prepare ourselves for what we were doing in the C2 (4-6 year olds) class. No matter though… the kids loved it and stayed engaged for an entire hour. You count it as a win when you have seven 2-3 year olds doing ANYTHING (besides freaking out and trying to escape) for more than 20 minutes.
Making a hand-wall to keep the robot from falling onto the floor

Laughing about their three robots getting stuck together

With the C2 class, we were making robots! Nothing to the extent of the ones we did with the two oldest classes, but it was complicated enough. Debbie found these kits online (https://www.teachersource.com/product/scooterbots/electricity-magnetism?utm_source=blog&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=bots) which are nice and basic. In hindsight, it would be easy to get the parts for these on your own and make them for a lot cheaper, but it was nice to have something that we didn’t have to think about. Forty minutes and a lot of troubleshooting later, we had 10 working scooter bots! The kids loved them! I thought they were kind of dumb because they just vibrate and wiggle around, but even I have to admit that they’re fun. If I was 6, I would be pumped about them. After finishing the construction, they spent the rest of class running around and finding different places to play with their robots.
I may be exhausted, but I feel really good about the last couple days! Everything is coming together, and I think I understand why people keep teaching. There are some tough days, but when you get to see your kids grow and show them something new and exciting, it’s super rewarding.

You know what else? This is my favorite thing: Irma said that a ton of the kids are saying they want to be engineers now. How cool is that?!

​I think Tuesdays might be the most exhausting day of the week. I have 4 hours of classes on Tuesdays, which is also the case on Mondays and Fridays, but Tuesday afternoon includes the two little kid classes (C1 2-3 years and C2 4-6 years). I’m wiped and really need to get to bed, so I’m going to keep this short(er) and put in a few more pictures.

Working on their cities

The morning class was with C4, Ingrid’s kids. We had them do the same activity as the C3 kids yesterday, making their own city “maps” and including a bunch of different building types and other things that make up a city (roads, rivers, bridges, walls, etc). The kids have been so awesome with all of the activities we’ve done so far. They’re being creative and producing some really cool stuff. I’m excited to see what they create in the coming weeks, once we start building models and doing more interesting projects.

This was one of the more detailed ones in the class. How cool is that??
Hard at work

Lunch today was one of my favorites so far, Ají de Gallina. Debbie and I met once in the States when she was home for the holidays to talk about our class, and she made a Peruvian dinner… yup, you guessed it – Ají de Gallina. That was my first exposure to Peruvian cuisine, and I think it might have a special place in my heart because of that (and also because it’s good). Here’s an attempt at an explanation… I’m going to try to get this right. There’s a bed of rice and lettuce, a thick sauce on top that is made up of chicken that has been boiled and shredded plus some ground yellow pepper and other things, a hard-boiled egg, and potatoes. I don’t know how to describe it beyond that, so the picture is just going to have to be enough.

The sauce looks a little weird, but just trust me when I say it’s good!

After lunch, Julie and I attempted to wrangle the little kids. We decided to do an activity with crayon rubbings of different objects to explore texture. Yes, I know… not the most “engineering” like, but it’s hard to find stuff that will entertain the kids in this age group. For the youngest group, we just showed them what to do, dropped a bunch of objects on the table, and helped them scribble all over their papers. For the older kids, we drew shapes on the papers, had them do the different rubbings inside the shapes, and then cut them out and made a picture. Shockingly, this managed to amuse them for a full hour, and some of the kids got really excited about it, running around trying to find other objects in the room that they could use for cool textures. Nice! Today was definitely busy, but at least it was a busy day with lots of successes.

The fact that this many of them are at the table is a miracle.
Getting the chair texture

I couldn’t get over how well they were doing! Very engaged and attentive!

​I can’t believe it’s only Monday. The whole “work every day” thing is starting to mess with my head to the point where I have no idea what day of the week it is anymore. It’s like I’m back in college again, and that’s an experience I vowed to never repeat. When we finally get to a day when I have nothing scheduled, I’m going to need to do some hardcore vegetating (preferably on a couch with a blanket and snacks) to make up for all of this go go going.

The winning tower. It was exactly my height 5′-7″ (170 cm), and I was terrified that it was going to fall on me when I was measuring it.

The kids doing a team building activity where the ground is lava and you can only stand on the bricks to get from the start to the finish.

We had Ingrid’s group, the oldest kids, for class this morning. Debbie had to bail on me to work on a time-sensitive project, so it was just me and Ingrid trying to manage the class. That’s great, except that Ingrid and I have some communication issues (aka she only speaks Spanish, and she speaks really quickly which makes it even harder for me to comprehend). Debbie explained some things to Ingrid ahead of time, but we still had to work out a few kinks during class. That consisted of Ingrid asking me things in Spanish, me squinting at her like I was brainless, her repeating herself, me responding with something that may or may not actually be relevant, her giving me a weird look, and me resorting to miming and charades (luckily, I’m a master of charades). To say that things went smoothly would be an outright lie, but I think I can honestly say that things went okay. The kids finished all of the challenges way more quickly than anticipated which left us with a bunch of extra time at the end, and we just gave them some free time to play until lunch.

Working on his map… Check out those road lines!

After lunch, we were back with Vanessa’s kids. Thankfully, Debbie was back. We talked about what kinds of things there are in cities (building types, roads/parks/plazas, rivers/hills/mountains, etc), looked at some examples of cities around the world (in video and photo formats… never have I ever before watched so many drone videos), and had the kids draw their own “maps”, including some of the building types we talked about, plus roads and a city border. Some of them took a little coaxing to get involved in the activity, but for the most part, they did a great job and came up with some cool drawings. One kid drew his dream beach house on one side of the paper and his city on the other, with a road connecting the two. Another kid got so detailed that he even put yellow lines in the middle of the roads.

Hard at work!

I was feeling pretty wiped after classes, but instead of having the usual free time before dinner, we had a meeting (Tony Kay, Jim, Julie, Debbie, and I) to talk about the service team that’s coming down next week. Esperanza de Ana, like many other international ministries, gets teams coming in from the US for weeklong service trips. I really appreciate the way those trips are approached by the team here. Often, weeklong trips are not very successful at utilizing the skills of the team members and filling a real need of the ministry. Here, everyone puts a lot of thought into how the team members will spend their time. They take an inventory of skills before making a plan and then try to come up with projects that are necessary and utilize people’s talents.
That’s all beside the point though. The point is, we all have a lot of extra things to do this week and weekend, plus next week, in order to make the whole process go smoothly. My biggest responsibility is cooking for the team. Luckily, since Delia (the chef) is here during the week, that only consists of one dinner and making scrambled eggs in the morning. I can definitely handle that.

For now though, I need to get to bed. If I’m going to survive the next two weeks, I have to take advantage of every opportunity to rest.