That’s right, folks. It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the moment we’ve all been working towards for over a year now. I could ramble and make you wait even longer, but I think we’ve all waited enough already. And so, now I’m going to do my very best to give you a virtual tour of the completed school building! (Note: a big thank you to David Espinoza for taking these pictures!)
So, there you have it!! What do you think? I know that it can be hard to get a feel for the building when there’s no furniture, so I have one more picture. Jocelyn’s classroom is all set up, and she sent me this after she moved in…
I hope you find these pictures as satisfying as I do! It’s been a long year and a long project… we deserve a little satisfaction!
If you think we’re all finished now with blog posts, don’t get ahead of yourself. The building may be finished, but the blog action is just getting started! Next time, we’re off to Canta, a town in Peru that we visited for a long weekend (don’t ask me how long ago we went there… you’ll find out the embarrassing truth soon enough). From there, we’re off to do some more South America exploring! So really, the fun has only just begun.
My final days at EA were full of fun holiday activities, but I had to balance those with the work that was still going on. The construction was in full swing, and I wasn’t going to be around through completion which meant I REALLY had to make sure I had my ducks in a row before leaving.
About one second after reviewing my to-do list, I gave up on the nice idea that I could get everything done before leaving Peru. There was simply too much to do, between finishing the drawings and organizing the documents/construction pictures/files in a somewhat intuitive way for someone else to be able to find information in the future. Instead of rushing to get it done and doing a mediocre job after working so hard to do a great job on everything else, I decided to leave the things that could be done remotely to the future… a big ‘ole gift from past-Lara to future-Lara (that present-day-Lara has been ignoring… I know, I know. I’m going to get it all done, I promise! I just know that it’s going to be a pain in the butt, and I haven’t built up the courage to face it yet. Past-Lara is always sending me the absolute worst presents. It kind of makes you want not to open them, you know?).
So, I made the electronic work second priority because I could technically do it from anywhere. That freed me up to focus on the things that I could only do while in Peru and onsite. I gathered info sheets/manuals/etc. for the products we used and scanned/filed them. I took pictures of the light fixture boxes to document exactly what was installed. I sketched a diagram to further detail the fire alarm system installation because it was happening after I left, and I was worried that the drawings alone were confusing.
My electrician best friend, Hector, and I strategized a few things that weren’t totally worked out during the design phase. I’ll admit that I was kind of hoping they would vanish or solve themselves, but that’s generally not how things work, especially when you’re the only one responsible for that aspect of the project.
I learned the most during this phase of the project. As I spent more time with Hector and understood more about how everything fits together, I realized where I should have designed things differently or been more particular about their installation. If I ever design a building in Peru again, I will do a MUCH better job!
One of the things I had been avoiding was figuring out the internet situation, but this was mostly because I knew it was going to be a mess. Let me try to explain, and if it sounds totally ridiculous, you’re understanding it correctly. The property has four phone lines used for internet. Ideally, we would get a new line for the new building, so we called the internet company to ask about doing this and they sent a guy to talk through it with us. Here’s the gist of the conversation:
Internet man: Well, we aren’t selling new phone lines for internet because we’re focusing on fiber. Me: Okay, then can we get a fiber connection? Internet man: No, it’s not yet available here. Me: When will it be available? Internet man: Sometime this year. Maybe. We hope. (Our translator Dina was there and said not to put much faith in this claim because they’ve been saying the same thing for years.) Me: … Internet man: There’s also another option! This is good for businesses and other clients who need more reliable service. It’s better than fiber and comes with any service or troubleshooting included. Me: Okay, can we get that? Internet man: No, it’s not yet available here. Me: Soooo… what do you suggest we do? Internet man: Wait for fiber to get here. It should be this year. Probably. I think.
Promising (not). I did at least get him to help me decide what to do for the cabling within the building. My goal was for it to work well whether it’s connected to a phone line or (maybe someday eventually) fiber and won’t be immediately outdated. Then, Hector helped to ensure that we were buying the right cables and connections and such.
Hector also installed the projector mounts, ran an HDMI cable from each projector location to a wall box at outlet height, and installed the HDMI outlets so there’s not just a cable sticking out of the wall. We didn’t order these outlets until later in the construction process, and I didn’t realize that they’d need more space in the wall than a typical outlet… so Hector literally drilled through the backs of the boxes into the brick wall to make extra space. I’ll admit, sometimes Peruvian construction methods frustrate me, but the “make it work” attitude came in handy in this situation!
I also made a teeeeny mistake with the wire colors. Basically, you’re supposed to use three colors in a certain order in the panel, and I mixed up the order. Luckily, Hector realized it before he connected the wires, and after a brief panic, I realized that it could be fixed by moving the circuits around in the panel. Phew! But, that changed the circuit numbers which meant that every single drawing had to be updated to match… it was a big headache, but crisis (mostly) averted!
The building still had a ways to go when I left. The major things: the roof wasn’t finished yet, and they weren’t planning to paint until January which meant that neither Debbie nor I have seen the actual completed building. It’s a little funny.
NEXT TIME… completed building pictures coming your way!! I’m VERY excited about this.
I think I’ve maybe had half a second to catch my breath since I last wrote. My gosh, the last four weeks have been insane. I don’t even know where to begin… The first two weeks were busy, but that was expected. We had two church groups come back-to-back, and team weeks are always crazy and exhausting. Then, instead of having a chance to recover, Debbie and I had to scramble to put together up-to-date drawings of the entire property. I’ll talk about that later. Let’s start with the team weeks so I don’t start rambling. This will be long enough as it is.
The first team was from Gateway, the same church that sent the last team we had in July. I had met the two team leaders on the July trip, so it was both fun to see them again and to meet the new people who came with them. I was nervous going into the week because I was totally in charge of the service projects for the first time (Debbie was still at least somewhat involved during the other team weeks), but it ended up being great! It was nice to have more autonomy and be able to adjust the plans based on how things were going without worrying about overstepping.
The team only had 8 people which, I have now decided, is the perfect size for a team. It was enough people to get things done but not so many that I had to manage like 20 projects at once. I had people working on just a few different things, giving me time to slow down and help with the work rather than having to constantly run from group to group to supervise.
They did a ton of little things here and there, but the big project of the week was to build a bamboo shade structure in the front entry area where the kids wait for their parents to pick them up and parents wait for meetings and such. In the summer, the sun is brutal, so without any shade, it’s not the most welcoming environment. I had some big dreams for how much work we could accomplish each day… I actually thought we would have the structure assembled by the end of the week. Ha! We only got as far as finishing the foundations and cutting/prepping the bamboo for the structure. Still, they did an awesome amount of work, and it was super precise which is the most important thing.
At the end of the week, it was sad to say goodbye to our new friends, but we had only four hours to mourn them in the airport food court before the next team arrived. Julie, Jocelyn, and I said hello to the next team with as much enthusiasm as our “it’s 1:30AM and we’ve been at the airport for five hours after an entire day out” selves could muster (for me, it was “not much”).
And so, team week #2 began! We got permission to skip the usual Sunday activities because we “looked like death” (accurate, I’m sure) and spent the day sleeping instead. That night, it was right back to work. Thankfully, the second team was similarly fun, small, and easy to work with, so what could have been a disaster of a week was actually pretty good. They kept working on the shade structure from the week before and got the frame assembled! They also rebuilt an entire bamboo fence and planted some ground cover… it was a busy week!
We all hibernated the weekend after they left. I felt like my brain was complete mush, plus I was physically exhausted from running around for two weeks (this is me giving you excuses for why I didn’t write an update that weekend).
I would have loved to take it easy the next week and use that time to pull myself together a bit, but NOPE! No time for that! Like I mentioned before, Debbie and I had to update our drawings for the entire property to submit to the municipality. They’ve submitted drawings before, but the electrical drawings were a disaster. Besides the fact that I don’t think they look very nice, a lot of the information on them isn’t even correct! Or it doesn’t even make sense which gives me very little confidence in the people who are approving them. I suppose we could have just submitted similarly incorrect drawings again, but if you think I could ever convince myself to do that, you don’t know me at all.
And so, the next week and a half were spent mostly on that. Thankfully, the deadline kept getting pushed back. I thought originally that I was going to have 1 day to finish them. Now, I laugh that I ever imagined that was possible. I mean, I could have had SOMETHING done, but it would have been embarrassing. Instead, I spent 7 days squinting at my computer screen and tearing out my hair trying to understand the current drawings. Oh, and we had another surprise day off of school/work for All Saints’ Day… but I had to spend the day working because of the darn drawings. (Don’t talk to me about this as I’m still a smidge bitter.)
As a result of my weeklong vigil in front of my tiny computer screen, I’m pretty sure my brow is now permanently scrunched, and I have a hunchback and arthritis in my hands (no, I’m not dramatic at all. NEVER). So that’s good. But, what’s actually good is that my drawings are now finished, they look beautiful, and they’re kind of correct. And still kind of not correct, but it would take weeks of poking around the property and head scratching to fix all of the problems. (That’s one of my goals for the rest of my time here.)
Finally, through all of this, the building project has gone on. We have walls! The drywall team has been hard at work putting up the interior walls, plus the few exterior walls that are drywall. They’ve also been installing the acoustic ceilings in the classrooms! We have a carpenter building the doors and window people making the windows. And the regular construction crew is still hard at work on the stucco and pouring the finished floors. We hired an electrician, and he’s getting ready to start pulling wires next week! And we went on a shopping trip to buy the classroom lights and some others, plus wire and outlets and eeee!! This is really happening!!! I’m excited. I’m terrified. I’m excited. I’m terrified. I’m only here for another month. AHHH!
Anyway, enjoy these pictures, and hopefully I’ll talk to you soon!
Can you believe September is over??!! I can’t, and I also can’t say that I’m very happy about it. It was a great month! Everything was normal – no crazy modifications to the schedule or extra things to worry about. The rest of the year isn’t going to be quite as calm. I know that the next few months will fly by even more quickly than September, and I’m trying to keep myself from stressing out about it! We have two team weeks in October, scheduled for consecutive weeks. November will be filled with the chaos of trying to pull together the finishing touches on the building and freaking out that I’m going to run out of time to do everything on my list. And I’m only going to be here for about a week and a half of December, so it barely counts at all. Ahh!
I could drag you with me down the black hole of swirling thoughts that keep my stress level at a steady higher-than-it-needs-to-be, but instead, I’ll spare you and talk about the last few weeks since I haven’t been doing very well with my “weekly” posts (a consistent theme, it seems).
The building. My gosh, the building. We have all three floors in place, and they’re starting to work on the finishes! EEK! There’s still definitely a lot to do, but the general shape of the building is there, and it’s huge. This is the only building on the property that has a 3rd story, and it’s so cool how much more of the neighborhood we can see from up there! It’s probably not cool for our neighbors because now we can see over their walls, but oh, well. Our one neighbor has a 2nd-floor balcony facing our property, so it’s not like privacy was ever much of a thing around here.
Over the next few weeks, it’s going to start looking like a whole new building. Only the brick walls are up now, and they’ll begin working on the drywall soon which means that we’ll really be able to see what the spaces are going to look like. Currently, they look super nice and well-lit by daylight, but that’s because most of them only have two walls! On top of that, Debbie is working on finding people to build the doors and the windows, and the electrician is going to start coming more regularly to start the wiring. Oh!! And the roof! The roof is going to be supported by a bamboo structure, and we started the whole bamboo preparation process this week.
On Tuesday, I got to work early and helped Milton, the maintenance guy, get everything ready for the bamboo delivery. Debbie was at the bamboo store picking out the individual pieces of bamboo… 180 pieces of 6ish-inch diameter, 6 and 7-meter-long bamboo. Yes. 180 pieces. Together, Milton and I supervised the removal of the rubble pile on the construction site, followed by the digging of a “pool” to be used to soak the bamboo in anti-bug chemicals. Yum. Then, he and I created an area for the bamboo to be stored while it dries. When I called Debbie to tell her we were ready, she said that the delivery truck was already en route! Geez! Then we had to unload it all which, thank goodness, the construction guys helped with. Even with the help, it felt endless! So now, we have a LOT of bamboo. And it all needs to make its way to the 3rd floor eventually.
On the topic of transporting things to the third floor… have I told you about how they move bricks there from the ground? I don’t think I have. They throw them. Yes, they THROW them. Watching them get the ceiling bricks to the 3rd floor was my favorite thing. One guy stood on the 10ish-foot-high pile of bricks… and I’m still not sure how it seemed like it never got any shorter because he was taking bricks from the pile he was standing on, but anyway… He threw them one by one to a guy standing on “scaffolding” (aka one board on a shaky metal frame) about halfway up the second floor who threw them up to a guy at the edge of the third floor who threw them to a guy in the middle of the third floor who put them in a stack. Three throws per brick. No pressure. I have a video, but Debbie told me not to post it because “it’s not really how they’re supposed to do things”. Maybe it’s not the safest in theory, but while watching them, I never felt like there was anything to worry about. I can show you the video another time.
Here are some pictures to catch you up on the progress!
Outside of work, the last few weekends have been super fun! Since “birthday weekend”, we’ve been doing our best to put things on the schedule for the weekends, no matter how simple. The first weekend after “birthday weekend”, we didn’t go anywhere crazy or do anything elaborate, but we did take some time on Saturday to play outside. Jocelyn and I started off playing 2-square (not the most exciting game… it ends up being a social time while simultaneously bouncing a ball between us), and eventually, Julie and Debbie joined and made it a full-on game of 4-square! Everyone gets a little competitive (though probably mostly me), so it was a lot of fun. It’s kind of ideal that there are 4 of us; it’s the perfect number for nearly every game. We should take advantage of that more often!
The following weekend was the women’s conference at our church. I didn’t know what to expect, and even if I did, I think my mind would have been blown. It’s quite the production. There were over 800 people there, and not just from Peru. There were big groups from Mexico and Argentina, plus people from Venezuela, Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil, Chile… craziness! The weekend was full of performances and different speakers and really amazing worship. It was fun to be a part of it. And the speakers were in English with translators, so I didn’t even have to focus super hard to understand what was going on. Julie, Debbie, Jocelyn, and I stayed overnight in Lima on Friday and Saturday, and besides having a great time at the conference, it was so nice to be outside of our property walls for a change!
Last weekend was actually Jocelyn’s birthday weekend (unlike the fabricated Julie-and-Lara birthday weekend), and we went to the zoo to celebrate! It’s interesting to visit zoos in different parts of the world because while the major animals are the same, there’s a ton of diversity in the other animals depending on where you are. This zoo had so many varieties of birds and monkeys because they’re all native to South America, and some of them were things I’d never seen before. The highlight of the day, though, was in the “international” section of the zoo… they had three 1-month-old baby tigers!!! EEE!! They. Were. So. Cute. I could have watched them all day. There was a huge crowd around because the obsession with baby animals is universal. I mean, how could you not love them?
Anyway, as you can see, we’ve been busy, if only because we’re making up ways to keep things interesting. But the building project is definitely heating up, I’m starting to accept the reality that we have two team weeks coming up, and we’re all bracing for a truly busy October. Let’s see how long it takes for me to write again! (Ha!)
It’s been a fun couple of weeks! Ever since I got back from the States, I’ve been feeling so much more at ease and like I have some sort of control over what happens each day. I’m working on not needing to be totally in control in order to feel okay, but it is nice to at least feel like I have my feet on the ground instead of being sent this way and that by whatever wind happens to blow at the moment. I’ve pieced together a routine for the mornings and evenings during the week, and since our schedule is much more regular when teams aren’t here, I’ve actually been able to stick to it.
We’ve also been trying to be more productive with our weekends, getting out and doing things instead of rotting away in our apartment, and that’s been helping too. When all you do is work and rot, life passes by incredibly quickly. And it gets old and boring. I’m neither old nor boring, so why should I let my life be?
Anyway, I’m letting myself get sidetracked before I even begin! Work has been 1 part fun and 1 part tedious. The fun part is the construction! Two weeks ago, they finished laying out the bricks and the conduit (for the electrical wiring) and everything for the first ceiling on Module 2. I had to check the box locations and how they ran the tubes to make sure it all matched up with my plans, and that Saturday, they poured the concrete! This isn’t the first pour they’ve done, of course, but I had the best view of this one. I went up on the third floor of Module 1 and watched from above. The pump truck came in and set up, then the concrete trucks came, and I got to see the whole pouring procedure from start to finish. It was awesome! And since I was technically on the site, I had to wear a hard hat the whole time which made me feel like a big deal even though I was literally doing nothing but taking pictures and trying to stay out of the way.
Here are some pictures so that you can experience the fun! Also, the thought has just crossed my mind that you might not find this nearly as interesting or exciting as I do, but try to imagine that you helped to design a building, have a strong case of imposter syndrome (aka I don’t feel like I’m completely qualified for the role that I’m playing) (though don’t let that worry you because I truly am confident in my design), and despite that, people are listening to you and actually doing what your drawings say… and the building is going up before your eyes. Welcome to my life and the reasons behind my super excitement!
Two weekends ago was a big deal, not only because the concrete pour was on Saturday morning (working on a weekend is not the best, but that was cool enough that I could get over it), but also because Julie and I declared it Birthday Weekend and created a schedule of events for Friday – Sunday. For those of you who know when my birthday is, this may seem strange… because it’s in December. Same with Julie’s. BUT, ever since we realized that no one is going to be around during our actual birthdays, we’d been talking about having a joint half-birthday party. Well, that would have been in June, and June was a busy month. And so was July. But now, things have settled down a bit, and what better way to celebrate than with a 2/3 birthday party! (Interestingly enough, not my first 2/3 birthday party. I used to throw those every year in high school… but that’s a story for another time.)
We didn’t go TOO crazy with the event planning because no one is going to sign up for an all-consuming not-actually-your-birthday weekend. So, this is what we ended up with for the schedule of events:
Friday night – pancake dinner followed by a bonfire dance party (including s’mores because why else even bother with a fire? Certainly not because we just like smelling like smoke.)
Saturday – concrete pour (not an official part of the birthday events, but part of the schedule nonetheless), hike to the green mountains near the neighborhood (same thing we did the weekend before, but it was such a nice break that we wanted a repeat), eat cheesy bread (the easiest way to make a good day into a great day), and watch the first half of North and South (a fantastic 4-part mini-series based on a book by Elizabeth Gaskell)
Sunday – church, birthday brownies, and the second half of North and South
The weekend was a great success! Debbie and Jocelyn even obliged our request for presents and gave us chocolate bars and mini-Oreos. And they sang to us and let us blow out candles even though we hardly earned it. It doesn’t get much better than that! Everyone who participated in any or all of the events said that we need to do it again sometime, so we’re currently in the process of assigning every remaining weekend to someone’s birthday celebration. It’ll probably be Julie and my turn again in November. Kidding! But it was fun having an agenda for the weekend, and I think we all realized that we need to keep planning things to look forward to, or else time will go by without a passing glance.
I’m back in Peru! I got in late last Monday night and spent Tuesday wrapping my head around the fact that they poured another floor while I was gone. That’s right, we have a 2-story building now! And even though there are no walls on the third floor, we can walk up there and see what the view is going to be like when it’s finished (the other buildings on the property are only two stories or less, so this is a new experience for us). Essentially, all the third floor means, view-wise, is that we will be able to creep on our neighbors exceptionally well. Like the ones next door who have a pool that we’re all very jealous of (though to be fair, we already knew about that thanks to the drone).
As I was saying, the construction has made big strides since I left. I was a little sad to miss out on some of the fun, but no need to get too upset about it because there’s still much to do. Now, they’re starting to work on the first-floor ceiling on the other side of the building (Module 2). I wasn’t super involved with the foundation phase up until they started the ceilings, but now they’re finally installing electrical-related things which means I have more to do! As they’re laying things out, I’m making sure that everything is in the proper location and that it’s going to work the way I designed it. It’s crazy getting to see it all come together!
I’ve also had fun getting to be somewhat hands-on in the construction process. For example, the electrician came last week to direct the construction crew on where he needs tubes for the electrical wiring, and first, he and I walked around and made sure that we were happy with the locations of the devices. I chalk-marked the walls in the stairwell showing where I want the lights, and he and I talked through some locations for the electrical boxes. This is way more than I would be involved with on a job in the States. There, the engineer essentially just shows the way they want the system to work and then leaves the details to the electrician. Here, I had to include much more installation-related information on my plans, and now, I’m getting to see it all through. How cool!
Besides the construction, things have been nice and chill since I got back… well, with the exception of actually getting back into the country. I had a little scare in the airport on the way in because I’ve already overstayed my welcome for the year. You can technically only stay for 90 days each year without additional paperwork. When the lady at immigration told me I had already exceeded my allowance, I was worried that they were going to put me right back on a plane home! But thank goodness they let me back in, only giving me a 30-day visa instead of a 90-day… which just means that I definitely can’t leave the country again this year until I’m sure that I’m ready to be gone for good, and when I do leave, I’m going to have to pay 60-days’ worth more for the exit fee (that’s the punishment for overstaying your visa, a fee that accumulates for each day beyond your allowed stay).
Aside from that whole mess, though, things have been good. I’m not feeling overwhelmed or overworked (yet). I’m happy to be back working on the project. It’s been a fun week of hanging out with the roommates and getting back into some good habits. I think my trip home came at just the right time, and now I’m back and feeling ready to have a strong finish to my time here.
I want to make the most of the time I have left, so I’m trying to be more proactive about doing things on the weekends. On Saturday, Julie, Jocelyn, and I went on an adventure walk (aka a hike, but Julie thinks that doesn’t sound fun enough). The mountains near where we live are usually nice and brown, adding some extra brownness to the rest of the brown of the desert landscape. Since it’s been such a humid and misty winter, some of the mountains have turned green! I don’t know how so many little plants managed to spawn in such dusty ground, but I’m not upset about it! From a distance, the mountains look like they’ve just gone a bit moldy.
We’re starved for green landscapes here, so we decided to take advantage of this favorable development and investigate. What does that entail exactly? Well, we had to cross over one row of brown mountains before getting to the green ones, so we looked for a path that didn’t seem too exhausting. We walked from our property through our neighborhood and the next one until we got to the foot of a low point between two peaks. I thought maybe that would mean it was easy to cross over. No. I was wrong (rare occurrence, but happens every so often).
It wasn’t “easy”, but we made it over after nearly 30 minutes of walking up a mountain slope that might as well have been vertical. Seriously, it had to be at least a 75-degree incline. And then we had to walk around the mountain on a skinny, slanted path, only one foot-slip away from a tumble all the way down the steep mountainside. The verdict? Not the best route we could have taken, but live and learn!
After that, though, it was heavenly! We learned that the moldy green is mostly wildflowers! There was practically a line separating the brown from the green, and after we crossed over, it didn’t matter how steep the path. We were too busy raving about the smell of plants in the air and the fact that there were actual flowers (no irrigation system required!) and marveling at how much happier we felt being surrounded by green life instead of brown dust. It was magical.
On top of all of that, and I’m sure that I cannot possibly convey the extent of my excitement for this next part, we discovered a new neighborhood gem. One of my favorite things to eat here is cheesy bread… exactly what it sounds like. Cheese + bread = Lara dream meal (I’m very easy to please). Our usual cheesy bread supplier is at least a 15-minute drive away, and it’s been closed for the last couple months with no explanation. BUT we recently discovered that there’s another cheesy bread place just a 15-minute WALK from where we live. We walked there to check it out at the end of our hike, and they have now been quality approved by us. This is life-changing! (no exaggeration… it doesn’t take much) I’ve never meant it more when I say that the future is looking bright!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
I feel like a broken record, but I’m going to say it anyway. Even after the team from Hudson left, the following two weeks were still chaotic. I’m sure you’re not surprised. More surprising would be if I actually said that a week was calm and relaxed. Ha! If there is such a thing as a calm week here, I have yet to experience it.
The Hudson team left on a Saturday night, and by Monday, we were already planning for the next team, coming just two weeks later. It seemed like an early start, considering we started planning for Hudson about three days before they came, but we had much more to figure out this time. This team was bringing electricians with them! We were all super excited about this, but probably no one more than I was. It’s nice to have people around who speak the same language (in this case, I’m referring to the language of electricity… hehe), especially because I’ve been trying to troubleshoot some problems, and it’s hard to do that without anyone to bounce ideas off of.
On top of that, we had a looong list of electrical projects for them to work on. It’s always exciting when people with very useful skills come, and we do our best to take advantage of their knowledge and abilities while they’re here. That meant that I had to do a lot of planning to make sure that they could work efficiently, like making diagrams showing what we wanted, figuring out how/where lights should be installed, and buying the equipment and supplies we needed to be prepared.
Besides the electrical stuff, we had a bunch of other mostly finished projects that needed to be completely finished sooner rather than later… so we were hoping that the team could get them done. Practically, I think that smaller teams are better because everyone can really get to know each other. When I’m puzzling over how we can possibly finish everything that we need to during a team week, I wish that every team had 40 people.
Aside from the planning work, there was some extra excitement as well (I know, there’s always something extra). A few of the Hudson team members stayed for one more week to do a medical clinic, plus we had a short-term intern, Betsi, who arrived the night the team left and stayed for three weeks.
The medical clinic was great! It’s run by a husband and wife, a doctor and nurse duo, plus their daughter, who have been doing this for the last few years. At this point, they have ongoing relationships with some of the patients which is pretty cool. Often, when medical groups come in, they focus on the kids in the program, but this one is primarily for the parents, staff, and people connected to them. It’s a big blessing for the people in our community to be able to visit a doctor who really knows what he’s talking about! I could tell you dozens of stories about doctor-related headaches here. It’s hard to find a doctor you can trust, and sometimes, it’s hard to find a doctor at all! Once, one of the kids had a medical problem, and the staff had to take her here, there, and everywhere to find someone who would help her. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for that to be your ongoing reality.
I only popped in a few times during the week, but it was fun to see the clinic in action. People asked questions about whatever aches and pains were plaguing them, they gave out reading glasses to people who needed them, one of the moms brought in her 1-month-old baby for a checkup… It made me so happy that all of these people could see a doctor who really cares and knows his stuff.
In construction news, THINGS ARE HAPPENING! I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that the building looks more and more like an actual building each day… I’m still in “foundations” mode where I think that we’re going to move at a snail’s pace for the rest of forever, and we’ll never make it above ground. Silly me because like I said in my last post, we have walls! And now we have the beginnings of windows! And WE HAVE FLOORS! And they’re working on making it so that there are CEILINGS too!
I know, I know. You’re thinking, “Duh, Lara. You’re just listing all of the parts of a building. You knew that they were building a building, didn’t you?” YES, I DID. But seeing it come together right in front of me is a whole bunch of insanity. And now, take a gander at the pictures and please also be awed by the fact that what was once a hole in the ground is now actually starting to look like something that could be recognized as a building.
There you have it! See? It’s like a real building now. Hopefully you’re not bored of all of these construction pictures because there are many more to come. I think the process is fascinating! And sometimes mildly terrifying, but mostly fascinating.
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!)
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
So that’s the first side of the building… and now, on to the other side:
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.
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).