I know what you’re thinking. “Lara, it’s only been a week and you’re writing again? What, is the world ending?” I know, I haven’t been very consistent with this, but my original intention was to actually write weekly, so don’t be too surprised! And part of the reason I’m making such an effort is that I know there’s no chance I’ll be writing at the end of this week. We have two teams coming in back-to-back… aka as one team leaves Saturday night, the next team will be arriving which means we get no break at all for the next two weeks. Don’t get me wrong – it will be great. It’s always great to have teams here. But it also means that personal time is essentially nonexistent, and every workday is totally draining because I’m interacting with people all day and running around trying to make sure things run smoothly. So here I am, catching you up again before you can expect two weeks without a peep from me.

First, here are some pictures of the construction. I don’t have much to say because it’s all mostly superficial work now… so enjoy these pictures of things starting to look pretty!

Second floor with some of the posts removed. I like how you can see the bricks and the formwork from below even though they’re all hidden from above now.
Second floor from inside. Looking good! The right side of the picture will be two classrooms, and the corridor is to the left.
Third floor with the half-wall completed. Now all that’s missing here is the bamboo roof! But this is going to remain a huge open space which will be awesome!
I like this contrast… un-stuccoed wall to the left, pretty finished wall to the right.
The side of the building before stuccoing…
… and after! It was funny to watch like 8 guys working on one wall at the same time. They did that so they could get the stuccoing finished in one go, rather than having to do it in stages. It turns out better that way!
It’s so satisfying to look at the finished walls! And that crisp line above the windows is beautiful. When it’s painted, the first level will be orange (ick, but that’s the EA color scheme) and the upper floors will be off-white.
Electrical tubing going in! These will be hidden behind a layer of drywall.
Updated view of the back.
The building in context. Our existing classroom building is the one running along the right side of the picture, and the new building is in the back.

We had a funky schedule last week. Most of the kids were off of school on Monday. Brace yourself as I attempt to explain why (parents would lose their minds if this happened in the States). The school decided to have a mandatory event on Sunday, and then they cancelled school on Monday to make up for it. We found out about this about 2 weeks ago which, given how far in advance we usually know about these things, is pretty darn good. This is something I’ll never understand, though. How can you just change the schedule on a whim like that? And expect everyone to come on a Sunday instead?? This kind of thing is nothing new, though. There are approximately a thousand holidays and festivals in Peru, and every time one comes along, it seems like there’s literally no one who knows whether the kids will have school. And then we find out the day before. To me, it seems like SOMEONE had to know if there was going to be school, right? (If not, we have bigger problems than I thought.) So why is that person keeping secrets? Just tell everyone so we can all share in the joy of knowledge!

I may not understand how they can operate like that, but I have gotten to the point where I expect it and am not fazed by it. I mean, lucky for me, the kids’ schedules don’t affect mine very much. School or not, it’s all kind of the same to me. But if I was a teacher, I don’t know if I could handle it.

This boat appeared in the middle of our street a couple of weeks ago. They were out painting it last weekend when we went to get cheesy bread, and in the time that it took us to walk there, eat our cheesy bread, and walk back, they had painted the entire boat. Ha! Today, it was gone again, I suppose back to the ocean.

Anyway, Monday was a “holiday” for the kids, but we all worked anyway. Then, Tuesday was an actual national holiday. All of the schools were closed, and none of our programs were operating. We still “worked”, but it was a Staff Day which is usually a training and team building day for the national and missionary staff. This time, they did something a little different and it was more of a rest and reflection day. Jim broke down the Lord’s Prayer, and we had time to ourselves to sit and pray over/reflect on each part. It was really nice. I felt like God used that time to help me work through some things I’ve been sitting on for a while. It was hard, but I felt so much better afterward and like I regained a sense of direction that I had lost a while ago without even realizing it.

On top of that, it was just nice to have time to spend with the rest of the staff without having to worry about the kids! We played an elimination-type game together before lunch, and it was hilarious watching how competitive everyone got. It was one of those games where someone calls out commands (a little like Simon Says), and some of the commands require you to get into groups of various numbers. When a command was called, everyone was grabbing people left and right to drag them into their group to get the right number. I was practically in tears from laughing so hard.

I had already been eliminated at this point…

The rest of the week was basically just spent getting ready for the team. I went over my notes and plans, made a shopping list, went over my notes and plans again, checked to see what materials we have in stock, went over my notes and plans again, spent time worrying that I was forgetting something… you know, a very efficient use of my time. I think I have it all under control, I really do. But I won’t lose that feeling until the teams are gone and I know for a fact that I had everything planned to a T.

Friday had a “fun” surprise… Remember how Milton and I supervised the digging of a pool to chemically treat the bamboo for the new building’s roof? Well, they put some pieces in to soak on Monday, and Debbie asked me to give Milton a hand taking them out. “Okay,” I thought. “No problem. That’ll be easy.” HA! Joke’s on me. First of all, these bamboo pieces are 10-15cm in diameter and 6 or 7 meters long (sorry for the metric but that’s now the world in which I operate). Second of all, you know those lines you see on bamboo stalks? Those are the knots, and there’s basically a disk of bamboo there (so you couldn’t see straight through a stalk, for example). One of the dads worked to hammer a piece of rebar through all of the knots so that the chemicals could run all the way through the inside of the stalks… which meant that they were all filled with water. Which meant they were even heavier than before. And third of all, because there’s just a hole in the middle of each knot, the only way to get all of the water out is to stand them up nearly vertically.

Milton and I eventually got somewhat of a system down, but it was dependent on one person holding one end of the bamboo down against the ground (when all it wanted to do was seesaw up) while the other person walked their end up until it was completely vertical. The harder part was lowering it. There was one time with a particularly heavy piece of bamboo where I couldn’t keep the ground end down, and I basically nearly crushed Milton because as my end went up, the other one went down, and he was caught in the middle. At one point, we were holding a piece upright, waiting for it to drain, and he says totally seriously, “We’re going to die.” I burst out laughing but then also agreed with him… It did feel a bit terrifying every time. Thankfully, Debbie came to help with the last half, and with three people, the whole thing was significantly less precarious.

Milton and Eddy, two of the national staff, working in the bamboo treatment pool. Looks fun, right?
Milton and me holding up a bamboo flagpole. I feel like Milton looks a little tense in this picture, and I promise my smile is fake.

We now have 19 treated pieces of bamboo… out of 180. So, what I’m saying is, we’re nearly there! Ha. Haha. But, I do think there are plans in the works to build a structure to prop up the bamboo so that every bamboo-draining day isn’t the most terrifying day of everyone’s lives.

In conclusion, never bank on the accuracy of a Peruvian school calendar, chemically treating your own bamboo is neither as easy nor as fun as it sounds, and wish me luck for the next two weeks. See you on the other side!

Guys working on the brick walls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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