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.
Helloooo! I know, this is probably like hearing from a long-lost friend who you never expected to resurface… but here I am! Alive and well and ready to bring you up to speed on all things Peru and beyond. I figure this is as good a time as any because who couldn’t use a little extra entertainment in their days right now? So, here’s my plan for the blog (keeping in mind that I’ve literally never followed through on a single one of these plans): I’ll finish telling you about Peru and the building project and some fun adventures. Then, I’ll finish talking about Buenos Aires because whew! We left off righttt in the middle of that trip (whoops). THEN, assuming it doesn’t take a full year for me to do those two things, we’ll do some South/Central America exploring together. And maybe someday we’ll make it back to Europe (to refresh your memory, we’re floating around somewhere between Poland and Germany, potentially lost forever).
Who knows where we’re actually going to end up with all of this (my money is on somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic as we get lost between Central America and Europe), but hey, anywhere is better than the increasingly familiar insides of our own houses, right?
Last time we talked, it was the middle of November. The building project was chugging along. I was getting antsy at the idea of leaving Esperanza de Ana in only a few short weeks. My workload seemed to be increasing exponentially, as it always does at the end of a project. One second you’re feeling fine, and the next it’s like you’re tripping over loose ends with every step.
On top of my actual work, I was trying to make plans for what felt like a million other things at the same time. My parents were coming to visit me in Peru, arriving on the same day that I was leaving Esperanza de Ana. Then, I was hoping to do some traveling around South and Central America for about a month and a half and coordinated with my aunt, uncle, and cousins for one trip and my brother for another. Except for the part with my cousins, I was responsible for most of the planning… and my head started feeling like it was going to explode. Too many moving parts and not enough time! We’ll talk more about those adventures later…
Despite being hectic, the end of November was great. The building kept progressing, and it was exciting to see some of the “finishing touches” coming together. The electrical team finished most of the cabling and installed all of the classroom fixtures. They started putting up the bamboo roof structure!
Sometimes, Debbie and I would look at the building, look at each other, and say, “Can you believe we did that? At the beginning of the year, it was a dirt patch. Now, it’s a building.” It was easy to get caught up in the chaos of each day, but there were those moments when the reality that we were actually constructing a building made us pause for a second and appreciate just how cool that was.
The end of November also means Thanksgiving, and this was my first ever away from home (amazingly). I’ve missed a lot of holidays and events over the past few years, but in my family, Thanksgiving is our special “everyone shows up” holiday. The cousins come from near and far and spend days eating and playing and catching up on the year’s family gossip. This year, going home really wasn’t an option, and the only way for me to be okay with that was to not think about it.
Obviously, Thanksgiving isn’t a thing in Peru. This, combined with the fact that Americans are always determined to celebrate it, no matter where they are, led to the weirdest Thanksgiving of my life. The American staff had the day off at Esperanza de Ana, but everything else went on as usual. We went to a Thanksgiving party hosted by the American pastor of our church in Lima, and while it didn’t feel anything like Thanksgiving, it also didn’t feel like we were in Peru anymore. From the moment we walked through the gate into their front yard, it was like we had teleported to somewhere in the States. The default language was English. All of the food at dinner was recognizable. I think I felt the most culture shock at that party than any other time in Peru.
At the end of the party, we got into the car and drove back to EA. There, the kids were just finishing the after-school program for the day. It was like any other Thursday. I shut my eyes and tried to put my head back on straight, reminding myself that we had never left Peru. It was like we had gone into an alternate reality, and coming back was harder than I imagined it would be. Jocelyn and I agreed that the day did feel like something special, but it didn’t feel like Thanksgiving. That was probably the best-case scenario.
The other good news was that we didn’t have a normal day of work on Friday. I don’t think I could have jumped right back into normal after that! We had a staff day which is a combination of training/professional, personal, and spiritual development/team building. It just depends on what Jim thinks the team needs. This one, since it was so close to the end of the year, was more of a hangout than a training. We went to this place on the beach for the day, and Jim had us start by reflecting on the year and sharing how God has been working in each of us. It was cool to hear everyone’s thoughts!
After that, we had the rest of the day to spend time together and do a few activities. Julie was in charge of planning one, and I suggested a sand snowman-building competition. There was a height requirement, but otherwise, anything went. My team definitely won, even though Julie refused to declare a winner at the end. I mean, come on! Look at us!
When we got back to EA, Julie, Jocelyn, and I ran to grab our bags and hit the road because we were going on an adventure for the weekend! On our way out, we squeezed past Defensa Civil, the property inspection people, who had come to look over the property… at 4PM… on a Friday. What is wrong with these people? Everyone was baffled. There must have been some end-of-the-month quota or something that they were trying to meet because they aren’t usually such a motivated group. Irma, the director, sent them away saying that they could come back another day at a more reasonable time because there was no one to show them around. Ha. (We also weren’t quite ready for them, so it worked out!)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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).