Rebar for the beams and the beginnings of the ceiling formwork

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.

Sesame seed-covered cookie
Debbie and I were out shopping for supplies, and I smelled something amazing… usually the air smells like garbage, so this was an especially welcome change. I followed my nose to a little, hole-in-the-wall bakery, and Debbie asked what smelled so good. I had my doubts when the woman pointed to this cookie, but it was SO GOOD. Moral of the story: trust your nose.

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.

Debbie "proving a point"
It was Betsi’s birthday, so we went to buy her a cake! This is Debbie proving to me that she doesn’t need a new organization system in her purse because her car keys are “right here!” She has things from her purse under both arms and her chin while also balancing the cake box. (If you’re wondering why I’m not helping, I was already holding her water bottle and mine, some snacks we bought from the bakery, and our notebooks.)
Betsi with her birthday cake
Happy Birthday Betsi! It’s a Peruvian tradition to crack an egg on the head of the (un)lucky birthday person, but Betsi made it clear that she wouldn’t be happy. I’m with her.

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.

Illuminated waves
Night ocean views in Lima
Googly-eyed head with grass hair growing out of the top
One of the younger classes made these little seed-heads. I’m pretty sure they’re essentially pantyhose stuffed with dirt and seeds. Once the “hair” started growing, they stopped looking like creepy potatoes and started looking kind of cute! And hilarious. Do you like this one’s hair tie?
Googly-eye head with a haircut
This one is a little disturbing… someone cut his hair and now he’s sitting on a bed of his own hair clippings. Eek.

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.

Module 1 with completed brick walls
Finished walls in Module 1!
Module 2 with new walls
More walls in Module 2! And you can see the wooden formwork for a concrete bench in front of the building
Wall and columns in Module 2
After they finished the brick for this wall, they poured the columns so that the entire wall/column structure is working together.
Brick wall with a column in the middle
Here’s one of the wall-integrated columns.
Window holes in Module 2
This is how they frame out the windows in a brick wall. They basically pour mini-columns on the sides and frame out the top and bottom with steel and concrete.
Module 2 with formwork around the mini-columns
These are the same windows, now with the formwork for the concrete.
Window hole with concrete surrounding it
One of the finished window frames on Module 1. I’m so excited about these windows! These classrooms are going to have way more natural light than the other rooms we have.
Module 2 walls
The bench has been poured! (See above the blue tarp) and you can see the window wall going up in the background
The top 2/3 of this wall is going to be exposed brick, and the bottom 1/3 is going to be covered. Can you see the difference? The brick pattern on top is different, and they clearly put a lot more effort into making sure it looks nice and neat.
Freshly poured concrete floor in Module 1
MODULE 1 FLOOR!!! It’s like a real room now! They were still in the process of pouring the back of the room in this picture.
Construction guys preparing concrete for the floors
The concrete mixing station. For big pours, they’ll call a concrete truck, but even for these floors, they mixed the concrete themselves using this concrete drum. Concrete, gravel, water, sand, repeat. Pour days are always VERY long, and I’m sure they’re exhausting.
Ground level view of the new floor
This is just the sub-floor, so there’s going to be another layer of concrete on top of this… but we have a floor!! Can you tell I’m excited?
Floors in Module 2
Floor in Module 2! There’s a floor inside the classroom, plus they poured the walkway outside.
Concrete floor in the future staircase
Future staircase! It’s cool to see everything starting to take shape.
Sticks holding up some planks
Next step: ceilings! This is the very beginning of the “scaffolding” they built to hold the ceiling up.
Framing out the beams
These horizontal pieces of wood are where the beams are going.
Rebar for the beams and the beginnings of the ceiling formwork
Look at the steel where the beams are! And those planks in between are going to help hold up the rest of the ceiling.
More rebar for the beams
Almost finished with the beams!
Sticks to support the ceiling
Stick forest. Jocelyn was laughing at their strategy for making the sticks the height they need to be… what do you think? Seems very stable…

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.

The weeks keep flying by, and if all of my drawings were ready and we didn’t have a deadline, that would be okay… but of course, my drawings aren’t ready, and the construction start date keeps creeping closer and closer. Well, it keeps creeping closer with the exception of the one little jump backward that it did, moving from May 1st to May 6th. But that’s where it’s staying which means I need to keep chugging along.

I stepped outside for my workout at exactly the right time this day. Check out that sunrise!

All in all, it was a good week. I finished the first draft of my floor plans and started working on the technical specifications which are definitely going to be the most tedious part of the job. That’s where you put all the details about how things should be constructed and what products should be used and such. I’m struggling for two reasons: 1. Even when I was working, I almost never touched the specs which means I don’t have a good reference point for what is really important to include. 2. Spanish. This is all technical Spanish, too, which means that I know approximately zero of the words. I suppose the vocab lesson will come in handy once construction starts, but right now, it’s just overwhelming.

The good news is that I have some example projects to use as references, so I started out by translating their specifications to help me decide what to include in mine. That was a fun day… if by fun you mean that I couldn’t even think straight by lunchtime because my brain was so fried. It’s good though. Now, I have the beginnings of my first spec attempt and a VERY long list of things to look up in the Peruvian electrical code… another task that, as you might imagine, I am SO looking forward to.

In other project-related news, here we are, three weeks from the start of construction, and we’re in the process of changing structural engineers. No big deal. Except kind of a big deal because from the sounds of it, practically everything with the structure is likely to change. The structure is like the bones of the building, the frame around which everything else is organized… so on the bright side, it takes some pressure off of me because I can’t finalize my plans without finalized structural drawings. On the less bright side, we’re supposed to be three weeks away from construction and we’re changing bones! This is where we trust and pray and hope that the new structural engineer likes to work long hours and can pull off a miracle. Whenever I get worried, I force a smile and tell myself, “It’s going to be great!” because maybe if I say it enough, it will be true.

 

These funky flowers are on a maracuyá (passion fruit) vine growing in the compound. I think they’re super cool because the flowers close at night and reopen during the day.
Here are the maracuyá vines from afar.

Personally, I’ve been having some struggles recently. One of the biggest is maintaining a work-life balance and figuring out what that even means in this context. We all live and work on the same property, 30m x 170m of walled-in desert. The physical separation between work space and personal space is about a 2-minute walk from work in the back of the property to home in the front. My coworkers are also my roommates are also my friends. Sometimes, work things creep into personal time, and when I try to maintain a boundary, I feel bad because technically, the work is the reason I’m here. I start wondering if I’m being selfish or needy for wanting some time to myself.

I know that’s not right, that even though I’m here for the job, I also have to live and function and have some sort of balance in my life. It’s hard though! It’s already hard enough to find a balance when you’re living and working in a normal situation, and this is not normal in any way.

Jocelyn and I have started a “Sunday night pancake” tradition. Pretty sure this is one of the things keeping me sane.

Hopefully this week can be a bit of a reset for me. We only have a three-day work week because of Easter holidays on Thursday and Friday, and some of us are going on a mini-vacation for a few days! Some time off the property will be good for me, and I have my fingers crossed for a fun and refreshing trip. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Selfie with the neighborhood in the background

This week was rough. I know I said that the team week was hard, but I think I’m going to update my previous statement to say that the week after might be worse. At least there’s some excitement during team week because there are new people here and fun things happening. The week after, it’s like you’re trying to pick up the pieces of everything that completely fell apart while you were distracted.

Selfie with the neighborhood in the background
I went on a “little walk” with Debbie and Jocelyn today. That’s how Debbie pitched the idea to us, and we ended up walking 3.5 miles through the sandy, desert mountains. Do we look like we’re melting? I am so ready for winter! Enjoy these random pictures from this week (because if they were relevant to what I wrote about, you’d have all pictures of me sitting at a computer).

I felt like I was getting sick at the beginning of the week, probably because I hadn’t been getting enough sleep and wasn’t exactly going easy on my body. In an effort to avoid a complete meltdown, I tried to get more sleep each night, skipped working out in the mornings to give my body a chance to recover, and used that extra time to pull other parts of my life back together. I also consumed lots of vitamin C which I know there are mixed opinions about whether or not it’s effective, but whatever. If there’s even a chance that it helps, I’m in.

The good news is that I think it might have worked. I wasn’t feeling great during the middle of the week, but it definitely never got to the point of feeling like I had a real cold. Maybe this is premature, but I’m going to count myself as healed and get back to running around like a crazy person next week.

 

Cemetery crosses with our neighborhood in the background
This small cemetery near our neighborhood was the destination of our “little walk”.

 

Our neighborhood
Brown, brown, brown. Desert living definitely isn’t for me.

 

 

Work-wise, things are going well. Oh! Exciting news… we have an official construction start date! May 1st! We kept pushing it back and pushing it back and decided that if this is going to happen, we need to just pick a date and stick with it. This is kind of funny to me because meanwhile, I still have to finish my drawings, and May 1st is in less than a month… but things here don’t work the same way they do at home. Technically, I don’t even need to have everything completely figured out before they start construction because the foundations come first, and they don’t affect me. I will be finished by then, though. I want to be able to focus on the construction when that’s happening instead of having to split my attention.

I can’t get over how crazy this is! I know in my head that I’m going to be here for the entire construction process of this building, but when I REALLY think about it, I’m like, this is insane! There’s (mostly) no building there now. By the time I leave, there will be a whole building and the things I helped to design will be inside. And I’m going to watch it happen from Day 1 until Day whatever when it’s finished. How. Cool.

Pretty pink flowers
You can find some color, but you have to search for it. We literally have green envy… some of our neighbors have SO MUCH green on their properties and I just want more plants in my life.

I really got down to business on my drawings this week. I feel like I have a good handle on things, but I definitely have a few more days of code brain ahead… aka the days when you spend all day reading code books and feel like your brain is made of mush by the end. That feeling is amplified here because I’m doing my best to use the Peruvian electrical code which means I’m combining Spanish brain and code brain, and the result is extra mush.

Aside from work and the threat of getting sick, things have been good! It’s fun living with Julie, Jocelyn, and Debbie (we have a little apartment-type space with three bedrooms, a living room, and a bathroom. I share a room with Debbie). We’re starting to fall into a good rhythm. We’ve had a few very competitive game nights (with Paul too), and today we’ll have our second Sunday afternoon movie. It’s nice that we have time apart where we do our own things and also come together for fun activities. It’s basically summer camp haha.

Projected movie on the wall and my cake plate!
Last week’s Sunday movie was a celebration of the 20th birthday of “10 Things I Hate About You”. Julie and Jocelyn went all out and bought a cake to celebrate.

Anyway, my hopes for this week are to 1) stay not sick (healthy seems like maybe a stretch, so I’ll settle for not sick for now), 2) feel like I kind of have things under control again, 3) make good progress on the drawings, and 4) take some time to just relax and not feel like I need to always be working on something. Pray for me! I need it.