One of the team members and me working on the fence

Are you tired of reading updates where nothing has changed? WELL, then today is your lucky day. Things are happening! My gosh, and it’s such chaos that part of me wishes FEWER things were happening, but isn’t that always the way these things go? There’s nothing nothing nothing and then EVERYTHING hits at once.

I’ll start off with the words I’m sure you thought you’d never hear… construction started!!! We had the first workers onsite two and a half weeks ago, and things really got going about 4 days in when they brought the front-end loader back onsite to dig the foundation holes. That was also the day when our next mission team arrived, 15 people from ACF, one of the Christian campus ministry groups at Penn State.

The site with construction materials organized
The site back when it still looked remotely organized. The wooden formwork for the concrete is in the background, the concrete mixer is to the left, and the steel rebar for reinforcing the concrete is under the blue tarp.

If that sounds like a lot happening at once, just wait. To say that construction got off to a rough start would be the understatement of the century. In ONE day while they were digging the foundation holes, they cut FOUR tubes that were not supposed to be cut. Four tubes that were in known locations. It’s so sad that it’s almost comical, but at the same time, it’s not funny at all because that kind of thing should not be happening. The water lines to the two back buildings were cut, plus the electrical ground line to one and ALL of the electrical power to the other. So besides being a bit stupid, it also had the potential to be dangerous. Thankfully, no one was electrocuted, the water lines were quickly repaired (though then there was dirt in the lines which clogged up the plumbing fixtures. So, all of the toilets ran constantly after the first flush until they went through the property’s entire water supply. A water truck came to refill our water tanks, and the toilets were shut off and bucket flushed until the dirt could be cleaned out. Fun, right?), and the electricity was restored a few days later when we luckily already had the electrician scheduled to come.

The front-end loader getting ready for another go at the hole
The front-end loader digging out one of the foundation holes. This was pre-pipe breaking.
A large hole in the ground
The second foundation hole
A giant pile of dirt from the foundation holes
Our lovely dirt pile. The grounds are looking a bit rough at the moment…

Thankfully, since then, there have been fewer… mishaps… with the construction, though every day still does seem to have its share of crises. They poured the concrete for the foundations on one side of the building on Friday, and now they’re working on setting up the steel for the foundations and columns on the other side. Seeing the columns sticking up makes it easier to imagine a building there, and it’s insane. This building is going to be huge compared to the existing buildings because it’s going to have a whole extra story! I don’t think anyone really understands how massive it’s going to look.

The beginnings of the foundations
On side #1, they started by assembling the steel for the foundations and attaching the columns. You can also see the wooden formwork starting to go in to contain the concrete when it gets poured later.
The building progressing
More steel, more formwork, and the world’s most terrifying scaffolding.
Most of the rebar and formwork for the foundations on side #1
Almost ready for concrete!
Concrete pour in progress
The concrete was poured on Friday, and it was an all-day event. They had extra guys working, and it was nonstop mixing and dumping wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of concrete into the foundations. The guy at the bottom is using this tool that vibrates to help the concrete settle and eliminate air pockets.
Concrete foundations poured!
The end result
The concrete mixer, piles of materials, and crew
The mixing crew. Gravel, sand, concrete, water, repeat.

The construction alone is enough to make life here crazy, but that’s not all that’s been going on. Like I said, we had FIFTEEN additional people on the property for the last week and a half. I didn’t think the number sounded like a lot until I saw it in human form. Trust me, it’s a lot. Especially when they all need to be managed and directed. They mainly worked on three projects: 1. Digging a trench to put in a new septic line (at the deepest point, it had to be something like 2 meters deep), 2. Finishing the drywall and painting the bathroom/break room for the construction workers, and 3. Building a new bamboo fence near the soccer court.

My major job while they were here was managing projects #2 and #3. You ask, “What do you know about drywall, Lara?” WELL, I watched a very informative 2-hour-and-15-minute video about drywall installation, so I’m basically an expert now (I can send you the link if you’re interested. It’s truly thrilling. Strongly recommend watching it at 1.75 speed). You ask, “What do you know about bamboo construction, Lara?” WELL, um… nothing. You know that saying “Fake it ‘til you make it”? Story of my life right now. It’s the same strategy as when I’m in an unfamiliar city and don’t know what direction I need to walk… so, I take a guess and march confidently in that direction until I get my bearings. And then I turn around and march confidently in the opposite direction.

Debbie and the two bamboo guys looking for the perfect bamboo
Debbie picking out bamboo from the bamboo store for our fresh bamboo fence… because obviously there are bamboo stores because where else would you go to buy bamboo?
Bamboo standing on end at the bamboo store
Bamboo forest
The delivery truck loaded up with bamboo
Our bamboo delivery vehicle.

Debbie did go over the general processes before releasing me into the wild, but as clear as everything seemed when it was being explained, it was a whole different story when we got to the actual execution. I had a lot of follow-up questions.

How did it all turn out? Surprisingly well, actually. The drywall/painting project is finished and looks better than I expected, honestly. There are definitely some parts that are a little rough, but it’s a utility space which means that’s not a huge deal. It’s just going to get banged and dirtied up anyway. The most important thing is that it’s finished, so the construction workers can actually start using it for their break room/changing area instead of the little closet they’ve been crowding into.

Mudding over the joints to get ready for painting
Some of the drywall/painting crew, hard at work.

The bamboo fence is still a work in progress, and I’m very optimistic about how it’s going to turn out. So far, we have all of the pieces prepared (they had to be cleaned, cut, sanded, painted with insecticide, and varnished), and the columns are in place. At least half of them are properly aligned which is promising. The other half was just installed, so we haven’t checked the fit of the horizontal beams yet. Fingers crossed! Hopefully the next team (which is already here. They came in last night!) can finish it off this week.

Bamboo laying out to dry
The treated and varnished bamboo for the fence
One of the team members and me working on the fence
Working on the columns for the fence with one of the team members (Pic by the EA photographer, David)
Me and a team member tying caution tape around our fence-in-progress
Putting up a worthless caution-tape barrier around our columns as their concrete footers set. The kids all proceeded to ignore the caution tape completely during recess. We basically had a human wall in front of the columns, trying to keep balls and kids from knocking them out of alignment before the concrete could harden enough to hold them in place. (Pic by David)

The septic trench is also not finished, though they did make amazing progress and even started to lay the pipe. The deepest part is finished, there’s a tunnel underneath the sidewalk, and the next segment is marked out and started. It’s crazy! They managed to make it so deep and skinny; it’s like a crack in the earth. They started having to reassign the shorter people on the team to other projects because the sides of the trench were getting too high for them.

Septic trench
The trench! It doesn’t look super deep in this picture, but the far end is at least 2m from top to bottom.
The trench and under-sidewalk tunnel
The tunnel under the sidewalk! So glad I wasn’t involved with the digging of that…
The team standing in their trench, holding digging tools
The team in the trench. I’m looking awkward on the far left. Also it looks like I have a double hand and super wide arm, but I promise I haven’t mutated in the last few months, so we’ll blame it on the picture.

The final craziness of the last few weeks is EARTHQUAKES! During the 10 days that the ACF team was here, there were THREE that we very clearly felt. The first happened on the team’s third day. We were at lunch, and it was super short but felt STRONG. In my head, it was like I was seeing through broken glass. Sharp and very pronounced. I don’t know how else to explain it.  There was no question in my mind that it was an earthquake, and the kids and staff were on the same page because we all stood up practically in unison to evacuate… except for the team. The teachers started grabbing little kids out of their chairs, and everyone started moving to the doors. I figured I should clue the team members in, you know, just in case the building was going to decide to fall down. I thought that they’d figure it out quickly once they saw me, but that was definitely not the case. It went something like:

“EARTHQUAKE!” At this point, I was yelling because it was loud but still very calm.

“What??”

“EARTHQUAKE!!” Starting to lose my calm…

“Huh?”

Jocelyn and me in front of a pile of mud bricks
Jocelyn and me at Huaca Pucllana, an archaeological site in Lima. We went with the team on their sightseeing day. That’s a giant pyramid of adobe bricks behind us!

“EARTHQUAKE! WE NEED TO LEAVE!” I signaled with my hands. I was ready to just leave them if this didn’t work. Finally, they got it and joined the crowd headed out to the soccer court. Geez, good thing the building didn’t fall down! No one on the team felt it, and I think they were a little skeptical that it even happened until enough other people confirmed it. Really though, why would I make up an earthquake??

The next one was the extra crazy one. It happened at 2:40AM last Sunday morning. I woke up VERY quickly, and when we were still shaking after like 10 seconds, Debbie and I got up to leave. She pounded on Jocelyn’s and Julie’s doors on the way out, and when we got downstairs, it was STILL going. Our “safe area” is in the dirt outside, and usually, once you get off the sidewalk, you can’t feel anything. Not this time! Even on the ground, we could absolutely feel the shaking, like a deep rumble underneath our feet.

It seemed to go on forever. In the quiet of the night, Julie’s cat meowed his distress from inside his crate. Our metal stairs “thunk, thunk, thunk”-ed against the building, and the steel for the new building’s columns clinked together like wind chimes in the distance. And all we could do was stand there and wait. It was eerie. In the morning, Debbie said that it lasted 2 whole minutes. Two eternities in earthquake time. It was an 8.0 magnitude earthquake about 500 miles away from us, at the edge of the Amazon, 70 miles below the surface. Whatttt?! I don’t think there was much damage, thankfully, because of the location, but you can bet that EVERYONE was talking about it the next day. What a weird thing. As someone who comes from a nearly earthquake-less area, the feeling of the ground shaking beneath me is insanely discomforting.

The EA family
The kids, teachers, team, and us. I’m sure it looks just like the picture from the last team that visited… and I’m wearing the same shirt but shhh. It’s different, I promise.

There have been a LOT of smaller earthquakes since then, way more than the usual (aftershocks maybe? I don’t know how these things work). Two nights later, there was another one strong enough to make us evacuate. Three in one week, and one an 8.0! What is happening!?

I know, this was quite the long update, but I suppose that’s what happens when things get busy and I don’t write for three weeks (oops). I’ll do better next time!

Sunset over the Pacific

What. A. Week. Practically every evening last week ended the same way. The other girls went to their rooms/to bed at 9:15PM. I tried to stay up to get things done (like my journal or blog posts) and was falling asleep on my computer within half an hour. I would think, “Okay, I’m just going to write one more sentence and then I’ll go to bed,” and then I’d blink and fail to re-open my eyes for at least a full minute. I’d wake up to nonsense sentences typed on my computer, delete them, and start the cycle over again until finally realizing it was hopeless and going to bed.

We had a mission team of 8 people visiting from a church in Illinois. I knew that I was going to have an exhausting week, but I don’t think I realized just how tiring the combination of extra long workdays and spending each day out and about, rather than on my computer in the office, would be. For the week, all building project-related tasks were put on hold, and our attention was entirely focused on the team.

The group with water splashing in front of us
The team (and us) near the Boqueron in Pucusana (pic by David Espinoza)
Birds' eye view of our neighborhood from a nearby mountain
Looking out over our neighborhood. We went for a walk with the team so that they could get some context, and we prayed over our community – for the people, the leaders, the local church, etc.

My mornings started with 7:15AM breakfast prep. Aside from the fact that it means I have to start my day earlier, I don’t mind being in charge of breakfast. It’s not like it’s very mentally taxing. I take out cereal and other breakfast items. I cut a bunch of rolls. I scramble mass quantities of eggs. Not hard. It’s even kind of fun.

Breakfast is at 8, and the team is in charge of clean up at 8:30 (cooking is even better when you don’t have to clean up too!). Community worship is still at 9AM, and after that (usually), we split everyone up and send them off to their service projects for the day. I was responsible for a few painting projects, and it was fun to lead and have a chance to get to know the people on the team.

Selfie with the team
Van selfie on our way to church!
My electrical buddy putting the finishing touches on our outlet
Working on installing an outlet for a ceiling mounted projector

I also got to spend some time helping one of the men from the team who has experience doing electrical work. I was super excited because I’ve been wanting to learn more practical, hands-on electrical, and I got to work with him to install some lights, fans, and an outlet. I also felt useful because the electrical system in Peru is very different from that in the States, and I at least understand how things are supposed to function here. The extra challenge is that things at Esperanza de Ana (and I’m sure in plenty of other buildings across the country) weren’t necessarily wired the way that they’re supposed to be, so every job took like 4x as long as it should because we had to decode the wires first. What a mess. So awesome though!! I finished up installing some lights and a ceiling fan yesterday (since we ran into so many problems that we didn’t get it done last week), and when I turned the building power back on and the lights worked as they should and the fan didn’t blow up, it was such a satisfying moment. It’s awesome to feel fully capable of doing something that has intimidated me for so long (simply because electricity is kind of scary). Maybe I’ll add “electrician” to my list of possible future careers. Orrr maybe I’ll just keep it as a useful side hobby.

The office where we installed new lighting and a ceiling fan
The finished product!

Work on service projects goes from about 10AM – 2PM, lunch is  2:30, and then it’s back to work after recess from 3:30PM – 5:30PM until it’s time to clean up. We have a team leader meeting at 6 to talk about the day’s progress and plan for the next day’s work. Dinner is at 7, and there’s some time afterwards to play games until 8PM when the kids go to bed and we’re finally released to personal time.

It ends up being like a 13-hour day which maybe doesn’t sound so bad, but apparently my body would argue because by about 9PM every night, I was fighting to stay awake.

Massive group picture
The team, the staff, and the kids! What a group! (pic by David Espinoza)

Team weeks also have some bonus fun activities. We went to Pucusana, a nearby beach town, for lunch and a boat ride on the first day the team was here. We saw sea lions, penguins, starfish, a bunch of birds whose names I don’t remember (except for one, the blue-footed boobie, because seeing one is apparently a very exciting), some pelicans (which were almost disconcertingly large), and probably more that I don’t remember. It’s always fun to do something a little different!

The marina from our boat
Pucusana
Pelicans sitting on the roof of a dock
Pelicans on the roof!
A big, concrete building on the coast in the shape of a boat
Houseboat! Except I think it used to be a restaurant. Restaurantboat! (It’s empty now… maybe it’s for sale! If you’ve ever wanted to live on a houseboat, here’s a rock-solid option).
Penguins on bird poop-covered rocks
Penguins! Excuse the pixelation on these pictures. Phone camera zoom strikes again!
Blue-footed boobies standing on the rocks
The blue-footed boobies! You get a gold star if you can spot them (there are two standing next to each other).
Sea lion lounging on the rocks
Sea lion! That position does not look comfortable…
A flock of birds flying out across the water
I don’t think nature photography is my thing… you really have to be ready at any second. I barely snapped a picture of these birds flying away before they were gone, but it would have been way cooler like 5 seconds earlier.
Chocolate ice cream cone
Chilca Day ended with ice cream, so of course I thought it was a good day!

We also spent Thursday morning on an adventure. It was “Chilca Day”. The team goes into Chilca and tries to buy various things that EA needs, armed with nothing but shopping lists (in English), envelopes of money, and whatever language skills they have (anyone with even elementary Spanish is excluded from participation). Julie splits the team into groups, and each group has to wander the streets of Chilca and attempt to find all of the things on the list. This is the only instance where my Spanish skills are considered “too good”, and I’m not allowed to participate. That’s fine with me. I like getting to walk around with a group and experiencing it from a distance, without actually having to stress about where to go or what to say. I’ve done enough of that over the last few years.

My team in a hair products shop
Two of the other members of my shopping team, plus a shopkeeper. If everyone looks confused, it’s because they are. (pic by David Espinoza)
Chilca's Plaza de Armas with its gazebo and the cathedral
The Plaza de Armas in Chilca where we waited for the rest of the team after finishing our shopping day (because we won, obviously).

As exhausting as the week was, I really enjoyed having the team here. It’s fun to have new people around and a different rhythm to the days. It snapped me out of the feeling of monotony that I was slowly sinking into, where each day feels like the last and the weeks simultaneously drag and fly by. I’m also happy to go back to the old rhythm this week… the one that doesn’t have me falling asleep on the couch every night. I have a little tickle in my throat that’s starting to worry me, but hopefully if I take care to go to bed early and drink a lot of water over the next few days, I’ll be able to hold off whatever sickness is trying to catch me. Fingers crossed!

Selfie in Lima's Plaza de Armas
Group selfie during our day in Lima!
Sunset over the Pacific
Saturday’s sunset

​The last two days have been one, big, notebook-wrapping blur. The team has been working on their service projects, and I’m in charge of the “vinifan” project. Let me attempt to summarize the ridiculousness that is this process:

The notebooks closer to the bookcase are already wrapped. The other ones need to be wrapped. A million notebooks everywhere.

The kids need notebooks for school, and it’s way more than you would ever think that someone might need. A 2-year-old needs 2 notebooks. A 4th grader needs 13. A 7th grader needs 17. What the heck are they doing with 17 notebooks?? Well, that’s beside the point. Each notebook is for a specific subject (geometry, arithmetic, algebra, etc. – even though those are all math, they all need a different notebook). There are a bunch of different line types in the notebooks – graph paper, blank, lined, 3-lines, bigger squares, even bigger squares, bigger 3-lines, etc., and each subject needs a specific type of lines and a specific color. Each notebook also has to get covered with plastic (vinifan is the brand of the plastic) to protect it. If the notebook itself isn’t the right color to begin with, you need to first cover it with paper that’s the right color and second cover it with the plastic. They also all have handwritten labels that have the subject, kid’s name, grade, and school written on them. I think that we have about 24 kids that we are wrapping for, and they range in age from 2 years to 8th grade.

Sunset!

Does that sound like a very complicated situation for some school notebooks? The correct answer to this question is “yes”, by the way. We figured out a system yesterday, after a little trial and error, and it ended up with me writing all of the labels, picking out notebooks, and leaving a note if their colors needed to be changed. I had volunteers assigned to me from the team, so at least I wasn’t doing it alone. By the end of the day yesterday, I think we had only done about 60, and we have over 200 to do.

The last two days have basically just been hours and hours of wrapping books in plastic. Actually, I spent most of my time writing labels. It was a fabulous moment when I finished writing and my hand could finally relax.

The team sang a couple of songs at church tonight!

Tonight, after dinner we went to the church where the kids are taken during the school year. The music was really fun and upbeat, and I knew some of the songs in English. The sermon was also really well done. Dina was translating it, so it wasn’t that hard to follow, but I tried to translate the Spanish and then only count on her for help when I definitely couldn’t figure out what was going on. I’m going to put my comprehension level of that service at about 85-90%. I’m definitely improving!!

I’m exhausted and have to wake up at 5:45AM again to put the coffee on before breakfast, so ciao for now!