There’s a reason why I haven’t been posting every week. Well, there are two reasons, and they’re rooted in the same thing. First, I’ve been so busy that every moment not occupied by work is taken up by me trying to maintain my sanity (aka flopping on the couch and doing nothing productive). Second, work is essentially all that’s been happening, so there’s nothing exciting to report anyway. If you feel like my last three posts have been almost the same, you’re not wrong. Things are chaotic, I’m not sleeping enough, and I continue to hope that the light at the end of the tunnel will appear anyyyy second. I’m sure it’s just around this bend…
Remember when I said that construction was starting on May 13th? Well, make that May 15th. And this time, it’s actually going to happen. Really, it is! Are we ready? Hmm. I can say for sure that I’m not. I don’t know about Debbie. I still have things to finish figuring out in my designs. This whole “designing a building” thing is a lot of work!
Things are definitely coming together, though. Last week, Debbie and I went shopping for light fixtures! Up until then, I was making lighting designs with hypothetical fixtures and crossing my fingers hoping we’d be able to find something similar. If you think that sounds less than ideal, you’re right. I didn’t realize how much that was weighing on me until after our shopping trip when I finally felt like I had a grasp on things.
After our shopping trip, we met with the guy who is going to do the electrical work. He’s done work at EA before, and he’s also an engineer which means he can help to make sure that my designs make sense! Hooray! It’s VERY reassuring to know that my plans will have a second set of eyes checking over them. Even if I was fully confident in everything I’m doing (which I’m not), I would still want someone looking things over. People make mistakes! And it’s like anything else. When you’re staring at the same thing for so long, you get to the point where you don’t even really see it anymore. You look at whatever you’re working on at the moment and ignore the rest. Even though I walked out of our meeting with drawings covered in notes about things to fix or change or update, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted. Yes, I have work to do, but at least I know I’m headed in the right direction.
So, all in all, things are good. Crazy, but that’s to be expected. Construction starts on Wednesday, and our next church team comes on Tuesday… and then they’re here for a week and a half, and the next church team comes two days after. Like I said, no “light at the end of the tunnel” in sight yet, but I’m holding out hope that it’s coming soon.
The last couple of weeks have been overwhelming, hence why I haven’t been posting recently. Last time, I wrote about trying to maintain a work-life balance. It wasn’t going very well then, and it hasn’t improved since. That’s why I’ve been missing in action recently. I could feel myself starting to fall apart, and I needed to cut something out in an attempt to give myself a chance to recover. I think it worked? Maybe? A little? But I’m still in the middle of a period of chaos, so we’ll see if I can make it out on the other side in one piece.
Let me try to catch you up on all of the happenings…
1. Our construction start date got pushed back again until May 13th. I know it sounds like we’re never actually going to start building, but this is the final final final start date. On May 20th, we have another team coming from the US, so if we don’t start before then, it’s really never going to happen. This is a good thing, though. We were so not going to be ready by the other date, partly because…
2. Our new structural engineer may be a miracle worker, but he’s still human and needs time to get everything done. I mentioned in my last post that we switched engineers because the first one wasn’t working out. Basically, they delivered a half-finished design, and a bunch of people found errors in their work that they refused to fix. Good, right? It was unfortunate to have to make a change in the middle of the project, but this new guy we’re working with really has it together. His design is SO much better, he meets deadlines and communicates well, and we’re actually confident that he knows what he’s talking about. Imagine that.
3. Two weeks ago was simultaneously the best and worst week because of the Easter vacation. We only worked Monday – Wednesday which would have been more fabulous if I didn’t need to fit 5 days of work into 3. It was stressful, to say the least, and by the time I went to sleep on Wednesday, I didn’t have much left in me… energy, patience, or brain functionality. So maybe it was good that it was only a three-day week.
4. For the holiday break (Thursday – Saturday), we went on a mini-vacation into the mountains! The pretty, green, not-in-the-middle-of-the-desert mountains! It was exactly the break I needed (until I got a reality check back at work on Monday). I can’t even explain to you how nice it was to be away from the compound. Everyone was so relaxed. The mountains were beautiful. The weather was cooler. We didn’t talk about work at all. I think we all needed a bit of an escape from reality. I’m going to write more about our trip in another post because I have lots of pretty pictures to share!
5. Last week was a mess. Our deadline for “finishing” our drawings is next Saturday, and yesterday we had a sort of pre-submission to prepare for a meeting this week to make final decisions about a few things that are currently up in the air. I feel overwhelmed. There are so many things left to do, and it seems like I keep getting surprised with more and more. Like maybe I asked a month ago if we wanted ‘x’ in the building, the answer was no, and last week, the answer became yes. I had a bit of a meltdown. It’s been worked out, though, and I’m praying for focus so that this can be a productive week. It needs to be.
6. The reason I said “finishing” in quotes in #5 is because we need to put together our drawings for pricing, but we haven’t had time to look at light fixtures yet. That means that I have maybe 20% confidence in my lighting layouts because how can I be sure about something that is based completely on speculation? At least construction happens from the ground up, so there’s some time to do research before they need to start installing pipes for the wiring and such. Still, it’s stressful to feel like I’m being pushed to make decisions without nearly enough information.
7. Even though actual construction hasn’t started, pre-construction has! This week kicked off some of the site preparation work. We had a front-end loader here on Thursday to put in a gravel driveway, and the guys are putting up a little building with a bathroom/shower and storage and changing areas for the construction workers. Legit construction companies make plans for this kind of thing – where materials will be located, where to put construction fencing, how pedestrians will be re-routed, etc. It might be okay to just wing it on a smaller project here, but this is going to be a big disruption to the programs no matter what. We want to minimize the impact as much as possible.
Okay, I think that’s all. This week is sure to be another one of chaos with the goal of making next week slightly more manageable… until construction starts the week after, and we’re right back to chaos! Hopefully that will be an exciting chaos, though, and not the type that makes me feel like I’m going to implode.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
This was quite the eventful week! Work-wise, it wasn’t much different than last week. I spent more time hunched over my computer and slightly less time pulling my hair out. At least that’s an improvement, right? I guess I should work on the hunching part next so that I don’t get stuck like that.
Anyway, the building plans are slowly, slowly coming along. I have a bunch of questions that need to be answered before I can put together a complete first draft, but at least there’s something on the page now! A tiny bit of progress is still progress.
The eventfulness of the week was more related to environmental factors. On Wednesday morning, I woke up early and noticed a weird glow coming from our living room… aliens! Kidding, it was our emergency light which meant the power was out. That was around 5:30AM. We’re not positive about when it went out, but Paul said he woke up around 2 because his fan stopped working (it’s still very hot here).
We think it was actually a planned outage, but what good is a plan if no one tells people about it? I guess someone knew, but that someone wasn’t anyone connected to us. I would have charged my electronics and printed things out the day before to make it possible to keep moving on my work. But nope, it seemed like everyone’s laptops and phones were on the brink of death. Obviously, the wifi also wasn’t working. All of the essential ingredients for a productive day.
On top of that, no electricity meant that the water pumps weren’t working… so there was also no running water. The morning was a mess of running around and trying to minimize the impact of the outage. Debbie went and got bags of ice to put into the fridges and freezers to keep them cool. Paul and I scooped water out of the storage cisterns and distributed them around the campus so people could bucket flush their toilets.
At home, if the power goes out in an office or a school with no generator, the rest of the day is a wash. You’d almost definitely be sent home. In this case, the programs were still happening which meant that we needed to be ready for the kids at the end of the school day. There were still lunches to cook and classes to teach. It’s not like power outages are necessarily THAT big of a deal on a small scale, but at an institutional level where you’re trying to avoid interruptions to operations, there’s a little more work involved.
I really lucked out with the whole thing. After we made sure everyone had the water they needed, Debbie invited me to join her on an errand run to Lima since it wasn’t likely to be a very productive day in the office. Yes please! We went on quite the shopping adventure. I got to tag along while she went to wood suppliers to get quotes and put in a wood order. We went to the hardware store and got tons of paint and other supplies for the mission team that’s coming next week (more about that later). I got to check out what electrical products are available here which will be helpful for finishing up my drawings. We went to KFC for lunch, and I celebrated having a break from beans (we usually have some variation of beans and rice for lunch on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Tuesday and Thursday are special meals and are generally more interesting). The day was exhausting, but I was happy for the change of scenery and the chance to experience something new!
The other big event of the week was an earthquake! That’s not as dramatic as it might seem because earthquakes are common here, but this one was a little bigger than just a tremor. I was in the bathroom washing my face, thought it was a truck driving by at first (because the streets in our neighborhood aren’t paved which means you feel EVERY truck), and after a few seconds was like, “NOPE THAT’S NO TRUCK,” and ran out of the building. I met Debbie, Julie, and Irma (the head psychologist) outside, and they said this one was stronger and lasted much longer than most. Julie looked it up afterward, and there was a 4.9 magnitude quake about 20 minutes south of us. Cool! (I can say that because we’re all okay.) There was a little shake last week too, but this is exciting because it’s the first earthquake that I felt and actually recognized for what it was.
That’s about it for the significant events of the week. Next week (starting today) is going to be insane because there’s a mission team coming from the States. During team weeks, everyone is running around constantly. My daily schedule will be pretty nonstop from 7AM – 8PM. Prayer requests for a good week for the mission team, endurance for me and the rest of the crew, and for safety! (Hopefully I’ll remember to take more pictures than I did this week…)
Does anyone have brain re-forming tips? Because my brain has turned into a pile of mush and I kind of need it to be functional instead of mushy. Last week was my first full week here, and that meant finally getting down to business and figuring out what needs to get done for this building project. Part of me wishes that I was still in a state of blissful ignorance, but that ship has sailed. This project is going to be A LOT of work, and in order to do my part, I’m going to need to learn very quickly.
To give you a mini-rundown of the project, it’s a relatively small 3-story building. On the first (ground) floor, there’s a bathroom that’s existing, and we’re adding two classrooms, one on either side. On the second floor, there will be three classrooms, and on the top “floor” (it’s being called a “half floor” because it won’t have full-height walls), there will be a multipurpose space and a kitchen.
Thankfully, I don’t need to worry about any large equipment or electrical panels. That infrastructure already exists, so we’ll be able to simply connect the new into the existing system. The major “uh oh” factor is coming from the realization that even though I did have a relevant job for a couple of years, the things I did were only a small portion of what’s needed for a full design. And, to make things even worse, I don’t know anything about what products are available here or Peruvian design rules-of-thumb. Debbie lent me her code book which is great… but of course, it’s in Spanish. I can understand it well enough, but it’s just one more thing on the list of tasks that are going to take a liiiiittle bit longer than they would at home. Add all of the “littles” together, and I have a lot of work to do.
Most of last week was spent on the world’s most tedious task… formatting. You don’t have to know anything about architecture or engineering to know that formatting documents is the worst. In this case, it’s the necessary prep work that will make the actual work go smoothly, but I feel like I accomplished next to nothing because there’s no physical result from my work. It’s also relatively mind-numbing. By the end of the day on Friday, I felt like my brain was made of mush (and it felt like it was functioning about that well, too). The one positive is that I mostly finished, so this week I can get on with doing actual work!
Instead of having a restful weekend, Debbie decided that we should go on an outing on Saturday. To an architecture seminar. On urban acoustics. In Spanish. She wanted me to meet her architect friends, and I’ll admit, I’m happy that we went. It was fun and the people were cool, but I would absolutely not describe it as a restful day. The morning involved about four hours of attempting to follow acoustics-related Spanish (which thankfully isn’t terribly different from acoustics-related English) and straining to remember the things I learned seven years ago (eek!) in my university acoustics class. Ha.
The topic was interesting though. The presenter just returned from a year studying in Spain, and he presented foundational acoustics information, plus his thesis topic. Side note, I was the only engineer in a room of architects, and that interaction is apparently the same no matter what country you’re in. Any time math was involved, I was basically called out with a, “but you already know this, don’t you?” I mean, no, not necessarily, but I do know how to use a calculator so I can figure it out..? Ugh. Architects. (I’m kidding, I’m kidding.) ANYWAY, his thesis looked at different road geometries (like raised roadways vs. sunken roadways vs. roads with walls, etc.) and analyzed how well the various configurations controlled the noise from the traffic. There was also a practical portion in the afternoon where we took sound measurements at various locations along a nearby street. It was fun! It reminded me of university because architecture/engineering students are always doing weird things in public for their classes. Buses kept stopping and trying to give us a ride because it absolutely looked like we were waiting for something.
By the end of the day, I was exhausted, and my brain was even more like mush than the day before. So yeah, probably not the best strategy for a brain revival, but good nonetheless.
Aside from work and my mushy brain, I’ve just been trying to keep myself sane. I’ve been attempting to work out on weekday mornings… I feel like I should at least do SOMETHING to offset the fact that I spend the rest of the day hunched over my computer screen, slowly pulling my hair out.
On one final note, if you’re wondering why you have yet to hear about Patagonia, it’s because of the internet. And also me. And mostly the interaction between me and the internet. Long story short (and vague), I decided I needed to change some big things about how my blog is set up to better suit the complicated disaster that it’s grown into… which meant that I needed to learn things about how the internet works. Which is something that my brain refuses to understand. BUT we survived (both me and my brain), and I think I kind of maybe sort of figured out the things that I needed to figure. I know, I’m oozing with confidence. In conclusion, ignore anything that doesn’t look quite right about my blog page because it’s a big ‘ole work in progress (but if you find something that doesn’t work, please tell me and then ignore it), and fear not. Soon enough, I’ll be confusing the heck out of you by talking about Peru and Patagonia at the same time.
I’ve been here for about a week now, and I’m already feeling settled in which is good. It is a little strange to think about the fact that I’m going to be here for the rest of the year. I haven’t spent this much time in one place in three years! Let’s see how long it takes for me to get stir crazy. In reality, though, I don’t think I’m going to have time to start feeling that way. Once things get moving on the building project, whew! It’s going to be hectic.
So far, I’ve mostly been getting my bearings again. Last week was the final prep week before the programs started up again, and we had an incredibly long staff meeting on Friday to get everyone on the same page about how things are going to work this year. That was perfect for me because now I feel like I know exactly what’s going on!
Today was the first day for Esperanza School and Casa Esperanza. Esperanza School is mostly an after-school program, but this year they’ve added an English preschool pilot program. There are 8 kids here all day, doing whatever kids do in preschool and also hopefully learning English! Cool, right? The rest of the kids go to school in the neighborhood and come afterward for lunch, homework time, and supplemental lessons.
After Esperanza School lets out, some of the kids stay overnight as well (during the week). They eat dinner and have other planned activities until bedtime.
My workdays generally go like this:
8AM – 2:30PM – staff worship time, workday, trying not to starve because lunch isn’t until the kids get out of school at…
2:30PM – 3:30PM – lunch and recess with the Esperanza School kids
3:30PM – 6PM – work
7PM – 7:30PM – dinner with the Casa Esperanza kids
I’m attempting to exercise in the mornings and relax a bit in the evenings… I’ll keep you posted on how that’s going, but I can’t say I’m terribly optimistic. Debbie (one of the full-time missionary staff/architect) and I met today to get on the same page about the building project, and well… we have a lot of work to do! We’re hitting the ground running this week with the designs and will hopefully start construction next month. Craziness!
If you’re thinking it’s been a while since you last heard from me… yes, it has. It’s been a crazy time for me! As you know (though from my much-delayed blog posts, you’d never guess), I’ve been home for about 6 months now, trying to discern my next step. Much has happened over the last few weeks. My brother Mike and I went on a somewhat spur-of-the-moment trip to Patagonia (more on that later)… and even more excitingly, my plans for the rest of the year came together!
“What are these exciting plans?” you ask. (Or maybe you didn’t ask, but I’m going to answer anyway.)
I’ll be spending the next 10 months in Peru, returning to Esperanza de Ana, the Christian ministry where I volunteered two years ago (January – March 2017). Esperanza de Ana is dedicated to family preservation and restoration, partnering with families in crisis in order to create stronger, safer, and more stable home environments.
Last time I was there, I co-taught a summer school class called Mini-Engineers with the goal of exposing the kids to new ideas and career paths. We taught a unit on urban planning, and the students built their own “kid cities”, complete with stop signs and traffic lights! Then, we changed gears and built robots! (That pun was 100% intended.) It was fun to see the kids get so excited about the things they created.
I spent the rest of my time in Peru focused on the campus’s lighting and electrical systems. There was no accurate documentation of the existing conditions, so I surveyed the buildings, created updated documents, and recommended changes for a more effective system.
Now, Esperanza de Ana is in the middle of an expansion project. Their after-school programs have outgrown the current classroom space, and they’re planning to construct a new building with five additional classrooms and a multipurpose space. I’ll be joining the team to design the lighting and electrical systems and help manage the construction! Whoa.
“That’s so cool,” you say. “How can I be involved?”
I’m thrilled you asked! First, if you know my mother, you can assure her that I will be careful not to fall off any cliffs, that airplanes DO travel to Peru and she is allowed to travel on one of them (long shot, I know), and that I am not lost to her forever.
Second, you can pray, specifically for my adjustment to life in Peru; for safety throughout my time abroad; for the project planning and execution to go smoothly; for Esperanza de Ana, the work they’re doing, the staff and the families; and for my fundraising efforts.
Third, if you’d like to help make this project and my involvement possible, you can support us financially. Since this isn’t a paid position, I am fundraising for the 10 months that I will be in Peru to cover room and board, flights, and other expenses. If you would like to join my support team, contributions for room and board can be sent to Armenian Martyrs’ Congregational Church (tax-deductible) by check (memo: “Lara Kaiserian mission”, 100 N. Edmonds Ave, Havertown, PA 19083) or electronically via PayPal (amccpa.org/give/, “Make Other Donation”, type “Lara Kaiserian mission” in ‘ special instructions’), and those for flights and other expenses can be sent to me directly (via mailed check or electronically, message me for info).
Also, fundraising for the expansion project is still in progress, and you can donate to that through Esperanza de Ana’s website HERE (that’s also a good place to see more information about the project).
Finally, fourth, you can keep reading my blog to stay updated on all the happenings in Peru.
On that note, what does this mean for the blog?
I’ve thought a lot about this, and I don’t want to abandon my last adventure. I visited some amazing places with some amazing history (increasingly becoming my favorite thing to learn about), and I still want to share it all with you.
That being said, get ready for your head to spin. I’m going to keep you updated on what’s happening in Peru (probably about once per week) while also continuing our jaunt across Europe. BUT, just to confuse even more and to get you in the South American spirit, we’re going to hit PAUSE on Europe and explore Patagonia together first! Mostly because I’m so excited about Mike and my trip, and if I wait to talk about it chronologically, we’ll be lucky to get there by 2020.
In summary: Peru posts will be ongoing, Patagonia posts coming soon, and we’ll head back to Europe after that! (Pretend that’s not confusing at all.)
Okay, that’s all for now! Thanks for bearing with me, for encouraging me during my six months of uncertainty, and for being my faithful travel companions. Pack your bags for another adventure!
After my cousins left, my time in Armenia quickly wrapped up. I planned to leave the country two days later, and between the goodbyes and the packing, those days flew by. From the second their cab pulled away, I was running. I said goodbye to the Birthright staff and had a final dinner with work friends before going back to my friend Zoe’s apartment to start pulling my life together.
I want to take a second to shout out to Zoe and Olivia for taking me in during my days of homelessness in Yerevan. They’re the best. Not only because of that, but yeah, they’re the best.
Zoe let me store my extra stuff at her place during the two weeks between my apartment move-out and my Armenia departure, and finally I couldn’t put off sorting through it any longer. Every time I move, I wonder the same thing… how on earth do I accumulate stuff so quickly?? I went to Armenia with a school backpack and a 55-liter backpack. I sent the school backpack home with my cousins, jam-packed with my Armenian notebooks and books and pairs of shoes (three! HOW??) and who even knows what else. That left me with one bag to hold the rest of my stuff, and the only options for each object were fit it or leave it.
I have this packing anxiety problem where I look at the pile of things to be packed, look at the bag, get stressed out, and decide that maybe it would be better to just ignore them both. As you can imagine, that’s maybe not the best approach to take because no part of it leads to me being ready to leave. I fought through it, and I don’t know how, but when I was finished, everything essential was inside my bag. It must be laced with a little bit of magic.
My last night in Armenia was spent with Zoe and Olivia. We went to church together and then out to dinner, and I had that feeling again. You know, the one where you feel like everything is right. Like perfect contentment. There are a lot of reasons why I think I was meant to stay in Armenia as long as I did, and those friends are two of the major ones. If I had left when I planned to, I never would have met them, and trust me, that would have been a terrible shame. God definitely did a little divine plotting to bring us together, and I can literally pinpoint His reasons in each relationship. It’s cool to feel like I have such a solid confirmation that I took the right path.
The next morning, I took a cab to the marshrutka station to catch a marshrutka to Tbilisi, Georgia. Before I go home, I’m doing some travelling around because why not? I’ve been saying that I’m taking the long way home… the VERY long way. The plan for Georgia was to stay for about a week, spend some time recovering emotionally from leaving Armenia, and then move on to my next destination.
I wasn’t sure how I would feel about leaving Armenia. On one hand, I think I was ready. I was ready for a change of pace and some different scenery. On the other, everything was starting to fall into place for me there. I had some great friends, I could communicate fairly well, and I felt comfortable. Maybe that’s part of the reason it was time to move on… time to be uncomfortable again, time for the next challenge, time to stretch myself in a different way. I guess we’ll see what happens in this next chapter.
To be honest, I don’t think it even registered that I was leaving for real this time. I had gone and come back so many times that my brain felt like this was a temporary trip again. Maybe I will go back to Armenia someday, but it’ll never be the same. I’m probably not going to have a life there again, and that makes me sad… but the fact that I’m sad makes me happy because that means I had a great experience. Leaving happy things behind is always sad.
Taking a marshrutka out was a weird way to leave. When you fly, you’re in the country and the next second, you’re gone. In a marshrutka, the leaving is gradual. After we pulled away from the station, I still had four hours of Armenia ahead of me.
I’m not going to say that I cried during the ride or anything. I’m also not going to say that I didn’t cry. I will say that I spent the ride looking out the window, admiring the Armenian countryside and having some feelings about what was happening. You can’t really let yourself cry in marshrutka though. How embarrassing. And it’s not like in the US where everyone would pretend that you weren’t crying and ignore you. No, someone would absolutely ask what was wrong and that would make everything even worse.
The ride to Tbilisi from Yerevan is five hours, and it felt like nothing. I would have been fine with sitting in that car for another five hours, but I think part of that is the fact that I always have a little anxiety about transitions. When you’re in the process of something, you know what to expect and you know you’re on some track (whether it’s the right or the wrong track is a different question that we’ll leave for another time). The transitions are scary because they’re unpredictable. And when you’re travelling, the transitions are also when you have to lug all of your stuff around, and that’s no fun either.
When we got to Tbilisi, the driver didn’t let us off near a metro station like I expected. Instead, we were at this bus station that’s totally not close to anything. Okay, keep your cool and use your brain, Lara (my mantra in every situation where my instincts say to panic, shut down, and cry in a ball on the ground). I realized that while the marshrutka driver was still there, I should ask him for help. I told him where I needed to go in Armenian, he asked this Georgian guy next to him in Russian, and the Georgian guy gave me two bus numbers and pointed me in the direction of the bus stop. And that was the last moment when my Armenian knowledge was of any use. Bummer, right? It’s always sad to realize that it doesn’t matter if you speak two or three or fifty languages as soon as you go to a country that doesn’t speak any of them.
I made it to the bus stop no problem and checked out the arrival board to see when the next bus was coming. Thank goodness numbers are the same in practically every language because even if you can’t read the name of the bus route, you can at least see the numbers. After finding the right bus, the next step was figuring out how to pay. I got on, sat down (no small feat while also wrangling all of my stuff), and watched what other people did. Everyone got onto the bus, swiped their metro cards at this little terminal, and got a receipt. When I felt sure about the procedure, I left my stuff in the seats, went up to get my receipt while acting like I totally had things under control, and whacked my head on a bar as I walked back to my seat. So much for that.
At the end of the bus line, I decided to just walk the rest of the way to the hostel because it was only six blocks… which is nothing until you’re wearing your life on your back and it’s a good 10 degrees C (20 degrees F) hotter than it was when you got dressed. So anyway, that’s how I started off my post-Armenia life: walking the streets of Tbilisi, wearing a huge backpack that got heavier with each step, and trying to pretend that I wasn’t sweating but definitely was. Off to a great start!