Can you believe September is over??!! I can’t, and I also can’t say that I’m very happy about it. It was a great month! Everything was normal – no crazy modifications to the schedule or extra things to worry about. The rest of the year isn’t going to be quite as calm. I know that the next few months will fly by even more quickly than September, and I’m trying to keep myself from stressing out about it! We have two team weeks in October, scheduled for consecutive weeks. November will be filled with the chaos of trying to pull together the finishing touches on the building and freaking out that I’m going to run out of time to do everything on my list. And I’m only going to be here for about a week and a half of December, so it barely counts at all. Ahh!

I could drag you with me down the black hole of swirling thoughts that keep my stress level at a steady higher-than-it-needs-to-be, but instead, I’ll spare you and talk about the last few weeks since I haven’t been doing very well with my “weekly” posts (a consistent theme, it seems).

The building. My gosh, the building. We have all three floors in place, and they’re starting to work on the finishes! EEK! There’s still definitely a lot to do, but the general shape of the building is there, and it’s huge. This is the only building on the property that has a 3rd story, and it’s so cool how much more of the neighborhood we can see from up there! It’s probably not cool for our neighbors because now we can see over their walls, but oh, well. Our one neighbor has a 2nd-floor balcony facing our property, so it’s not like privacy was ever much of a thing around here.

This is about where we left off last time… plus a little formwork on the second floor.

Over the next few weeks, it’s going to start looking like a whole new building. Only the brick walls are up now, and they’ll begin working on the drywall soon which means that we’ll really be able to see what the spaces are going to look like. Currently, they look super nice and well-lit by daylight, but that’s because most of them only have two walls! On top of that, Debbie is working on finding people to build the doors and the windows, and the electrician is going to start coming more regularly to start the wiring. Oh!! And the roof! The roof is going to be supported by a bamboo structure, and we started the whole bamboo preparation process this week.

Anddd BAM! This is where we are now!

On Tuesday, I got to work early and helped Milton, the maintenance guy, get everything ready for the bamboo delivery. Debbie was at the bamboo store picking out the individual pieces of bamboo… 180 pieces of 6ish-inch diameter, 6 and 7-meter-long bamboo. Yes. 180 pieces. Together, Milton and I supervised the removal of the rubble pile on the construction site, followed by the digging of a “pool” to be used to soak the bamboo in anti-bug chemicals. Yum. Then, he and I created an area for the bamboo to be stored while it dries. When I called Debbie to tell her we were ready, she said that the delivery truck was already en route! Geez! Then we had to unload it all which, thank goodness, the construction guys helped with. Even with the help, it felt endless! So now, we have a LOT of bamboo. And it all needs to make its way to the 3rd floor eventually.

The front-end loader clearing away the rubble pile. This is the same guy who cut practically every single pipe on the property when he came to dig the foundation holes, so we were supervising him extra carefully this time. The only problem? No one remembered that there was a wastewater pipe running straight through the space where we wanted to put the pool. So yeah, that got cut (whoops!) and subsequently fixed the next day after we realized it was something important rather than just random, buried pipe scraps (because that actually is a possibility here. There’s so much junk buried on the property that you really never know what you’re going to dig up).
Ready for the bamboo! The area on the left is to store the pieces, and the “pool” on the right is to soak them in chemicals to protect against bugs.
180 pieces of bamboo! Whew!

On the topic of transporting things to the third floor… have I told you about how they move bricks there from the ground? I don’t think I have. They throw them. Yes, they THROW them. Watching them get the ceiling bricks to the 3rd floor was my favorite thing. One guy stood on the 10ish-foot-high pile of bricks… and I’m still not sure how it seemed like it never got any shorter because he was taking bricks from the pile he was standing on, but anyway… He threw them one by one to a guy standing on “scaffolding” (aka one board on a shaky metal frame) about halfway up the second floor who threw them up to a guy at the edge of the third floor who threw them to a guy in the middle of the third floor who put them in a stack. Three throws per brick. No pressure. I have a video, but Debbie told me not to post it because “it’s not really how they’re supposed to do things”. Maybe it’s not the safest in theory, but while watching them, I never felt like there was anything to worry about. I can show you the video another time.

THIS is the pile of ceiling bricks they had to throw up to the third floor. What. The. Heck.

Here are some pictures to catch you up on the progress!

Starting to build the formwork for the second-floor ceiling/third floor!!
The brick structural walls are going in as well, as you can see in the back. I’ll never get tired of seeing the building change so quickly!
Front view… they had to put up some protective netting to make sure nothing fell on any kids going to use the bathroom (which is below the netted area)
The formwork for half of the floor. They still need the second half (up to the brick wall in the back) and the area to the bottom left above the corridor.
They put in the half-wall railing along the 2nd-floor corridor! And that guy standing at the top is there to pour concrete into the column below him. It looks like he’s standing on basically nothing… and that’s fairly accurate. This is their version of scaffolding.
One of the walls on the first floor with pipes for a bathroom on the left and tubes for the internet on the right.
Same wall after the stucco job… it’s like there are a bunch of secrets hidden within this wall!
The ceiling bricks are in place!
Putting the finishing touches on the third floor before the pour. The electrical guys are working on getting the million electrical tubes into place.
The finished slab! The two bricks sticking out of the middle are for drains. We actually weren’t there during the pour (stressful) because we were at our church’s women’s conference, but we were happy to see the finished product when we got home the next day!
Exposed brick walls outside of the second-floor classrooms.
This is how they get the concrete up to the third floor for the columns. Since the concrete mixer is on the ground, they mix it down there and then send it up to the top in 5-gallon buckets on a pulley system.
Three men working on three parapet walls.

Outside of work, the last few weekends have been super fun! Since “birthday weekend”, we’ve been doing our best to put things on the schedule for the weekends, no matter how simple. The first weekend after “birthday weekend”, we didn’t go anywhere crazy or do anything elaborate, but we did take some time on Saturday to play outside. Jocelyn and I started off playing 2-square (not the most exciting game… it ends up being a social time while simultaneously bouncing a ball between us), and eventually, Julie and Debbie joined and made it a full-on game of 4-square! Everyone gets a little competitive (though probably mostly me), so it was a lot of fun. It’s kind of ideal that there are 4 of us; it’s the perfect number for nearly every game. We should take advantage of that more often!

The following weekend was the women’s conference at our church. I didn’t know what to expect, and even if I did, I think my mind would have been blown. It’s quite the production. There were over 800 people there, and not just from Peru. There were big groups from Mexico and Argentina, plus people from Venezuela, Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil, Chile… craziness! The weekend was full of performances and different speakers and really amazing worship. It was fun to be a part of it. And the speakers were in English with translators, so I didn’t even have to focus super hard to understand what was going on. Julie, Debbie, Jocelyn, and I stayed overnight in Lima on Friday and Saturday, and besides having a great time at the conference, it was so nice to be outside of our property walls for a change!


I don’t know how to even begin describing this. We were driving through Chilca on a Tuesday night when we ran into this marching band blocking the street. They were getting ready for a “toro loco” (crazy bull)… aka this dude wearing a bull mounted on a metal frame and covered in FIREWORKS. They played a song while he danced around and fireworks went off. It was ridiculous. And also kind of terrifying. You couldn’t pay me enough to wear that thing! And when it was over, the band dispersed, like that was the only reason they all gathered together. It took maybe 3 minutes total, and it was three of the strangest minutes of my life.
The staff before heading off to the women’s conference!
A picture from one of the worship sessions during the women’s conference. So many people!!!

Last weekend was actually Jocelyn’s birthday weekend (unlike the fabricated Julie-and-Lara birthday weekend), and we went to the zoo to celebrate! It’s interesting to visit zoos in different parts of the world because while the major animals are the same, there’s a ton of diversity in the other animals depending on where you are. This zoo had so many varieties of birds and monkeys because they’re all native to South America, and some of them were things I’d never seen before. The highlight of the day, though, was in the “international” section of the zoo… they had three 1-month-old baby tigers!!! EEE!! They. Were. So. Cute. I could have watched them all day. There was a huge crowd around because the obsession with baby animals is universal. I mean, how could you not love them?

BABY TIGERS!!!! Definitely the highlight.
Part of the zoo’s botanical gardens
The zoo crew! Me, Jocelyn, Vanessa, and Julie
I kept staring at these zebras, confused because I didn’t think I’d ever seen anything like them before but almost certain that it wasn’t my first time seeing a zebra. Turns out, there are three varieties of zebras. These are Grevy’s zebras which are less common than the other varieties. They also have much tighter stripes…
…as you can see. These are the more common Plains zebras which are probably the ones I’m used to seeing. What strange animals.
Sea lion blur!
Monkey island and monkey tree.
Pretty zoo landscaping.
In case you’re curious about what you’ll get if you order a hot dog at a Peruvian zoo… They put those crunchy fries on top, and the “ketchup” is NOT normal ketchup. It’s weirdly pink and doesn’t taste especially good.

Anyway, as you can see, we’ve been busy, if only because we’re making up ways to keep things interesting. But the building project is definitely heating up, I’m starting to accept the reality that we have two team weeks coming up, and we’re all bracing for a truly busy October. Let’s see how long it takes for me to write again! (Ha!)

Darjeeling is beautiful!!! I already feel like I need to come back here to do some hiking. The crew I’m with right now is not exactly the hiking type, so I don’t think we’ll be uncovering any of the town’s hidden gems while we’re here. Anyone out there want to come and trek across northern India with me?

There’s just something about mountain towns…

Darjeeling is a popular tourist destination for both Indians and foreigners, and its tea industry is internationally recognized. If you’re a tea drinker, you’re probably familiar with Darjeeling tea, especially the classic black tea that is popular worldwide. The town’s recorded history began in the 1800s when the British set up a health resort and military depot in the “Lesser Himalayas” (the shorter mountain range containing Darjeeling that runs parallel to the High Himalayas aka where Mount Everest is located). It became a popular summer escape for the British residents of Kolkata (then Calcutta) who were seeking relief from the heat. The tea growing began in the 1850s when the British started seeking a tea source outside of China. After some trials and hybridization to create teas that would thrive in the Darjeeling climate and elevation, the industry took off. This was good for the town’s growth because it created jobs and motivated the development of infrastructure to transport the tea to Britain.

Hi, little Himalayas! (I don’t want to call them “Lesser” because it makes them sound like they’re not spectacular, and that’s clearly not true.)

We enjoyed one of the benefits of that development when we took the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (also called the “Toy Train”) from Sonada to Darjeeling. It was built from 1879-81, and in total, the tracks are 55 miles (88km) long, running from New Jalpaiguri at 328ft/100m elevation to Darjeeling at 6,700ft/2,000m. It’s smaller than a normal train… the tracks are only maybe 2’ apart, and to manage the dramatic elevation change, there are loops and switchbacks (it’s like a zig-zag, and the train goes to the end of the track, stops, and then reverses direction to go up the next run of track, stops, and reverses direction up the next, etc.) to keep the tracks from getting too steep. It’s very impressive! It also has India’s highest elevation railway station (in Ghum) and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sonada station
Terrible picture, but this is the only one I have of the front of the train. The locomotives are mostly diesel, but there are a couple of steam ones as well.
Neha and me with the train
Toy train selfie!
Going up…
The train at Ghum Station. This is the highest altitude station! Also, does that station sign look familiar? If you’ve ever been to England, you might recognize it from the London tube station signs! Another British legacy left behind.

After probably an hour on the train (it doesn’t go very fast, plus it made some stops along the way), we arrived at Darjeeling Station. The views for the entire ride were great, and at the station, we got another glimpse of some of the awesomeness that lay beyond (I say “a glimpse” because there were power lines galore blocking us from getting an unobstructed view). I personally am all about mountain views. I’ve seen a lot of them, but I don’t think they’ll ever get old for me. Plus, they’re all so different. The mountains in Peru are green and awesome, and these are also green and awesome, but they look NOTHING alike. Earth is the coolest. Apparently, you can see all the way to Mount Everest in Nepal on a clear day! But I don’t know how often those kinds of days actually happen with all of the smog… maybe after a really heavy rain.

Ah, what a beautiful view! I’m so glad that there isn’t anything blocking it!
Ignore the power lines.
Darjeeling streets. Also, admire those out-of-control power lines in the middle.
Monkeys on the power lines!

From there, we headed to the zoo, aka the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park. It opened in 1958 and specializes in the captive breeding of alpine animals. They’ve successfully bred some critically endangered animals like the Himalayan wolf and red panda and the vulnerable snow leopard. I was VERY excited about this because snow leopards are my absolute favorite animal, and any day when I get to see them in person is an exciting one. I stared at them for a long time. It was just as magical as it always is. Side note though, the best place I’ve been to see snow leopards is the San Diego Zoo. You may have heard about how amazing that zoo is, and I’m telling you, believe it! The zoo is beautifully designed, it’s HUGE, they have multiple snow leopards, and you can get so close to them! Anna (the snow leopard) and I made eye contact and instantly became best friends. Sorry this is a huge aside, but seriously, you should go. Also, they have koalas. And Tasmanian devils.

Outside the zoo entrance

ANYWAY, back to Darjeeling’s zoo. It’s always interesting visiting zoos in different parts of the world because they have different types of animals… like this one had a lot of local fauna which included things like yaks which I don’t think I’d ever seen before. It felt like we were just strolling through the forest (because we were), and as we were leaving, everyone was looking up at a red panda that had climbed up into a tree that was probably (maybe) 100’ tall (at least). It’s nice that they have the space to give them such a big habitat! Or maybe it escaped, who knows.

The wildlife starts before you even get to the zoo. There are wild monkeys all over the place. Pastor Daniel talked to me about the monkeys soon after I got to India and told me what to do if you’re ever in a face-off with one – don’t make eye contact and DON’T smile. It’s funny how, depending on where you grow up, you learn very different animal facts. I learned about what to do around alligators and bears. Here, kids learn about monkeys and elephants.
It’s a yak!
Males can weigh up to 2200lbs (1000kg) while females are only about a third that size.
Crowded, of course
One of the many super-cool walls at the zoo. Come for the animals, stay for the moss-covered walls.
Another mossy wall
Some 100% safe electrical wiring at the zoo. Yes, at the zoo. Like in a public place where people and children visit. Yes, those splices are wrapped in electrical tape. Keep in mind that the voltage here is 240V, so a shock would be quite unpleasant.
I love you, snow leopard.
Still on a high from seeing the snow leopards
No clue what kind of monkey this is (sorry)
Weird bear sculpture-type thing in the bear enclosure.
Isn’t it a pretty zoo? They estimate that there are at least 200 species of plants/trees growing in the zoo.
Hi, mountains.
Spot the red panda…
Red pandas are endangered. They live in forests and usually stay in the treetops, but they do come down to look for food, like bamboo leaves and fruits (they’re herbivores).
There he is! I wish I had a camera with a better zoom… but he kind of looks like a little red raccoon. They’re around 1.5′ (60cm) in length and weigh about 7lbs (3kg), and they live around 16 years in captivity.
I love these trees

After the zoo, we did some wandering. We walked farther up the mountain, somehow managing not to get hit by a single car even though we were basically walking in the middle of the street. I frequently feel like I’m some sort of safety nut here because I’m like “hey, maybe we shouldn’t walk in the middle of the street” and everyone else is posing for selfies right in the path of oncoming traffic. I think I’m just being reasonable though, right?

Walking in the middle of the street
The roads all have these little rocks in them… I guess they’re there for traction? I don’t think that snow is common, but there is a lot of rain (and consequently a lot of landslides that can make the roads impassable).

Ah, yes, that’s another cultural difference you can add to the list. People here love selfies. I know what you’re thinking… “Is that really a cultural difference?” But trust me. Their love of selfies goes beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before. Maybe I’m just not running in the right crowds at home. It’s not just selfies though, to be fair. It’s all pictures. People take SO MANY pictures, and most of the time, they’re of very underwhelming things. Like we’ll take a selfie in the middle of the street with nothing interesting in the background. Then we’ll take a selfie on the train. And next to the train. And sitting at the train station. And walking down the street. And and and and and… the list could go on forever. I’m more of a “take pictures for the memories, but also use your eyes and just enjoy the experience” kind of person, so I quickly grew weary of the constant picture-taking. Luckily, everyone’s phones except for mine were dead long before the end of the day. Life’s little blessings.

Seriously breathtaking
Happy to be in the mountains

By the time we finished our wandering and made it down the mountain, dark clouds were starting to roll in. Oh, rainy season, how I hate you. The rain comes frequently, quickly, and heavily. We snagged a bus back to Sonada before the worst of it started, thankfully. Oh, and we also ate more momos… yummm! I ate beef ones this time, so now, in two days, I’ve checked off three different kinds. That’s pretty good, right?

Beef momos! Not nearly as beautiful as the ones we made. This is very close to what my first attempt looked like, actually.
Since we’re talking about food… this was breakfast one day. The bowl has potatoes in it, and the bread is kind of crispy but also soft (I think it’s called poori bread but I could be wrong).

**Note: Post has been edited since its original posting to include more information and photos.

Related Posts

Road to Sonada – experience the joys of traveling across India and come along on the trek from where I lived in Jaigaon to Sonada.

Machu Picchu: The Citadel – enjoy the double fun of seeing Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains AND ride back to Cusco, Peru on the train… via ridiculous switchback train tracks, just like the Toy Train’s.

Lima Zoo – if you like zoos, say hi to the baby tigers at the Lima, Peru zoo! (Plus some bonus material about my life in Peru.)

Mount Aragats – it’s no Everest, but hike to the top of Armenia’s tallest peak, Mount Aragats!

Laguna de los Tres – for some completely different mountain views, hop on over to Argentina!