Thursday, February 24, 2011

El Salvador - Part 3

House #1- "before" - and all the dirt/rocks we had to use to level out the yard between the two houses.
House #2 - "before".
Monday, Valentine's Day (14 February) . . . "Man, it's a hot one. Like seven inches from the noonday sun." 90F/32C and we're using basic tools and our own bodies to sift sand, move blocks, haul water, move dirt and rocks, tamp dirt, mix cement (chispa!), and pass buckets back and forth to each other.

Every few hours, we stop what we're doing for a few minutes to drink some water and apply sunscreen. Sometimes a cool breeze blows down from the mountains. It feels nice until you realize there's dust in the breeze and now it's sticking to your sunscreen. By the end of the day, you've got so much dust attached to your face, lips, and arms . . . well, let's just say it's a good thing you didn't pack exfoliant, 'cause you won't need it.

Yet there's no reason to complain, because . . . well, it feels good to be out in the sunshine. Away from the office. Away from the stress of work projects and deadlines. If you ask me, people weren't meant to be indoors so much. Certainly we weren't supposed to sit in front of a computer all day. And night. :-)

For the most part, my jobs on Monday were: 1) sprinkle water on the dust to keep it down when the wind blew; 2) sprinkle water on the cement blocks, because it helps the mortar to stick; 3) carry blocks from the big pile to the house; and 4) use the homemade tamper to tamp down the dirt when we evened out the yard between the two houses. By the end of the day, I was exhausted, and I had hot spots (but not quite blisters) on both my hands.

How the masons placed the blocks over the rebar. No ladders!
Tuesday was more of the same, only I took a couple of turns hauling water. The locals make it look easy carrying around the 7.5 gallon jugs of water on their heads (Look Mom, no hands!) but I struggled. I pulled up several containers of water from the well. Yes, it was a "real" well - a hole in the ground, with a bucket attached to a rope. Heave ho, heave ho, until the full bucket of water came back up. Then I'd have to pour that into a big drum. THEN put the jug into the drum to fill it with water. THEN carry the jug to the work site and pour it into another big drum.

NO WHINING!!!
I will never, ever take clean water for granted again. Or complain when the water that comes out of the faucet is too cold. Or too hot. In fact, I may never complain about anything, ever again.

By the end of the week, I was a wirecutter extraordinaire and a tamping expert (we had to add dirt to the floors and tamp them. And add more dirt and tamp. More dirt. More tamp. Times infinity.) Oh, and just so you know . . .

This is a tamper.
And this is what tamping looks like.
There were a couple of diversions. For example, one day our local Habitat hosts brought a grill, set it up, and some of us learned to make pupusas. They're really easy to make, and so yummy when you eat them hot off the grill.

Making pupusas.
We also visited a second community, this one just outside of Santa Ana. The new homes are quite lovely, and many people have planted flowers and trees in their yards. We were told that things grow quickly here. 

One of the many pretty homes in the second community we visited.
Another day, some of us stopped work early and we drove the 5 miles or so on the Pan-American Highway from Candelaria de la Frontera to Guatemala. (I think Guatemala was my 35th country, but to be honest, I've kinda lost track already.)

On the border.
We didn't finish the houses, but by the end of the week, we definitely could tell that we had made progress. Actually, we were told that our assistance shaved off a couple of weeks from the entire process.

House #1 - "after".

House #2 - "after".
The masons and the landowner seemed very pleased with our work, and on Friday night we had a closing celebration at the Habitat office in Santa Ana . . . complete with a mariachi band!

There will be at least one more entry on the trip . . . but it may be a few days before I can post it. Thanks for your patience! :-))