“Hopefully I can remember the last two days, they’ve been pretty long.
Monday, St. Patrick’s Day, we went to our first work site at about 8am. Our job was to build latrines (bathrooms, which are more or less 15ft holes in the ground with cinderblocks and cement on top) for the people in this remote mountain area, about 45 minutes from where we are staying.
The ride wasn’t bad other than the swerving around crater-like potholes and nearly in to oncoming traffic. The highway followed the shore pretty closely. It reminded me of the Amalfi coast in Italy- large cliffs, vein like roads connecting each little town along the way with the occasional orange roof in the distance.
Eventually, we got to a dirt road with a bodega in front of it and the nearly 40 people in our groups exited the vans and into the back of a 1950s era Mercedes pick-up truck and up the mountain we went.
Unfortunately, our site was only about 20 minutes up the road. Now, I say unfortunately because we passed it and went another 20-25 minutes up the mountain, nearly getting stuck and having to go backwards to try again, only to turn around and find our site. To help put this all in perspective, we couldn’t have traveled more than 7 miles all together. To say it was a slow, bumpy, and scary ride may help put this all together. Most times we wondered if the truck would make it up the suddenly steep hills of loose rock and dirt.
Anyway, on the way up, Andrew noticed a cemetery. It was much different than what we are used to seeing in the United States. It was colorful, as if truly celebrating a person’s life.
At the site, it was a long day of mixing concrete on the ground, moving cinder blocks, and avoiding falling into the 15ft whole while carrying buckets of cement and dirt.
At lunch, Courtney, Tim, Andrew, Ryan and I went down to the river to cool off. Andrew and I dunked our heads in the cool water and climbed some rocks while the rest of the group sought out an entrance to this old, rickety, Indiana Jones type bridge.
Here’s a not so great picture of Courtney on the bridge.
Lunch was PBJ on subroles and a lot of water. The school kids were huddled around most of the girls as they attempted to speak with them, only to get laughs in return.
After lunch, we were back to work. We were able to finish two latrines for the day, though we cut out pretty early, probably 3:30 or so.
Overall, it was a good experience. A first hand account of the extreme poverty helped to put a lot of the problems we face in the United States into perspective. A large portion of the country deals with these kinds of conditions. What amazed me more than anything was how happy the people, and especially the kids, were. I tried to play around with the kids as much as possible, though I was very determined to finish the task at hand. That is, after all, why we’re here.
At the end of our work day, we piled back into the truck and off we went back down the mountain. Here’s a video of us on the way down.
The bodega at the bottom had 40 cent sodas, which were half a liter by the way. So, as most of us did, I enjoyed an ice cold Pepsi on the way home, though I didn’t realize the size until I wasn’t feeling so well.
By dinner time, my “not feeling so well” turned in to nausea, so I gave the rest of my dinner to Andrew and walked home to see if I could sleep it off.
Spoiler alert, I couldn’t.
A combination of some fruit I had before lunch (cocotte, photo below), the heat, dehydration, exhaustion from the flights and lack of sleep, and the giant soda I had turned me in early, only to wake up every two hours to “pray to the porcelain Gods,” “Drive the big, porcelain school bus…” you get the picture.
The following day it was hard to each much of anything despite the amazing breakfast that was being prepared. I have to admit, I don’t remember what it was because I couldn’t even look at food. I tried to drink as much water as we could before leaving for work- another day of latrine building. I can’t remember what lunch was, though I think it was what was for dinner the night before. I forget.
I started to feel better throughout the day, which was good. I was able to eat dinner when we returned for the evening after a nice shower and my forming post-work ritual of a 20 minute nap. Our nighttime routine had us turn in at about 9:45 to prepare for the next day. Our walks back to our place were pretty scary, but no one was around, or we just didn’t see them.”