Monday, Feb 20, 2006
In which we raise the roof
Breakfast was at 7:00 am, and featured Zuca Dinos (translates as "sugary dinosaur bones"), but they also had Raisin Bran (and we learned that the Mexican word for Raisin Bran is "Raisin Bran"), so we were in good shape.
Sadly, Mexico is an "instant coffee" kind of country. You can get fancy coffee in a fancy restaurant that's cinnamon-flavored, but that's about it. Otherwise, it's tea, fruit drinks or beer ("lots of beer," according to Fr. Dan). Since beer for breakfast seems a bit excessive even for Robert, we content ourselves with some "Limon" tea.
Morning is a mixture of dogs barking and roosters crowing. We're used to traffic and fire engines, so it's a bit different.
We have also been out-teched by Fr. Dan. Not only does he have an iPod with an FM radio transmitter on it, but he's also got a Treo 650 (we, sadly, are stuck in the dark ages with a Treo 600).
We are driving through Juarez headed for the job site. Some of the neighborhoods we drive through are carefully maintained small houses. Other neighborhoods are almost shacks with roofs made from corrugated tin (tires on top to keep the roof in place).
The closer we get to the job site, the more shacks we see.
We stop at St. Jose of Anapro, which, when it is finished, will be the cathedral for Juarez. Right now, they've had a deacon for about a year and hold regular services, but there are still a lot of unfinished areas (like the bell towers, which aren't exactly towers).
It's been a joint project by a lot of folks—Fr. Dan's crew built parts of it, other churches have built parts of it, parts of it were built by professionals.
Robert asks when it will be finished and Fr. Dan replies, "Whenever."
Fr. Jim supplies the cool story behind St. Jose. Seems that a few years back, there was a guy named Dr. Joe Sacchini (sp?) from St. Mary's in Lakewood (near Tacoma, Washington) who came down to work on a build site. He was 65, the temperature was 110, and two days after he returned home, he keeled over dead.
His family, however, didn't hold this against the home building mission. In fact, they donated a big chunk of money to get St. Jose started. "Jose" is Mexican for Joseph, which is their way of remembering Dr. Joe.
Anglicans aren't exactly popular in Mexico. There is one priest for all 2 million people who live in Juarez. The Diocese of Northern Mexico is headquartered in Monterey and encompasses 30 million people, of whom not a lot are Anglican.
We arrive at the building site!
This site is located well away from any other buildings. Along the back is a big ravine, filled with trash and cars and scavangeable stuff. One neighbor is a hill. The other neighbor is a propane refilling station run by some people who live in a bus and keep chickens.
We also find out that we're not actually building a "house" per se. What we're building is a rectory, which looks exactly like a house, except that a priest lives in it. Well, technically, he's not a priest, but a pastor, but we're fairly enamored of the idea of building a rectory, so that's what we're sticking with.
Pastor Enrique's church is on the property, and is also about 400 square feet. Through an interpreter, we explain to Pastor Enrique that we come from Seattle, where it recently rained for 27 days straight, and that we could get used to this whole "sunshine" thing.
Enrique replies that he won't hold it against us that the Seahawks lost in the Super Bowl.
There are three Mexican guys helping out (doing the hard or really dangerous stuff). Two of them are young guys, with Jose, an old Mexican with white hair who clearly knows his stuff.
We also have a nice tile bathroom, with a real toilet that could be convinced to flush.
"You don't know how good you've got it!" proclaimed both Fr. Dan and Fr. Jim. They had both prepared us for slit latrines filled with flies and angry hornets, and were pretty disappointed that we had a nice sanitary toilet.
How to build a rectory:
Step 1: Unload a bunch of wood and sort it by length.
Step 2: Fr. Dan instructs us to set up two stations for cutting wood. One has a radial saw and the other has a circular saw. The saws are overseen by see-sawers (nyuk nyuk)—members of our group who have used these tools before.
We divide into two teams: Team A (circular saw) and Team B (radial saw) and start sawing up boards. Fr. Dan has a sheet with a list of all the lengths we need. He shows us how to measure and mark the wood, and then wanders off to chat on the cell phone.
That leaves the teams to self-organize and figure out the efficient way of doing things. Team B is all the youth, and a couple of grownups (Laura and Ed, who's done this before). Team A is all the grownups and Doug (14 years old).
Now that all the boards have been cut to size, each team gets assigned a unit to build. Team A starts on roof units. A roof unit is two long pieces of wood with a bunch of smaller pieces nailed between them.
For that matter, that's what a wall unit looks like, too. Team B starts working on building a wall unit with a window in it (which is more complicated, because—well, there's a window in it).
Team A (the grownups) is working on their fourth roof unit. Team B is still working on their windowed wall.
It turns out that we can see the US from here. In fact, we can see I-10 from here, so if you happen to be driving by in the next couple of days, honk your horn and wave at us!
It's sort of weird, because in many parts of Juarez, you can see the US just across the way. Lots of big complicated buildings on the US side. Lots of small simple buildings on the Juarez side.
We've seen only two people walk by the site, and they were both clearly very puzzled by all the frenzied activity by the gringos. Fr. Jim says that in the past, the houses were in neighborhoods, so there would be lots of kids running around the building site.
All the walls and all the sections of the roof are complete, and they are all stacked neatly against the hill. The Mexican crew is putting together the center beam by gluing some oriented strand board between two wood boards.
There are a couple of people who have been on builds in the past (Fr. Jim and Ed). They constantly marvel at how much nicer it is to build in this weather than in the summer. We can't help thinking "Sounds pretty dumb to build in the summer!"
The nice ladies back at St. Michaels (where we stay) made us a cooler full of burritos (hand made tortillas!). We sit inside Pastor Enrique's church and power through those burritos. Yum!
Robert has finally found a job he can do when they need somebody to sweep the floor.
"This I can do!"
Turns out that the floor has to be swept so that glue can be put on it, and then a strip of pink styrofoam-like material can be laid on top of the glue. The idea is that you put the walls on top of the pink stuff and this forms a seal to keep out the dust.
All the walls are now up, and the Mexicans are busy nailing them together. Suddenly, the barren concrete slab looks like something. A very weird, skeletal something, but still...
The next step is to put up oriented strand board sheets with a reflective surface all around the outside of the house. This requires lots of hammers and nails and is pretty noisy.
To demonstrate why you should wear gloves, Fr. Jim takes off his glove and promptly smashes his finger with a hammer. Since Robert is always cutting himself (he managed to cut his lip on a plastic spoon this morning and bleed copiously), he had a first aid kit handy and dressed the wound.
We're pretty sure that the finger will survive, but it was touch-and-go for a while.
Jose is now using a nail gun to attach the house to the concrete slab. The nail gun is, in fact, a "gun," as it is powered by .22 caliber bullets.
The insulation panels are now all in place. They cover up the windows, so somebody has to use a special saw to cut the windows back out of the insulation.
The house now has four walls that look more like walls than not.
We're now lifting the roof sections into place. This involves a bunch of people picking up a roof section and moving it over to the house. We then lift it up and over the top of the wall where people on ladders on the other side grab it and pull it into place.
Whew! Hard work!
We're done for the day!
We pack up the vans ("All power tools leave the site") and head home. Once home, we're eagerly looking forward to nice hot showers!
Fr. Jim's advice: "Don't pee in the shower, because it doesn't drain and you'll get pee rings around your ankles." We do not even want to know how he knows this.
Dinner is served! And there are any number of hungry mouths ready to power through the deep fried beef, Mexican rice, refried beans, tortillas and pico de gallo.
Robert had been fretting about dessert (specifically, the lack of it), and was concerned that this condition might exist throughout Mexico. It turns out that dessert is very popular in Mexico, but according to Fr. Dan "it's an acquired taste." Apparently, it's fruits and flan and things that don't appeal to the American teenagers who are frequent guests here. So, they quit making it altogether, rather than make it and then throw it away.
While we understand this reasoning, Robert is still sad.
We go through "debriefing," which consists of everybody answering questions like "What was the most challenging thing you did today?"
Dan's first comment is a thank you because today was the fastest, bestest build by a Holy Cross group (okay, we threw in the "bestest," but it was clearly implied in his statement). He said we made excellent progress, and it looks as though we may do the four-day build in three days (giving us an extra day for cultural exploration, a.k.a. "shopping").
Folks ran into frustrations with language and trying to master the art of hammering. It also turns out that Gateway has been working on their process (part of the improvement is that Fr. Dan spends less time with tools in his hands doing things, and more time instructing), so we can't take all the credit for the fast build.
But we'll take most of it!
Fr. Dan also says that although the area we're working in looks really poor (with houses made from scraps of wood and metal), it's not chronic poverty that's been around for generations, but is relatively recent. Seems that Juarez is the city of opportunity in Mexico. There are lots of foreign-owned factories that pay really well compared to other jobs (although we would consider it very low pay), so there're plenty of workers eager to fill the jobs.
As a result people from really poor areas in the interior come here to get jobs to make enough money to put food on the table.
(Okay, we're having enough trouble getting our pasty white suburban heads around how poor the folks here are. Trying to imagine places that are even poorer than this makes them hurt really really bad, so we stop trying to imagine it.)
Okay, we've done enough saving of the world today, or at least this tiny corner of it, and we're headed off to our well-deserved rest.
Tommorrow: roofing! drilling holes!
Robert & Laura