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Tuesday, Feb 21, 2006

Adventures in Chicken Wire

6:50 am

Today, we had our alarm clock set to Juarez time (Seattle time plus one hour), so that it went off on time (at 6:00 local, instead of exactly when breakfast starts). Our waking up is somewhat more sedate as a result.

It's a beautiful sunrise, thanks to the scattered clouds. The rising sun paints both the US and Mexican sides the same shade of gold.

7:15 am

Our first sickness! Seems that Elizabeth, one of the hard-working youth, caught some kind of serious nasty germ that involved a loss of bodily fluids from both ends.

Fortunately, there was a Certified Mom available (Caroline), who sat up with her through the night and ministered in the way that only Moms can. Elizabeth is still in bed, and the Certified Mom recommends that we get her to a hospital.

Unfortunately, last night Fr. Dan left to return to El Paso to pick up some oil heaters, because all the Seattle wussies were complaining about how cold it gets here at night (sometimes down to 40 degrees!).

Since Fr. Dan is pretty much the only person who could get us across the border and know where the heck to go in El Paso, we're constrained to wait for him.

And at that point, we didn't have his cell phone number, but we do now (915-320-9458).

Before breakfast Fr. Jim recommends that we not hold hands in the prayer circle, in case what Elizabeth has is contagious. We also pray for strong white blood cells.

8:05 am

Fr. Dan shows up! "Hi, Father Dan! We need to go to a US Hospital! And how was El Paso?"

It is worked out that Caroline feels that Elizabeth (and her boyfriend Michael who is now not feeling too hot) can wait a bit, so Caroline stays with them while Fr. Dan takes us all out to the work site. Once he gets us going, he'll come back and take Caroline and Elizabeth back to the US Medical System.

8:35 am

We divide into three work crews. The first work crew is the Roof Crew, who need to be lightweights—which lets us out.

Fr. Dan introduces us to a new commandment, this one specifically for roofers: Thou shalt not walk backwards.

Q: What do you call a roofer who walks backwards?

A: Dead.

The young, lightweight people get to be on the roofing crew.

Then there's the inside team, who need to drill and run the electrical wiring for the house. Fortunately, there's three guys on our team who have done this before, so they get the be the Electrical Team.

The rest of us are assigned to the Chicken Wire team, with Fr. Jim as our Chief Chicken.

9:30 am

Our first job is to cut a bunch of 98" lengths of chicken wire. Since our team is five lazy adults, we quickly assemble a Standardized Chicken Wire Cutting Station designed to quickly and efficiently produce 98" lengths of chicken wire.

Fr. Jim has high praise for Mexican hoes—"They're very sturdy!" he says. He wants to get some Mexican hoes for his house, so be sure to mention this to him (a lot).

If we had known how long we would end up nailing chicken wire to the house, we would have come up with the world's most inefficient method of cutting chicken wire.

Everyone assures Robert that even he can successfully nail chicken wire "They're little nails," says Laura, "they're easy to nail!"

Robert momentarily forgets that Laura once tried to kill him by taking Robert on Space Mountain at Disneyland. Robert does not get along with roller coasters. Laura assured him that Space Mountain "isn't a roller coaster." As it turns out, she was right, it's a trip from hell through the dark that leaves you nauseated for 15 minutes afterwards, wishing you could just die.

This falls into the same category.

11:15 am

Robert totally sucks at hammering. 40% of the nails he hammers end up folded over bouncing out of the hole into somebody's face (usually Robert's). It takes forever, it's noisy, and he totally, totally sucks at it.

This of course, puts him in just the best goddamn mood you can imagine.

12:00 pm

Welcome to Migraine Awareness Week here at Robert & Laura's Trip Log.

If you believe some TV commercials, a migraine is simply a bad headache. Every migraine sufferer in the world, which would include Robert, wishes this were so.

The latest medical research indicates that a migraine headache is a kind of epileptic seizure. Robert agrees that this is about right, because once it starts there's very little to be done about it.

Robert gets the visual confusion that indicates a migraine coming on. Fortunately, his medicine is close by and he's able to get a shot of it fairly quickly.

Laura is used to this by now, so she's able to get him into a nice quiet, dark corner of the church at the build site, where he can spaz out.

1:15 pm

Robert staggers out of the church, feeling a bit stunned but not seriously confused. The downside of his rapid recovery is that from now on, whenever he gets a migraine, he will insist on being taken to a church.

There is news about Elizabeth: she's been admitted to the hospital, where she is being rehydrated. Michael is feeling better and will be joining us at the job site in a while. Caroline still hasn't gotten any sleep and is one of the walking dead at this point.

The wind is picking up and clouds are forming to the north. It looks like a thunderstorm is brewing.

1:20 pm

Ed (the Spanish speaker in the group because he grew up in Peru—ask him about the roast guinea pig!) hammers his finger in the tradition of Fr. Jim. Since Robert is now the group First Aid officer (he's the one who carries bandages with him), he cleans and dresses the wound.

Robert tells Ed that he might not want to show his wounded finger to other people, because it's a rather offensive digit to be flashing around.

Ed immediately goes to everybody on the job site and shows them his injured finger.

Can you say "adolescents of all ages"?

1:30 pm

It seems that there are three parts to a roof:

  1. oriented strand board, just like they use for the walls
  2. tar paper, which is paper covered with tar
  3. composite paper, which is a mixture of tar and sand

Each of these three parts has to be nailed or stapled into place separately, so needless to say the young folks are up on the roof for a good portion of the day.

Fr. Dan has returned, bringing Certified Mom Caroline and recovering Michael, after delivering Elizabeth to the hospital in El Paso.

2:00 pm

We've been struggling for a couple of days, trying to find some words to describe what the neighborhood where we're building the house looks like.

Here're some we came up with today:

Across the street is a jumble of houses going up the hill side. Some of them are cinder block, with off-kilter windows covered with bars.

One house is three stories, purple, with balconies. Part of the hillside is held in place with stacks of tires. Behind it all loom two Asarco smelter stacks.

One house on the hill side is wildly perched at an angle. Parts of one wall are composed of a pallet. The downhill side is held in place by stacks of tires four high. A well-dressed child plays in what passes for the driveway. He has on a sweatshirt, pants, and shoes, all of which seem to fit him. A lone telephone pole behind the house speaks of the possible presence of electricity.

Follow the driveway, also lined with stacks of tires, and you come to its neighbor. Carefully painted bright green, a late model van sits parked in the driveway, next to a brick pillar holding up one corner of the car port. Every window and door is covered with intricate iron work, carefully painted white. A festive flag flutters over the driveway, with the red, green, and white of Mexico's flag rearranged into a triangular pennant form.

Trash bags blow down the hill side. A man walks up the ridge line and talks down to an unseen neighbor.

Where the houses stop, the brown dirt starts. Fine dirt, equal parts sand and wind-blown dust, with fist-sized rocks mixed in. Every five feet, a small bush has grabbed a piece of soil and struggles to survive, its branches covered with wind-blown trash and dirt. Between the bushes is nothing--no grass, no trees, no brush.

A few trees have managed to find a foothold, but even they look worn down and beaten. In February, they have no leaves, no fruit; they are nothing but bare limbs. Perhaps later, they will grow green. Like their owners, dreaming of the time when they will have all their need to prosper.

2:35 pm

After his morning's experience with the rat-bastard chicken wire nails, Robert has decided to try a new tool: the staple whapper.

Every time you whap this baby a staple appears at the end of it. Robert is pretty good at whapping, so this is his kind of tool.

He gets to use this gadget to help install insulation inside. In between all the studs we push in rolls of fiberglass "Pink Panther" insulation and then staple it down.

Oh yeah—we're doing this on the ceiling, so we're having to hold the staple whappers above our heads while we do it. Robert works with Zack and pretty soon they are whapping and rolling and before you know it, the entire roof is insulated.

3:25 pm

Meanwhile, Fr. Jim continues with hammering in nails into chicken wire. A nail is needed every four inches, and there's 98" of chicken wire (8 ft) and we cut 30 rolls of chicken wire. This works out to approximately a gazillion nails.

He has taken to creating patterns on the side of the house as he works. He says that it's a very meditative activity. Robert notices that he now has that thousand-yard stare that you see in pictures of soldiers at war. Robert decides to move along.

3:45 pm

Fr. Dan serves up severe warnings about breaking this stuff called "sheet rock" which will go on the ceiling of the house.

(He and Robert geek for a bit: Sheet rock is made from gypsum, apparently a type of plaster. It's made on a giant printing press and comes out of the rolls still wet and pliable. As it moves along it's heated and dried until it reaches the end when it's chopped off. The result is a sheet of pre-dried plaster, sandwiched between sheets of cardboard.)

4:00 pm

Robert has a second love: the screw gun. This baby looks exactly like a gun (a big point in its favor) and lets you screw in nails lightning fast. This baby has got a clutch, and an automatic standoff and before you know it Robert is making sweet music with his rocking screw gun.

As with his other love (the whapping stapler), the screw gun is used to insert screws into sheet rock, which is about three feet above Robert's head. This means holding the five-pound power tool above your head while trying to follow the line of a beam across a pure white surface.

Robert is in heaven. Zap! Zap! Zap!

5:00 pm

All done! The outside crew has gotten up the "trimming" (the pieces of board that go around the doors and windows—oh yeah, those got inserted at some point today, too; it gets hard to keep track of all the bits and pieces that are happening!).

We stagger out to the vans and make our way back to St. Matthews (San Mateo). Yesterday we said we were staying at St. Michael's but it turns out we were lying. There is not a St. Michaels, and we haven't moved. We were always staying at St. Matthew, but we didn't know it.

7:00 pm

Dinner is done and we start another debrief.

In the course of this, we learn that Jose (the older Spanish guy who knows how to do everything) makes $20 per day, and his son is making $15 per day helping. This is roughly equivalent to $80K per year in the US—more than local factory workers make.

We stagger off to write the trip log before our poor tired brains shut down.

P.S. Oh yeah, looks like Elizabeth will be spending the night in the hospital in a strange city away from her family and friends. We're thinking that this might be a good opportunity to deploy the power of prayer.

Robert & Laura
Mexico Housebuilding Trip

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