Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ain't No Mountain High Enough!!!

So yesterday as we were discussing our plans over a cup of cafe con leche, it was proposed that we hike to the tallest point in all of Central America (Mount Tajumulco) which also happens to be a dormant volcano. Just to be clear, that's a 6 km hike each way!! But since we are extremely naive college students in prime shape we decided that it sounded like an adventure!

It truly was an adventure, an adventure that we will never forget! We started off with an hour drive to the base of the mountain bright and early. It was freezing with the clouds in our faces and the blistering wind, but we started our climb. We were expecting to reach the summit in a a few short hours, but it turns out that it took over 4 and half hours to get to the top. 4 miles is a LONG way when it is completely vertical and covered with boulders! It was miserable in the beginning but at soon as we were above the colds (that's right we were above the clouds) the sun came out and the views were astonishing! All of our struggles soon became well worth it. It was even cooler to see the crater at the top of the volcano where lava once spewed out of! We have no idea how we were able to get there, but we did! Even now Dhara lays in her bed not being able to move at all, I'm just happy that I didn't have to carry her up the mountain!

Anyway we're all tired and are headed to bed, tomorrow we head for the capital city....  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Starting the Next Chapter

The past two days have been exciting! Yesterday our group left the familiar San Jose Petacalapa and traveled to a small Aldea in San Miguel to get a closer look at one of the projects our chapter is considering for the upcoming years. We were able to meet a couple of the community members and see the site that we would be working at if we chose this water project. Unfortunately for us, this community is located high in the mountainous regions of Guatemala, which are much colder than the hot temperatures we have become used to.

After having lunch in town and learning a little more about the project, the team headed back down the mountain to San Marcos, where we've been ever since. It's a little warmer here since we've dropped in elevation, but still pretty chilly. Since there wasn't a strict agenda we got to sleep in a little before meeting with the catholic diocese to see if they had any more information on the San Miguel project and whether they would be interested in lending support if the club did select that project for the future.

We spent the rest of our free time shopping at the market in San Pedro and walking around San Marcos. It's amazing how much damage was done by the earthquake. Parts of the town are completely destroyed and many roads are out of use. Gina, a friend of. Dr. Veness, told us that her school started later than many of the other ones because their building is no longer usable. Later when we drove past it looked like only a couple classrooms were still in tact. After walking around the town and exploring and getting a nice cup of coffee we headed back to the hotel for an early night in preparation for our hike tomorrow. We will be climbing up one of the biggest volcanoes in Guatemala tomorrow, so hopefully I can keep up.

Wish me luck,


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

It's See You Later, Not Goodbye

Today has been a crazy day filled with excitement and work.  We started the day by going to the village to fix the exposed rebar, fill in areas with boulders, and paint a sign on the bridge.  This all took until 2 pm because we accidentally mixed up the concrete adhesive incorrectly, so we had to buy more. After the long hard day at the bridge, we headed back for lunch.  But truthfully, the work day was nothing compared to last year.  We took our time with each task and it was a lot of waiting around until we got the supplies we need (kind of similar to last year).  The heat really got to us today.  But after our lunch, we headed back into Malacatan to finish some errands.  First, we had to buy four bags of cement for the plaque that was going to be put up by the bridge.  Next, we had to buy the plaque itself.  I never knew that ordering a plaque would be so difficult.  The wording on the plaque needed to be just right so we didn't offend the community members or EWB.  It also needed to positioned correctly on the plaque, plus the font needs to be pick as well as the font size.  It took us about an hour to finalize the plaque details but we got it done.

It says: This bridge was built by Engineers Without Border - University of Delaware, USA with the help of San Jose Petacalapa.  2008-2013.

I love the language and I think it'll look great by the bridge.  Finally, we ended the errands with fixing our tire.  We knew something was wrong with it because the air was leaking out but we didn't know what.  Well there was a nail in our tire! Thank goodness we got it out. It was interesting to see a 16 year old boy fix our tire for us.  I turned to Ben and said that I am embarrassed because a barely know how to change a tire and this boy is fixing our tire for us.  The skills that the kids have here is just incredible!

The final part of our day consisted of saying goodbye to the community.  We were able to have a low key get together with the comite and select people from previous comites.  It was really nice for them to offer us dinner but we politely declined.  They insisted so much that we have something so we ended up drinking soda with them and just talking for a little while.  A couple big things came out of that conversation:

1. The thanked us so much for the bridge and told us how much of a positive impact it had on our community.

2. We got to witness the first female in the Comite in action during this gathering.  She is very well spoken and a great role model for ladies in that community.

3.  We were told that we were great role models for their kids and that their kids want to one day be like us.  I couldn't believe that!  It really hit me hard and showed all of us the impact we had on this community.

4. Dr. Veness might of put herself into a bind during this discussion because they wanted our thoughts on a water project for them and they had her sign a paper saying that the water project was what the community wanted. We don't know if this meant she was agreeing to another project or just solidifying that she received the news that the community wants the water project.  But whatever it is ... it's up to her.

5.  Finally, they said multiple times how their doors are always open.  We are allowed back at any time and we will be welcomed by the community.  It was great to hear that they have developed such a strong relationship with us where they can say that.  Let's just say Chelsea and I have our 10 year bridge reunion planned already :).

SO those are the big things from today.  We got to enjoy our last meal at Ernesto's tonight and I am happy we did because it was a great meal.

We leave tomorrow for San Marcos because we are going to see another village for another potential project in Guatemala.

I'm getting awfully sleepy now so we will blog tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"It feels like home"

Hola amigos!

We have been in Guatemala for two days now (Well about two days)! It's been quite an adventure already!  But we can confidently say that the bridge is standing and looking awesome like we expected it to!! YAYYY!

Today, we were able to go to the bridge site and actually see the bridge.  But before I go into detail about our day I am going to let Chelsea and Ben talk about their experiences these past two days and then I'll elaborate on what I thought! Hope you enjoy this blogpost!

Ben: So I'm always taken back by how different this country really is, it truly is it's own little world.... I don't think I'll ever get used to the way these people "drive" around here! I'm also one of the tallest people, which never happens! But seriously it was pretty awesome to finally arrive back in the village where we worked so hard last year; not only did we get to see the product of our labor still standing in all of its glory, but we also got to see so many of our friends. It was a little strange not strapping on my tool belt this morning; however, it was nice to shake some hands and share some smiles. I don't speak or even understand the things that my amigos were saying to me, but I could tell how much they truly appreciated what we have done there. We've been gone for almost a year now, but it's like we've never left and it feels like home!

Chelsea: I have never been more upset that I don't speak Spanish. Returning to this small village has already been so exciting and rewarding and it's only the first day. It was great to see many familiar faces and how excited they got when we presented the posters we made with all the pictures from the last trip. Not only did we get to rekindle our friendship with the community, we got to drive a pickup truck over the bridge, which is still standing and looking as beautiful as ever! We were happy to see that the community members had painted the railings on the wall posts and only minimal touch ups need to be finished tomorrow! As Ben already mentioned, it's amazing how comfortable and familiar we already are with the surroundings and the people we're interacting with. It's great to be back and feels like it's only been a couple weeks ago that we left not a year.

So now that you've heard about Bhelsea's and Ben's experience! I'll tell you more about what happened these past two days.  Monday mostly consisted of traveling.  We arrived in Guatemala around 12 and then made it to Malacatan by 7 pm.  It was an definitely an easier ride than last year for everyone.  Today we went to the community to see the bridge.  When we arrived we were able to sit in on the "first day of school meeting".  They introduced us, welcomed us back, and we got to thank them for their hospitality.  Finally, after the meeting we were able to go see the bridge which we were dying to see.  As we drove up to the bridge site, the whole team was elated and excited that the bridge was looking good.  There is only one tiny spot where rebar is exposed and some places that need to be filled with rocks.  But besides that, the bridge looks great and we even got to drive over it (twice)!! The community did a great job in finishing the tasks we asked them to finish since we couldn't be there.  It was nice to see that they have taken ownership of the bridge.

After we explored the bridge, we came back to the village around 5 o'clock for a community meeting.  This part was my favorite.  We finally could hear all the excitement from the community members and see how much this bridge has impacted each individual as well as the community.  We were able to conduct a survey while at the meeting as well as express our gratitude for letting us come into their community and build the bridge.  Before we left, Chelsea had compiled two posters that we printed off so the community could have photo documentation of "la historia del puente" (the history of the bridge). Everyone really loved the posters.  They were a big hit!

But all and all, I can say that the community is very grateful that we have completed this bridge for them and really appreciate all the time and effort we have put behind it.  It definitely has been a great first two days and I wish all of our team members were here from last year to experience it.  We miss you: Rod, Gary, Ted, Andrew, Kelly and Brittany.  The community says Hi and Thank you! Especially Nacho, Alberto, Noe, Omar, Thomas, and Juan (who kept remembering Andres hehe, Andrew he misses you man!).

Since we've entered Malacatan, it has felt like home! We never knew that a month of working on the bridge would allow us to develop such a close connection to this town and community.

Over and out,

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

La ultima dia!

Hello again!

We have safely arrived to Guatemala city and have had the best, most relaxing day this month! It feels so great not working at seven am! We even got to go shopping today at the artisans market which was absolutely beautiful! For dinner, we went to the miraflores mall and ate at a diner! It was quite the change from tortillas and beans!! We even got to walk around the mall and see what was there! It's such a nice mall with four floors and a movie theatre! Chelsea and I even got manicures! We finally feel like girls again! Our nails were so disgusting from all the dirt, rebar, wood and concrete! It felt really good to get a manicure and it cost only ten bucks! Sweet deal!!! But more about our final day at the community!!

As I mentioned our last day consisted of building the wooden railings of the bridge! The last major component of the bridge! It was great last day because we had the right number of men and the right amount of materials for once! It was a long busy day but it ran smoothly and we got to finish!! We even had time for a photoshoot on the bridge! It was only the Ewb team though! Guatemalans didnt want to take pictures! Around six, though, we packed up and went to the school! We came back to a lot of people just standing around waiting for us! It was mainly all the men who had worked with us for the past month! Seeing them just made our day be ause we truly have developed strong bonds with these people! It's nice too see that they care and want to say goodbye! Due to our starvation, since it had been a long day, we didn't go to the school to have a formal meeting! Andrew and I said a couple words to express our gratitude and excitement and then the Guatemalans took over! It is a custom for everyone to get a turn speaking if you such desire! And so we listened to about ten people give heart felt thank yous for the bridge! It was nice too see that they appreciated us and wanted us back very soon! They even asked for us to do more projects with them! After the meeting we Took some more pictures and were finally on our way out! It was our final very bumpy journey back to our hotel! It was quite sad but it was understood between the team that we were all speechless as to what had happened just now. This day had marked the end of a roller coaster ride, which we didn't know would end. Only four weeks ago we were sitting with the leaders of the community telling them we are trying our best but his bridge might not happen and you'll be left with two holes. Now we were in our van on our way home to the hotel, knowing we had finished what we thought was unachievable four weeks ago. All of us were extremely speechless and not yet relieved! Haha we were basically waiting to tackle one more problem but in reality there weren't any left. We had beat all odds and made a miracle come true for his community. It truly was the perfect team effort, on part of both the Ewb team and the Guatemalans! The Guatemalans worked hard every day along side our guidance and the Ewb team utilized their creativity to solve problem after problem. I cannot say that we had a single day without one problem besides the last day. This Ewb team is ready to take on the world and definitely can trouble shoot anything! Not only that we also know how to build a bridge now :) practically in any country :). Hahaha. This effort on both groups of people has been tremendous and I don't have enough words to explain it! All I can say is it has been a miracle! One of which we are still trying to figure out.

After this glorious day at the community, we returned to the hotel to clean up and then head to Ernesto's for our final dinner! And let me tell you he did not let us down! It was the best meal yet and we were so thankful for him. Not only did he give us home cooked meals every time we went! He took on a significant role in the project when we needed him! And best of all he became our friend! W can now officially say we have two great friends in malacatan! One is our community and the other is ernesto! It feels so good to have made some awesome connections! Friendships were made everywhere! Within our Ewb team and within Guatemala! After our meal we returned back to the hotel to pack and get ready for our travels today! And I mentioned earlier, we arrived safely and are now in hotel miraflores! Chelsea's sleeping but I'm still posting hahahah.

In my opinion, I could not have asked for a better month. Yes there was chaos at first, lack of materials, lack of help some days, and multiple misunderstandings due to culture as well As soil issues the first week. But despite all that, each and every day was extremely productive and that is why this bridge was built in its entirety. This team never gave up; we all supported each other in every moment of discouragement! We kept pushing and it all paid off! There was no way we were returning back the united states without a complete bridge! Determination and love for the project and each other got us through this month of difficulties! We laughed and cried together. We enjoyed the happy days and supported each other on the not so hot days! It was all I could ask for as the project manager! Could not have brought a better team down or asked for a better community. Those men worked their butts off! It was incredible to see how much 20-80 guatemalan men can achieve in one day. Congratulations to the community and ewb team for the completion of the bridge! Si se puede ( yes we can).

I will be posting pictures of the bridge on photobucket. But for now if you go to Ben berwick's blog you will be able to see preliminary photos!!!

Over and out.

Esta terminado. Si se puede!!!

And we're finished! We can't believe we're saying that! Yesterday we finished the railingsand that means the whole bridge is officially completed! The only thing the community needs to do is paint the railings. They have the paint and the paint brushes so it will be done quickly, hopefully today!!! They also have to maintain the bridge meaning putting water on bridge for a week to help cure it and not stripping forms until February 22nd. The community has agreed to this and promised they will follow our guidelines!! I will post more about our findings and our final emotions tonight! But we really finished everything in four weeks! It's the best and fastest bridge ever built.