Falling asleep that night was no problem; knowing when to wake up was a little trickier than you would think. By five o’clock, the sun had begun to rise. Where I’m from, seeing the sun in the morning meant two things: (1) you slept in and (2) you’re late! It took me a while to get used to the idea of waking-up with the sun instead of waking up ahead of it.
My mornings start out peaceful and relaxing. Wake around 7am at my own pace with only the sun to greet me. As I walk into the open-aired living room, I am washed over with a bath of cool fresh air and tempered with warm light of the morning sun. Casa Nica sat on top of the hill and so it was on a prime spot to catch some natural cool fresh air.
Breakfast was served shortly after by a local catering group that HHM has hired to take care of our meals for the week. Breakfast each morning was usually varied between eggs, pancakes, and French toast along the daily papaya, watermelon, white pineapple (Highly Recommend!), yogurt, and toast. After we have had our fill, it was time to head out to the work site to fulfill our daily task.
Our newly formed crew consisted of 14 individuals, including myself. While waiting between flights, I got to know some of my new friends. Most of them were new graduates from a local prominent high school for girls. Others were experienced travelers from California, Nevada, and Massachusetts, which impressed me how wide spread HHM influence was. Some were well versed in Spanish because of their day job back home, which came in real handy on more than one occasion, while others had interests elsewhere in the improvement industry, such as forensic science. I had also learned that some of them had also been in the warehouse industry, same as me and had managed to climb the ladder to a prominent manger position and seemed happy with their progress. Not my first choice of dream job, but it was something to consider if my current path leads to another dead-end.
When we arrived at the work site for the first time, we were greeted by the rest of our work crew that week. We met with Javier and his associates. As project coordinator, Javier and his team have been working with HHM for a number of years and were very familiar how each house was to be put together. The crew was also very familiar on how to teach new guys like me how to build project houses. Our tools of the trade this time around included shovels, buckets, and spades. There were no electrical tools to aid us this time. Everything was done by hand and the sweat of our brow. Some of the guys were taught how to mix concrete, while most of the girls were taught how to build the walls, and then some of us were taught how to weave the rebar poles for the house’s support. Nicaragua was prone to earthquakes and without these poles; these houses would have crumbled like a child’s building-block tower.
Working alongside all of us were Catherine and her two kids. The three of them worked as much as we did. I was honestly surprised by their devotion to the project. I was half expecting the mother to only offer assistance by providing drinks to the workers or something. But even barehanded and in her best sandals Catherine hauled cement blocks, shoveled sand, hauled bucket after bucket of sand and water for the cement mixers. At the same time, her kids were helping hauling more blocks, weaving rebar, mixing cement, and laying down layers of mortar and stone for the wall-all before they needed to leave for school that afternoon!
Around one o’clock or so, it was time for my crew to head out for the day. You see, because of the physical endurance needed for this project, we were only allowed to work half days each day. That meant that we work for five hours and played for the second half of the day. After each day of work, the Nicaragua crew would reconvene at HHM Youth Center and have lunch before heading out again. The youth center is a HHM-sponsored learning area where kids from primary to elementary school can learn to read, write, and have fun.
While going on tour to the different schools around Managua, I began to notice something heartbreaking. Here in the US, it seems like all of the kids are fighting to get out of school, because they’d rather go watch the latest movie, play video games, socialize with their friends, or do anything else that is important to a kid. More often than not, American kids do not understand how privileged they are to be able to read, write, and do math. In the meantime, in Nicaragua all the kids are fighting to get into school. A lot of kids in this country cannot afford to go to school and can only attend if they are sponsored by an American client. Those who cannot afford to go to school often become laborers and have no chance to excel in life or fulfill their own ambitions.
When we visited some of the schools, we got a chance to see a glimmer of hope that someday Nicaragua may one day rise out of poverty. Such was the case when we met Mauro. Mauro was a high-school student who our project leader was sponsoring from the States. Because of his hard work and ethics, he managed to earn a place in Instituto Loyola, a local private school. The place was large, clean, and organized. The shape of the school was like a large hollow square and at first glance the building looked like a three-story apartment building, each class room was accessible through an outside walk path. All the class rooms were open and the center of the school had a spacious community area.
Our last stop for the day was visit to a blacksmith’s shop. The shop itself was a class that was offered at Nicaragua Christian Academy, a different private school in Nicaragua. The class taught the students there how to forge iron art pieces for both hobby and profit. My group was given a live demonstration to the art as the blacksmith transformed an ordinary piece of metal into a small leaf destined to be used on a building’s window grate.
To finish the day, the entire crew decided to decompress in Casa Nica’s pool. We were tired, we were overwhelmed, and we couldn’t believe we accomplished so much in just one day. We had done so much and we had seen so much; now all I wanted to do was to relax and ingest all that has happen that day. And to think, I still had six more days to spend in this place and I loving every minute of it!