Saturday, March 17, 2007

When will I know what I'm doing? When I'm doing it!

I need to remember not to write too much about what I think is going to happen, because I'll just be rewriting it later :)

Saturday night I went dancing in downtown Cuernavaca with several other volunteers. Just like in South Africa, the clubs are pretty much the same as in the US. The main difference is that the words are more often in Spanish (although not always, there was this weird Michael Jackson video at one point). We had a great time, and the other volunteers who have gone before knew what they wanted to do. I didn't have to drive, park, decide where to go, when to go, pay, or wait in line. It was actually relaxing!

The week went by really quickly because I fell into a routine that I like. School was pretty much the same each morning. Same teacher, same other student as last week. We had a great week which culminated in that great Spanish class tradition, making guacamole and eating together. Jean also brought some chocolate for all of us, so that didn't hurt either! The picture is of Ashley between the girl's dormitory and an administrative building as we're leaving to go to school in the morning.

Work was also every afternoon as usual. Tuesday, I went with Alejandro to Miacatlan which is about an hour from the Cuernavaca house. This is where all the kids under 15 stay. It's a small town with a big NPH campus. The original structures are all left over from the time it was a sugarcane hacienda. The chapel with the graveyard, the 100 ft smokestack, the sugarcane warehouse out of brick with a beautiful barrel vault roof that is now the dining hall. Alejandro was very thorough in the tour showing me the dormitories and their structural problems, the fish ponds near the livestock and the waste treatment facility. He would love to fully restore the buildings, but often the cost would be prohibitive for the return. He also mentioned that the archaeological group that had been part of taking care of the nearby pre-Colombian ruins had inspected the hacienda and verified that when it was built in 1890, some of the stones used had been stolen from the ruins.

The Nicaragua project is definitely a priority for NPH to begin quickly. We're a bit behind, however, in that we don't have an architect, engineer, or contractor. Originally we had been using an architect who had helped us on the Bolivia project, but because of slow production and rising fees, it was decided that we wouldn't continue to use him, for now. Between working in Latin American countries and that NPH is a non-profit, the hurry up and wait experience is compounded. Fortunately, it's not any real surprise to me. I've had enough experience with both of those that I would have been surprised if it wasn't this way! So I sent out the call to everyone I thought might be or know an architect that would be interested in the job (the engineers and contractors really need to be local). Fortunately I've gotten a few responses and have hope that something will work out.

In the meantime I've also been working on projects for other countries as well. When I talked to Father Phil on my first day of work he mentioned that in the month since I had started planning on coming to NPH, two other engineers had been offered for the project. One of them he accepted (because you can't say no) and then gave the condition that he would come and review everything once a month. The other is being sent by the Germany office. His wife is Nicaraguan and he's already fluent in Spanish. They're in India at the moment and except for a two week visit in April, he'll be there until June.

No one here seems to know quite how things will work between the two of us, so Father Phil wanted to know how I would feel about working in other countries in case there wasn't enough work for both of us. Now, if you remember me at all, you know how much I dislike not knowing what is going to happen. I would be willing to bet there are about a thousand (literally) possibilities of what could happen from here on out, both because of the situation I just mentioned, but also just in the progression of me and this project in general. Some of them aren't that great, some of them are fantastic. I'm certainly doing what I can to steer events towards the fantastic possibilities, but when it really comes down to it, the only time we get to know what will happen is when it happens. That's life in general for everyone.

This last week has been a little difficult in that I caught a really really bad cold on Tuesday. Nelly very sweetly gave me some medicine (like Theraflu) so I could sleep. It's still hanging on some, but I'm definitely better than I was. Of all the ways I expected and prepared for getting sick, a bad cold wasn't one of them!

On Saturday morning Sabrina and I took a bus to Xochicalco. It's the pre-Colombian ruins that are near Miacatlan I mentioned earlier. Established between 700 and 800 A.D. (for comparison, Baghdad was established in 762 A.D.) it rose to prominence in the area after the fall of Teotihuacan. This isn't for a test later, it's just that Xochicalco was a very war centered society. War, science, astronomy, math and building were all tied together. Sabrina and I went to the museum where I got to work on my Spanish reading skills and then to the site where the plaques were in Spanish, English and Nahuatl (the indigenous language of the era). The temple of the plumed serpent was the most carved and decorated where priest performed rituals meant to inspire fear and obedience in the people they depended on. And where, on Wednesday (spring equinox), the placement of the sun in relation to the buildings will supposedly cause a shadow of a serpent to appear as though it is descending the steps. We were able to skip ahead of a class of 40 kids and we were really glad we did when we got to the observatory. The observatory is a cave where tunnels were dug up at specific angles and locations until they opened to the sky for astronomical observations.
Even though after awhile, all the buildings started to look alike, it still was incredible to walk up to these buildings, walk on top of them, touch the carvings, have something physical connect you to a society so foreign and so impressive (although certainly not in a friendly way). The destruction that happened during the 19th century was amazing. Pictures of the ruins at the beginning of the 1800's and those in 1910 when restoration began shows how much colonization (like the building of the hacienda at Miacatlan) took from the culture of the area. Today metal frames and plastic corrugated roofing protects the especially vulnerable carvings from the threat of the next era, acid rain caused by pollution.

On the way back we took a different bus. It was headed first to the pueblo of Cuentepec to turn around and go back to where we already were. We could have waited until it got back, but we figured we might as well go see the town. It's a very rural area and on the way there the view was mostly very skinny cows. One group of them had gathered under the shade of the only tree around. The town itself is very simple, houses of red brick (rich people), concrete block (middle class), mud brick (lower economic status families, to use American terminology). Of course this was just in relationship to each other, they'd all be poor in the U.S. The women all had long braids and wore dresses with aprons and shawls. On the way back, the cows had managed to get themselves into a tighter group as the shade under the tree had shrunk. Due to using a more local bus, having several "mercados" and "el centros" in Cuernavaca and the fact that just because a bus is the same number as another one doesn't mean that it has the same route meant that the trip back was three hours instead of the one hour it had taken to get down there. We were glad we went, we were really glad to get back.

Tomorrow is the birthday of Benito Juarez, so I don't have to go to work or school. I don't think you should either!

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