Thursday, January 31, 2008

Of Distribution of Manpower and Cost Constraints

According to the contractor, we currently have about 70 workers on our jobsite. This is for only four houses. Granted, they’re big houses for approximately 20 people each, but still just four houses. Granted they’re houses scheduled to be completed (at least the contractors portion) in April, but they’re still just four houses!

To anyone used to construction in the US that means one of two things. Either you’re crazy and about to lose a ton of money, or those are going to be the four most beautiful houses in the world (or at least pretty well crafted).

Want to know why it makes sense in our situation? Because journeymen (skilled labor) make about 80 cents an hour and helpers make 50 cents an hour. And yes, that would be the Nicaraguan equivalent to union wages.

Next month, labor wages jump 20% and while that affects us badly for future buildings because of the quantity of labor normally used, for each individual worker, that is still only 96 or 60 cents per hour depending on experience level.

Our contractor has a good relationship with his workers and treats them well. Their families come to have lunch with them onsite. They’re skilled and work hard. They’re able to work close enough to where they live they go home every night (this is unusual).

But when labor is less expensive than machines and gasoline, this is how you move bigger objects:

And this is how you do a concrete pour:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

In the Eyes of the Beholder

The kids practicing their dance routine for their visit to the US.

It was a normal day. I walked past some kids to unlock the room where the washing machine is kept to stick in some clothes. As I opened the lid and unzipped my bag to take out the dirty laundry, the little boy (in the yellow shirt above) wandered in to give me a hug.

"What's this?"he asked. "It's a washing machine," I replied.

The kids all wash their clothes like the majority of Nicaraguans, by hand in a concrete lavandera, rinsing in a deep basin and scrubbing on a concrete scrub board.

"How pretty!"he replied with wide eyes.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Construction Continues...

Houses are made up of lots of things: concrete, steel, property, and work, lots and lots of work. Someday we’ll add kids and caregivers and then they’ll be transformed into homes!

The contractor has cleared and graded terracing for the four homes (and two additional which he was not contracted to do and which he’ll be planting with grasses since we don’t know when funding will come through for the next group).

We’ve also had an issue with the compaction of the fill area. Those manual compactors just can’t take the place of an actual compactor and so for the areas that are fill, they are recompacting the soil with a machine.

Trenches have been dug for foundation beams and mostly been filled with steel in preparation for the concrete pours. The steel for the columns has been tied into the foundation beams at some of the houses.

Gradually the form of the house is changing from 2 dimensional paper to a shelter for the senses.

As well as things are going on the actual construction of the homes, we’ve now hit some bumps on the office side. I just continue to remind myself that all everyone wants is what is best for the kids; sometimes we just disagree on what that is. At least that’s what I’ve decided is the most productive perspective at the moment!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Construction Begins

We've started construction!

So much preparation has led us to this point, it's incredible to believe it's finally here. In the next several months, foundations will be dug, pipes will be laid, walls will raise and energy will be converted into a new home.

Our wonderful architect has helped us find a wonderful contractor and we are wonderfully one our way! The project is not easy, of course, we check materials for quality, we debate additional costs, we're still in the design phase for the huge majority of buildings and infrastructure, but we've started.


Alright, one step down.... a few more to go.

A majority of the project is complete by hand labor which is much less expensive than machinery. Mr. Jack Hammer, meet Mr. Compactor.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I’m Sort of Back, I Sort of wasn’t Gone

So Christmas came and went….

Poinsettas grow naturally outdoors

And New Year’s came and went….

And you may have noticed that I haven’t posted in awhile, I’ve been sort of gone. I’ve been here, going to meetings, visiting the construction site. I’ve also been in vacation mode with a couple of friends from the states. I’ve been a tourist!

We visited Ometepe Island and had Christmas Eve at the orphanage with the kids. Then we hung around in hammocks at a hostel to celebrate Christmas. We went fishing and dancing in San Juan del Sur (not at the same time) for New Years.

Both Christmas and New Years are pretty low key holidays here. I guess I never really realized how much I was marketed to in the states until suddenly… I wasn’t. There were Christmas songs here and there, but that was about it. We weren’t all counting down shopping days, the only gifts that we knew would happen for sure were for the kids.

There were Christmas lights strung at the roofline of plenty of homes and fake Christmas trees with lights inside. There were many many many nativity scenes. But that’s about where it ended.

You've got a tree, a dog and your hammock? You're set for Christmas!

It came, it went, and life trips along here much like it did before.