Written by James Drake
Baja Mission: Construction
While in Vicente Guerrero, Mexico, I (James Drake) had the opportunity to assist in the construction of the New Beginnings women’s shelter. Typically I work with software architecture, but for this job I had to trade in my laptop for some more basic tools; a pick axe and sledge hammer.
I like to start my day with a nice hot shower, but they were in the middle of a water shortage so I had to settle for a quick sprinkle. I was impressed with their ‘solar powered water heater’ (about 100’ of black garden hose coiled on the roof). It worked, if you were one of the first to shower.
7:30-8:00 am – Quiet Time.
8:00 am – Breakfast
I was a little concerned about what we’d have to eat, so I brought enough snacks to tide me over. After the first breakfast I was more concerned about how much weight I was likely to gain. It was so awesome I took a picture of it.
It tasted every bit as good as it looks.
To conserve water we used two tubs of water (soapy and rinse) to wash the dishes. Everybody had a chance to wash, rinse, or dry.
8:45 am – Depart for Jobsite
Our youth would spend the morning with the local youth and join the construction crew at lunch. The construction crew went directly to the building site.
James P. is an engineer who would normally be directing a crew of over 500 building roads and bridges in southern California. Here he was setting forms for a sand filter, and I was assisting him. We had a great time working together. Typical banter:
James P. – “I don’t have the tools here that I would normally use.”
Shyenne – “What tools would you use?”
Me – “Other people.”
The first day I wore a ball cap to protect my dome from the sun. Not good enough. The next day we stopped at a roadside stand and I bought a ‘straw’ hat with a brim as wide as my shoulders. $5 well spent (actually it was $4.50 after a little bartering).
12:00 – Lunch
All the beef and chicken enchiladas you could possibly want, dwarfed by a chocolate brownie that was the size of a brick. The ladies from the shelter helped with the meal, so this was my opportunity to do what I really came to Mexico to do: hold Mexican babies.
12:30 ~ 4:30 pm – Back to Work
Sadly I had to give her back to her mother and return to the worksite.
Some of the youth would join us after lunch. They were a great help moving boards and shoveling dirt so we sped through the work. James P. was a great mentor, so it wasn’t long before we had multiple crews working. On Wednesday afternoon we simultaneously ran out of wood and time.
Evenings – Dinner / Group Activities / Devo
After work everybody got back together for dinner, activities with the local youth, and an evening devotional. Typically I crawled into my bunk around 10:30, and I never had trouble going to sleep.
Why us (US)?
There is no lack of local construction labor, so why were we there?
The architect (he’s the one with the white beard) is Canadian, and he explained our purpose there.
The facility is being built to US and Canadian standards, and it is incorporating energy and water conservation techniques that are not common in Mexico. It is intended to be a model facility to demonstrate to the Mexican government both how a women’s shelter can be operated and how conservation can be built into the design.
For example, most local toilets just empty into a covered pit in the ground (which is why they can’t flush toilet paper). This facility not only has a septic tank, it will also have a sand filter (which is what I was working on) so the runoff from the septic tank can be filtered and used to irrigate a grove of fruit trees using subsurface irrigation piping. To accomplish this we used a laser transit so that our entire 24’ by 80’ foundation had a less than ¼” variation in height. Typically the local construction crews would have ‘eye-balled’ the foundation (the original grade looked good, but there turned out to be over a foot difference from one corner to the other, so we had to call in a back-hoe and I got some practice swinging a pick axe).
On the other hand, the local crews are excellent at laying cinder block so that part of the effort will be hired out locally. In order to foster good relations with the local people they intend to farm out as much work like that as they can.
I enjoyed the work (manual labor can be a great break from endless typing at a keyboard) and the camaraderie and I felt that I had at least made some small contribution to a greater effort.
Like JD, I had spent the previous week at PBC (this year I graduated from counter service to dishwasher!). I had the opportunity to meet with people that have a vision to make the world a better place, and with others that were just there to mop floors or do whatever other menial service was required. I’m more the latter type. I came to serve as best I could, but in the end I was left with the feeling that I was the one that benefited most from the experience.