Ecuador: Mucho Trabago

Today’s title is in honor of Scott Rowlands, who blew us away with his uncanny linguistic acumen. His Spanish was impeccable. All I can say to Scott is, “Grashus.”

Our reason for coming to Pifo, Ecuador was to work, and work we did. Our team was divided into three main groups: construction, dentistry, and Vacation Bible School (VBS). We would arrive at the church at about 8AM everyday and the construction and dentist teams would get right to work. The VBS didn’t start until after lunch, so in the mornings the VBS folks would pitch in with the construction team.

There were four or five big construction projects to be tackled: demolition, plastering walls, tiling floors, constructing school desks, and building a balcony and staircase. Each of these tasks was assinged an Ecuadorian foreman, and the anglos were divied up as workers. From the very first meetings our group had before the trip Stan Willis, our fearless leader, made it abudantly clear that we were going as servants and to do things the way they told us to do them. We weren’t there to impart to them the American Way of doing things. I think our group did an incredible job of doing just that…being servants, not imparting the American Way of doing things. I know it was hard for many of us sometimes, as we saw them doing things that to us seemed harder than it had to be or maybe even unsafe, but we had to have the confidence that they knew what they were doing. And they did. As far as I know, that concrete staircase poured into the ricketiest form ever built, is still standing. All of our Ecuadorian jefe’s were awesome. They were skilled at what they did, and were all really good guys.

Due to my superior skills as a master un-carpenter, I was assigned to the demolition team, under the tutelage of a very good guy named Ricardo. My teammates included J Crew, RJ-77, Johnny, and Gabriel. At first we were stoked. Sweet! We get to wreck stuff! And the first couple hours were fun as we smashed cinder block through walls with sledge hammers. And even though we then had to cart all the rubble downstairs by filling up empty rice sacks and then throwing them over our shoulders, we had a pretty good rhythem going and it was actually fun. Then came the pillar. The Pilar de la Muerte. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. If not, click here. This thing was a beast. I swear it was forged in the fires of hades. The Pilar de la Muerte was about a nine foot tall, foot-and-a-half thick edifice of the hardest concrete ever mixed with human hands, reinforced with enough rebar that laid end to end would span from Quito to Corpus Cristi. The plan was to chip away at the top and bottom to expose the rebar, which would then be cut. Once we could get it down on the ground we would pound away on it until it was light enough for us to carry downstairs. In Ecuador there are no jackhammers. Why this is, I don’t know. We had everything else, arch welders, grinders, drills, but no jackhammers. A jackhammer would have had that thing down and busted to pieces in about an hour. We had two two-pound sledges, a couple of spikes, and a six-pound sledge, which Josh broke. I lost track of the hours it took to finally slay the beast. At lunch of the second day of the battle, my hands were so stiff and sore from hammering that I literally could barely lift my fork.

Fortunately, after battling the concrete demon for two days, any subsequent work seemed like a piece of chocolate cake covered in cookies-n-cream ice cream topped with whipped cream and a cherry….and sprinkles. We deomolished a couple more things and helped out with the tiling and any other heavy lifting that required our brute strength. The nice part for me was that as the official trip videographer, if the work was getting particularly strenuous I could beg off under the guise of needing to get footage of something infinitely more important than these heavy sacks of broken concrete. What a racket! Perhaps I’ve said too much………………

The dental teams may have worked harder than anyone, however. By the time we’d all arrive at 8AM, there would already be a line 20 people long waiting for the clinic to open. The equipment they had to use was not the best, but they made due and probably each, there were two denstists, saw between 40 and 60 people a day. And these weren’t like checkups back home, where everything looks great, see you in six months. Everyone needed something done, whether a tooth (or teeth) pulled, or filled, or whatever. In addition to the two actual dentists, George Schneider and Leonard Richards, we had one imposter, Dr. Marko. Mark got a quick lesson in teeth cleaning before we left from Dr. Schneider and did such a great job that no one ever suspected he had never taken the Hypocratic Oath, that is if dentists take the Hypocratic Oath. Do they? At any rate, Pastor Ramiro revealed the secret to the church folks our last night there, and they all found it pretty funny.

The VBS teams had the ginormous task of putting on a program for somewhere between 200 and 300 kids everyday. And they all did awesome. I would pop in on there sessions in the afternoons to get video footage and the kids all were having a great time while learning about Jesus and the Bible. They would sing songs, play games, do a craft, and listen to a Bible story. The coolest thing happened on Friday. A couple of the days before I had been in the chapel while the Bible story was being told, and while most of the kids were paying at least some attetion, there was still a lot of talking and walking around and general day dreaming. On Friday, the Bible story was about Jesus’ crucifixion and ressurection. While the story was being told, kids from our group would act it out. You could have heard a pin drop that day. The kids were totally mezmerized. A lot of them were sitting up on their knees or leaning forward intently. It was awesome.

All the while, as we smashed concrete, welded, mixed concrete, painted or sanded desks, small children would be running in and around our scaffoldings and welding sparks. The jobsite was definitely not OSHA approved. There are too many little stories and anecdotes of things that happened during those five days that I couldn’t possibly hope to enumerate them all here. That’s just a little flavor of what our days were like. Oh, speaking of flavor, everyday we had lunch at the church, and it was always muy sabrosa. It would normally consist of rice, potato soup, salad, fruit juice and some incredible slaughtered animal. Ecuador is a good place to go if you love meat.

PS – Trabajo means work, trabago means you spelled trabajo wrong.

Next Episode:
Life at the Hotel Salazar


Josh pretty much sums up much how we felt after finally taking down the devil, I mean the Pilar de la Muerte.


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4 thoughts on “Ecuador: Mucho Trabago

  1. J Crew

    As always, you are a literary genius. I have never worked that hard in all my life. My bones bones were hurting.

  2. SJ

    It is neat to see how God has gifted each of us differently and to hear about how God used each of your gifts in Equador. It is also neat to see how God stretched each of you as well – it has challenged and convicted me – thanks for continuing to share about the trip.

  3. kludge

    Ando- This is a great accounting!

    The “Pilar de la Muerte” is taking on a legend of it own. Like your own William Wallace.

    If any dentist swears to “do no harm” they’re all a bunch of liars!

    you’ve said to much…

    OSHA SMOSHA… any fatalities? No… see!

    Loving the updates!

  4. jenylu

    I guffawed out loud when I ready your introductory tribute to Scott’s linguistic “acumen” — now I have to go look up “acumen”! Very enjoyable post – you ‘da man! (hombre)

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