Thursday, July 19, 2018

the delegation

This week a delegation from MDS’s Pennsylvania office is visiting the island. Tuesday afternoon, they came to Ponce.

My husband left the jobsite at the last possible minute, leaving our son in charge of the crew and zipping home to join us for coffee and pastries on the front porch. I’d originally thought I’d make scones for the group, but then it occured to me that since they’re only on the island for a week, they’d probably want to try as much Puerto Rican food as possible, so that morning I took the three younger kids and traveled a little north of town to one of the better bakeries.

I let the kids each pick out a pastry for themselves, and then together we chose a bunch of other stuff. The baker guy, for some reason, was really concerned about any empty space left in the box — Look! Empty space! Buy more! — so I ended up over-buying. Not that I was upset or anything because pastries, duh.


After visiting for a bit, we piled into cars and drove to the jobsite, taking along all the uneaten pastries for the volunteers. When my husband had left to come home, the volunteers were pouring the concrete bond beam around the outside top walls. When we arrived, they were still hard at work.



The three younger kids immediately grabbed hardhats and jumped in feet first, running numbers (unnecessarily, the older son said; let him be, I said), measuring and cutting rebar, washing the cement mixer, cleaning up.


The last time the MDS director had been on the property, Nilda’s house had been a pile of rubble on the ground. He gave a prayer in that spot, Carmen (or one of the other Puerto Ricans? I can't remember...) told me, gesturing.


It pulled me up short when she said that. Just ten short months ago, this property was the scene of a disaster; now it's a beehive of activity and hope. So much has changed.

In the trailer, the delegation lingered in the sweet, cool air, listening to my husband hold forth about all things construction.


Then, before they left town for their next stop on their island tour, we all drove up the hill to see Esther, the homeowner whose roof my husband helped to replace last January, because even though Esther lives in the same neighborhood as Nilda, my husband and I had not yet been to visit her. Esther gave me a huge bear hug and then proceeded to show us every nook and cranny of her delightfully cozy and stunningly spotless — and sturdily roofed! —  house.


What a dearheart!

This same time, years previous: sweet sixteen, in the kitchen, apricot pie, statements, whole wheat zucchini bread, pasta with roasted tomatoes and summer squash, zucchini parmesan frittata.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Last night, et cetera

Last night all of the kids (my four, plus my daughter’s friend, plus the two teenagers who are volunteering this week) went bowling, and for two hours, my husband and I ate chips (first cheesy chips and salsa and then regular potato chips) and watched Goliath, completely blissed out on the empty-house quiet.




proof-they-got-there-okay photo

As for Goliath, we’re both hooked. Have you seen it?

***

Another good show that’s all over the internets (so I’m sure you’ve seen it already and if you haven’t, you better) is Hannah Gadsby's comedy special Nanette. The first thirty minutes or so I wasn’t too taken, but then — BAM — she started letting loose and I was entranced. Her words are powerful and profound. I want both of my older children to see it now.

***

We’ve gotten some incredible mileage out of these two books.


Educated is such an engrossing, well-written story — even-handed and gracious — about fanaticism and mental health. Weeks later, I’m still thinking about it.

The War Against All Puerto Ricans is so good that I bought a second copy to keep in the trailer for the volunteers to read (and they are). Our own copy is getting a solid workout — currently, both of my sons and my older daughter are reading it. Understanding the political history helps us to make sense of our surroundings, and it makes for some interesting conversations, too.

***

Ever since we’ve arrived, we’ve been trying to cut back on our plastic usage. Even though it’s safe to drink the tap water, it doesn’t taste very good, and everyone here buys bottled water. But I couldn’t stand doing that. Working in the sun all day, each person could easily breeze through 8-12 plastic drinking bottles — the waste would be (and was) insane!

So we did a bunch of research and then invested in under-the-sink water filters — one for the volunteer trailer and one for our house.

The volunteers make ice every night and chill pitchers of tap water in the fridge, and then, in the morning, they're responsible for filling the drinking cooler with the chilled water and ice chunks.


We stocked the trailer with durable plastic cups (and real coffee mugs because coffee tastes best from a mug), plus masking tape and permanent markers to label the cups.



We've asked Nilda and Carmen to bring the volunteers' meals in the cooking pots and serve out of them directly onto the plastic dishes we've provided (instead of pre-packaging the food in styrofoam take-out containers), and they agreeably complied. As a result, we've now successfully eliminated nearly all plastic waste at the jobsite, whoop!

At our house, we keep two big pitchers in the fridge, filling them from the tap as we go.

the purified water on the right

The system works like a dream — so much better than constantly refilling the brita pitcher — and the water tastes great to boot.

***

Ever since we’ve arrived, I’ve been begging my husband to fix the over-the-sink light in the kitchen. He never did, and so we limped along, washing dishes in the near dark. And then a few nights ago I had him wash up a bunch of dishes in the darkening evening light, and wouldn't you know, within thirty minutes I had a lovely light over the sink.


I guess I should’ve had him do the evening dishes weeks ago.

***

Remember how when we first came here I complained about a scratchy throat? Well, I mentioned this to a couple Puerto Ricans, and they were like, Yeah, it’s the dust from the Sahara.

Um, excuse me? Dust from the what?

I was sure they were pulling my leg, but they didn’t bat an eye as they explained that millions of pounds of Saharan dust blow over to Puerto Rico each year. The hazy air, the fine grit of dust that’s constantly soiling tables and floors, is all desert sand, they said.




the hazy, dusty mountains

After they left, I looked it up and found out they were telling the truth. Weird, right?

***

The heat is getting to me. It’s not so bad during the day, but nighttimes are pretty awful. Since the house isn’t insulated, it bakes in the sun all day and then holds the heat at night. The bedrooms in the back of the house — and the master bedroom, especially — turn into ovens. Even with the door open and fans blowing, we can’t drop the temperature. Walking from the breezy front porch into our bedroom, the temperature goes up about ten degrees. We lay in bed, the fan trained on us, and it’s manageable, but dare to get up to pee and the sweating immediately starts.

As a result, the bedroom is untenantable except for sleeping. And even then, not really. The other night, my husband, unable to bear the thought of walking into our room, stayed up till the early morning hours watching movies, and a couple mornings back I woke up so hot that I was nearly in tears. It takes a toll on one’s body and mind, never truly getting a respite from the heat.


And yet, the heat and humidity is not nearly as bad as in Managua, and there I was pregnant and nursing, too. So everything’s relative. We're fine.

***

When we first arrived, we noticed that the house and patio were edged with gravel-covered dirt. There was even a garden box full of soil, ready for planting. However, we didn’t have the time or energy to do any gardening. We didn't even consider it, really.


But now, two-and-a-half months later, the weeds are waist high and I’m kind of kicking myself. If I’d just plopped a couple plants in the ground — herbs, flowers, maybe a tomato plant or two — they’d be going berserk-o right now. Darn.

This same time, years previous: such a hoot, the quotidian (7.18.16), zucchini fritters, a tale of two children, all partied up, in the pits.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

the quotidian (7.17.18)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

(one day late, shhh)

Fortification.


Seventeen!


New cuts.


Surprise birthday breakfast: success!


Bloomed.


Because some people care: World Cup.


New arrival.


New group.


New friends: spoons


Outage, grumble-grumble.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.17.17), in which a pitt bull bites my butt, ouch, this new season, Saturday nights, roasted beet salad with cumin and mint, Jeni's best ever vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

putting up walls

Slowly but surely, the walls are going up!




Block laying is tedious work. Each block has to be placed just so, tapping (or pounding) to level it, measuring and counter-measuring.

It requires attention to detail and a good eye. And strength. It’s hard work wetting and stirring the mortar and lifting the blocks. I only worked for three hours that one morning, and by the time I was done I had blisters on both of my thumbs. My hat’s off to the workers putting in ten-hour days!


Now that MDS is having volunteers to Ponce rent a car from the airport, logistics are so much easier. Everyone — both us and the volunteer groups — can be more independent. Volunteers get themselves to church, to our house, to stores, to the airport all by themselves. And in the evenings, if they’re not too tired (ha), they can explore, too.

Last week we had a group of five volunteers from our church community back home.

This week, two of the men from the previous week stayed on, and two new ones arrived.





Often Chiro and Lery will invite everyone over for pinchos, and one evening last week we (my family, the MDS volunteers, and another couple from our church who were visiting for a couple days, scouting out the island for a potential cross-cultural trip for the university) met at their place to hear their Hurricane Story. I translated for the group. (Chiro accused me later of not being accurate ... because I didn’t cry when he cried, the stinker!)

A brief synopsis: Maria, in three parts 

Part One: Wind and Sand
For roughly twelve hours, the sand battered houses and cars, stripping them of paint. Afterward, one half of a car would look fine, and the other half would look faded and torn up. The power went out about four hours after the storm started.

Part Two: The Eye
For a couple hours it was relatively calm. People stepped outside — the light was eerie and reddish — to assess the damage. They knew the second half of the storm was coming, and that it would be worse.

Part Three: Wind and Rain
During this part, there aren’t many photos — people were too scared to take pictures. This time the wind came from a different direction — whatever hadn’t broken the first time, now, weakened by the first twelve hours, snapped easily. In addition, there were dozens of mini-tornados. From their upstairs bathroom window, Chiro watched as one of the little twisters destroyed one of the enormous cranes at the dock.

But the actual storm was only the beginning. What followed were days of high-stress work: making meals, finding people, procuring gas and water and generators, handing out food boxes, problem-solving, taking people in, etc. All of it was intense, and on little sleep, too, but it’s when talking about not being able to communicate with their family that they tear up. That — the inability to communicate and the not-knowing about the safety and well-being of their loved ones — was the hardest part.

That evening with the volunteers, Lery showed us a video that her health department produced after the hurricane, detailing how the organization responded to the crisis. For Lery, working with her co-workers was both extremely challenging and empowering. They were prepared and they worked hard. It's something to be proud of.

But back to our volunteers! And the house!


My older son works full-time. We've considered sending him to one of the other jobsites to give him a change of scenery, but then my husband realized that he's come to depend on him too much, Sorry, kid, serves you right for working hard! And my older daughter usually puts in full days, too, though recently, under-the-weather with a cold and stomach bug (more appropriately called a “buggette,” since it was so minor), she took a couple days to be A Royal Layabout.


The younger two sometimes pop in to help (and my younger daughter was a surprisingly gifted block layer), but there’s not much for them to do right now.



The tasks — meticulous block laying and up high, on scaffolding — require more supervision, and my husband, his hands full enough already with managing the weekly volunteers, doesn’t have extra time for coaching (occasionally obstinate) children.


Next week we hope to finish the walls. Then, trusses!

This same time, years previous: roasted feta with honey, the quotidian (7.11.16), the quotidian (7.13.15), what my refrigerator told me, soft and chewy breadsticks, roasted cherry vanilla ice cream with dark chocolate.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Sunday

Since the weekly volunteers arrive on Saturday, usually in time for a supper at our place and orientation, Sundays are left open for church, outings, and any spontaneous visiting that may occur. Nothing is ever really planned. Rather, it evolves as we go along. Take this past Sunday, for example. 

After church, Chiro invited our family and the four volunteers to come over for lunch. There’d been a bridal shower the day before and they had a bunch of leftover food to use up. Sure thing, I said, and I have some leftover salad in my fridge — I’ll run home and get it.

The salad transferred to a nicer bowl, I doctored it up with some more cherry tomatoes, and bunch of chopped boiled eggs, sunflower seeds, grated cheese, and craisins. I’d just bought a fresh pineapple the day before, so I snatched that up on my way out the door.

At Chiro’s, he was in the middle of re-cooking the leftover rice — his sister had tried to cook 14 pounds of rice in a large kettle and it’d turned out crunchy (as Chiro had warned her it would, he told me rather gleefully) — and making a pan of chicken with onions. They’d plunked a bag of dinner rolls and a dish of butter on the table for people to munch on while they waited. I chopped up the pineapple (it was disappointingly flavorless) and helped Lery wipe down the tables and set out the drinks. Lunch was served.


We lingered over the table in the cool air conditioning, talking about all sorts of things. For example, I learned that upon greeting their parents or elder relatives, children here, even grown ones, will say, BendiciĆ³n (blessing), and the adult will respond, Dios le bendiga (God bless you). This call-and-response is a sign of respect. They do it when they greet each other and when they say good-bye, before bed and on the phone, too. A child who intentionally skips the blessing request is being disrespectful and rude and may, I've heard tell, have their phone confiscated.

My children (two of them, at least), in the meantime, had fallen asleep.


I’d been hoping to make sweet rolls that afternoon, so I begged a couple potatoes from Lery and set them to simmering while we talked. The potatoes cooked and mashed, we headed back to our house. 

Lery showed up soon after we got home. The volunteers were still at her house and the conversation had turned intense — politics — plus, she wanted a baking lesson. While I measured and mixed (and assembled a batch of granola on the side) she took notes and asked questions.


She took a turn kneading the dough, and then, while it rose, we sat in the hot kitchen, drinking water, and talking about life: marriage, work, relationships, etc.


The rolls shaped and in the pan, Lery headed home, and my husband and I made a quick run to the store. I’d promised Chiro a green smoothie experience and needed bananas, spinach, and canned peaches. I texted him a photo of the smoothie ingredients, and then, while the rolls baked, I ran outside to take some photos of the sunset.


I lost track of time, so the rolls got a little dark, oops. I glazed them and then texted a photo to Lery: You coming? Should I make coffee? 



Around eight, they showed up — their daughter, too — and we sat on the porch and visited. The mosquitoes came out, so we lit the citronela candle. My younger son drug some pots and pans out to the sidewalk for some late-night drumming (which we promptly shushed).

As Chiro and Lery were getting ready to leave, the volunteers showed up, so they plopped back down in their plastic chairs and settled in for round two. We got out the last two pans of sweet rolls, and the kids did a quick table clean-up and passed out cups of water. Crowded together on the twinkle-lit porch we told stories, joked, and argued over the origin of the word “gringo.” At one point — this was before the volunteers showed up, I think — Lery was seized with such a fit of laughter that she was rolling on the floor.

After several failed attempts at leaving, everyone made it into their cars. The older kids had put themselves to bed, and my younger son was asleep on the sofa. My husband and I washed up the last few dishes, showered, and, at eleven, finally crawled into bed. I was exhausted, but still buzzing from all the sugar and conversation. It took me a good while to fall asleep.

This same time, years previous: three things about writing, a tale, er, tail, splash, tempero.