We started our first work day by gathering under a palm-thatched meeting area. All the international and national volunteers were introduced to the super effective ladies on the board of directors of the ADESCO, which is more or less the Getsemaní home owners association except they do far more worthwhile activities than worrying about the color of front doors or monitoring lawn mowing schedules. (These women have gotten the Salvadoran government and other institutions to support improvement projects in their neighborhood, such as the construction of a bridge and the excavation of a well.) Next, we were welcomed in unison by the neighborhood children. (Check out the video on YouTube.)
We got our work assignments and hiked off to our respective build sites. One group was joined by members of the Presbyterian Church of Ahuachapán, including 75-year-old Juan, who can work circles around any of us and who has been doing so for years. We learned to be more patient as we filled the gaps in the concrete block and supported the rebar with concrete filler. The masons guided us in simple Spanish. We did it wrong until they finally said, “Bueno,” instead of “No, no, no.”
The other MPPC group had the not-much-common-language-required interpersonal skills of Kelly Backman to break the ice with their masons and start the joking. Jim Backman was nicknamed “Tortuga” (turtle) right away for being so slow. We hauled dirt, packed dirt down and mixed dirt. Dirt goes into everything, including our hair, gloves and shirts, but we love it. The day doesn’t really feel like work as much as a good time interacting in bad Spanish with new friends.
(Indeed, though we all worked hard on our first day, it is doubtful any of us worked as hard as the women who haul water on their heads up the road each day at least five times each. Empty five-gallon jug on the way down. Full jug on their heads on the way up. Repeat. Many folks in the Getsemaní community must personally port their water from the common well.)
–Jim Backman (Myers Park Presbyterian Church Team)