Susan and me chillin at our end point, right below the rock scramble and about 200 meters below the summit.
Here´s our motley crew, scrambling to get the rain gear on, and the ¨view¨ looking towards the top :
*Wanna see more pics? Click on the link to the right labeled ´Ohio State´ for about 200 more. They´re worth it- I promise!*
That evening, we met the other group who had started building that day and would be our companions for the next four days. They were a group of 11 high school students from different cities all over the US (including a New Yorker that I actually share a close friend with- such a small world!). They had been in Ecuador for almost a month and were participating in an educational tour of the country, ending with five days of service with Habitat. Their two leaders, Kate and Nyssa, had already been in Tosagua with a previous group for a week at the beginning of July so they were already familiarized with the site and the town. That night, the local affiliate office threw both groups a welcoming party complete with speeches from a few local officials, the executive director of Habitat and a dance party. The dance was not exactly traditional (and neither were the costumes!) but both groups joined in and most everyone had a good time. We began work at 8 AM the next day and the next four days became a challenging but happy routine. The construction site in Tosagua is a completely different kind of site for Habitat Ecuador and is a pilot project that they are hoping to replicate all over the country. When it is finished, it will be a community of 160 houses along with a meeting center, playground and a computer room where the families will be able to access the internet and children can do their homework. Habitat began building in Tosagua with individual families in 2003 and helped to construct almost 40 houses scattered throughout town. Yet, this did not engender the community that Habitat hoped to build, nor did it help families who did not already own their own land. In 2003, the Tosagua office received a large donation of land from the government and began making plans for the Las Palmas (Handprint) project. Each family who applied for a house was taken through a 2-month process during which they were expected to show proof of income, a need for housing, an ability to pay and a willingness to help build the houses in the community. Those families who were accepted will pay a monthly mortgage of about $45 for the next 7-8 years until they have paid off the price of their house and their plot of land. I was told by one of the future homeowners that this payment is lower than the average rent in town.
The days of building varied although a few constants remained the same. The two houses that the teams worked on were next to each other and were in the middle stages of development. Each team was able to build walls and see a lot of progress on each house. Since there were two large teams, it was difficult to always find exciting work for each person but the maestros and the construction supervisor, Gustavo, were great about making sure everyone was busy even if it meant doing boring but helpful work like moving supplies around the site. Besides the fun part of building walls, people were involved in cutting bricks with machetes or trowels to fit in difficult spots, pulling nails out of wood that could be used again as molds, sanding down and painting walls in the more finished houses, and, everyone´s favorite, mixing cement and sand to make mortar. Actually, making the mix was tough and really physically demanding but it was definitely a source of amusement, especially for the Georgia Tech kids. We all decided that mixing almost 300 pounds of materials with shovels was a ridiculous task but it seemed like the best way to prove our determination to help get those houses built!
There are too many great pictures of the build to include here but you can find them at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/9422192@N02/sets/72157601412894884/
One person who I absolutely have to mention and who I would say many of us counted as the best part of the trip was Lupe, a future homeowner. She came to visit the site and help out on the first day and then she began bringing two of her brothers and her three small boys along with homemade treats every day. She and her brother Gabriel showed up all the gringos in their strength and expertise with the tools that we were clumsily trying to use. She taught us all new words and gave a few people some very appropriate nicknames. By the end of the week, she had gotten so close to the Georgia Tech brigada that she invited us all to her sister´s house for a party and we also went with her family to an amazing concert/dance party on a day of celebration for Ecuador´s heroes of Independence (similar to Memorial Day in the States).She is currently living with her father and kids in a cramped house while she is trying to get her high school degree. She is excited to move into her new house in Las Palmas in a few months, especially because a new nursing center is being built close by and she hopes to study there in a few years. Lupe´s spirit and determination impressed us all and, although I wish more families had been on-site to help out, her presence helped us make a real connection to the community and realize that our labor was about more than just bricks and mortar.
On the last night of work, the Tosagua office threw both teams a farewell party at the hotel. Maria and Gustavo gave speeches about how much they appreciated our help and both teams had a chance to present a taste of ´American culture´. The high school students presented some of the better known cheesy dance moves (like the sprinkler, the disco and the funky chicken) while the Georgia Tech kids sang their school´s song ¨Ramblin´ Wreck¨(whiskey featured prominently!) Much fun was had by all and Maria surprised everyone with certificates and framed photos of ourselves at the work site in handmade frames.