There was no getting up at the butt crack of dawn today, though the roosters did their screechiest. Around eight we ate breakfast and then began work on the hinged lid for the spring box in El Porvenir. We figured the best method would be to build it first, where we have tools and power, and then bring it over to affix it to the box.
We began by building the PVC pipe frame, which was a challenge because we had to match the curve at the front of the spring box. If you’ve ever tried to bend PVC to your will, you know that it has a tendency to jump out right before the glue kicks. This took a few tries. Also, interestingly enough, the PVC glue here is different and does not include a purple primer. It’s just one little tube. No one else cares about that detail, I am sure. But too bad, you read this far anyway. Nyah nyah.
We let the frame dry for a while. Ariel and Paige worked on our monitoring report to send to national (woot getting on it!). Jesse, Bob and I drilled holes through the metal pieces for the hinge bolts to go through. There may or may not be new holes in the plastic table – but hey, it’s an inferior table anyway. As Ariel can tell you, its legs just magically fall off.
We bolted the hinges and metal pieces to the frame in a sort of tin lamina sandwich: two tin slices of bread on each side of the PVC filling. Then we shot some machine screws along the frame on both sides. It looked very professional, if we do say so ourselves. Mike showed up as we were finishing with his hands full of Pollo Campero. Pollo Campero is the El Salvadorian equivalent to – or should I say ≥ to – Kentucky Fried Chicken. It comes with spicy salsa and ketchup and is muy delicioso. See, aren’t I picking up this language? It also comes with flan. Jesse nearly fell for it when I said it was terrible and he shouldn’t eat his. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so aggressively cleaning the bottom of my cup with a spoon.
I have to say that the most important lesson we learned in Porvenir on Wednesday was that you have to think things out way ahead of time if you’re going to need electricity. That’s something we’re not used to in the States. Hell, I even leave the house not knowing where I’m going, figuring if I get lost, I can just call someone. But in Porvenir, you’ve really got to plan for electricity. We had charged the drill battery during lunch for about an hour, which wasn’t full but it was as much as we could get before our scheduled meeting with the community. So off we went, lid and drill and all.
Ariel and Paige went to lead the meeting while the rest of us went down to the spring box to install the lid. We shouted victory when we discovered that our estimated lid shape perfectly fit the front curve of the box. I am not exaggerating. It was perfect and snug. We began to drill the first hole in the concrete for the hinges.
However, our victory was short lived. After about half an hour of drilling, we had almost completely worn down the drill battery and we were only halfway through the first hole. Meanwhile, while Bob had been drilling, I had been hammering down the front edges of the lid so that they wouldn’t be sharp. Unfortunately the leverage resulting from the hammering was enough to pop out three of the nearest machine screws. We were not in good shape.
I decided to call the driver to take me back so I could charge the drill. Ariel explained to him what was going on and I communicated with him in my incredibly bad Spanish on the way back to SJV. Bob had recommended charging it for 20 minutes, since any more would mean we’d be working past dark. While I was back, I went over to Mike and Susie’s to rummage through the quadruple-coffin-sized box of “things volunteer groups leave here” and was able to uncover another drill with some charge, another battery for our drill, and two chargers and batteries for yet another drill. It seems that these things never appear before you need them most…
I plugged everything in that I could, wishing that I’d found them and charged them all the night before. After the meeting was well over, the driver and I headed back to the spring box, my arms full of drills and batteries. Upon our return we discovered that in the hour and a half it had taken for transit and charge time, Jesse had singlehandedly finished the first hole. How, you ask? By hammering the masonry drill bit into the concrete lid over and over with the most miniscule hammer ever. I am not kidding. And if you ever read the story of John Henry as a child, you will know that he was quite tired of it.
We started drilling another hole. The drill died. We got another drill. It died. We got the last drill, and guess what! It died too. I began to hammer a hole for a bolt in the other hinge using a real-sized hammer, which I’d run into in the magic coffin toolbox. It was slow going. It was also getting dark.
Soon we saw Ariel and Paige coming down the hill, with what seemed to be half the community behind them. They were coming to see the lid, and Don Chepe was bringing tin snips to trim the edges. The men swarmed around and saw our dilemmas and picked up our tools. They began where we’d left off, though with much stronger muscles built on a hard life. However, things looked bleak – it felt like a humongous failure, and we’d had such high hopes.
As the daylight was winding away one guy named Felipe said he thought it would be better if we took out the frame and welded the metal pieces together. He and the other guys began to measure the dimensions of the hole. They began to chat about how they would build it, and who would hang on to which pieces so no one could make off with them all until it was made. They wrote down their measurements. To put it bleakly, they were restarting our entire process for building the lid.
While at first we were disappointed that our lid had not succeeded, we realized something important – this work was never about us doing something for them. That kind of work is unsustainable. It’s the kind of work that draws criticisms for all volunteer trips like ours – people have no sense of ownership of gifts like that, if it breaks no one has the materials to fix it, etc. So while we weren’t proud of our failed lid, we knew that this was in many ways better: instead of building something for them, we had inspired several community members to get involved and work together on making something for themselves. We had brought the need for a lid to their attention, and we had presented a design idea. We did not succeed in implementing our design. But we presented the tools and reasons they needed to resolve the problem without us.
And in the long run, isn’t that the goal?