Saturday, October 19, 2013

I Thought You Should Know I'm in Mexico.

It’s hard to type on these bumpy roads. It may not help that I’m in the back of a 15-passenger van, directly over the rear axle, and that the local authorities apparently think that speed bumps are the most important element of their transportation infrastructure. My short-term team, two long-term American missionary couples, and four Mexican nationals from the town of Fresnillo are on our way out to a village of the Huichol people, natives of the area who live in the mountains. I thought the four-hour drive would be some nice downtime to type an update, but now even bringing my laptop in the van feels like an absurd proposition. The people down here don’t live like us, and having portable electronic devices on my person feels like flaunting wealth.

Ubiquitous tools that aid us in our American lifestyles, the results of innovation, competition, and technological advancement, are considered luxuries. Electronics are only beginning to be seen as tools to use rather than gadgets to play with. I was thinking of getting a Mexican SIM card so that I could have internet access whenever I needed it, but it seemed like this would not be received well by the locals; instead, I use it only as a camera when I’m out of the apartment. It’s sort of like being in a time-travel movie where I’m just trying not to shatter anyone’s perception of reality with my incredibly-versatile handheld gadget.

But beyond the still-emerging field of information technology, tools and conveniences run in short supply here. Our team is helping to redo the roof of the local church. This involves removing a layer of concrete a couple inches thick from a flat roof roughly the size of a basketball court. In the United States, anyone doing concrete work on their own property would go rent a handheld electric jackhammer from a local tool shop, and most general contractors probably own one of their own. Manual labor in Mexico, however, is a little more manual than that. We had to go at it with pickaxes, sledgehammers, chisels, pry bars, and shovels – there were no power tools available, and none of the nationals seemed like they’d even considered the possibility. This is how it’s done around here: you don’t expect there to be an easier answer down the road; you just use the tools you’ve got and employ leverage in whatever way you can. Overall, I think it’s pretty rewarding this way, because you have to work a lot more closely with the mechanical principles you’re employing.

After tearing up the floor, we had to haul large piles of sand and gravel onto the roof, along with several 50kg bags of cement, to mix new mortar and concrete. This process involved shovels, ropes, and buckets, (plus some shoulders and ladders for the bags of cement) rather than such things as excavators and forklifts. I tried to makeshift a pulley system, but soon realized that the plastic bottle caps that would form part of the assembly wouldn’t support the weight required.
Lastly, a tower of cinder blocks about 5 feet shorter than the church roof had been neatly stacked behind the building. This was moved onto the roof in a very orderly manner, with a man on top of the stack tossing blocks upwards onto the roof, and a man down below selecting which pieces to move without toppling the whole structure, Jenga-style.

It wasn’t bad work, but it just felt very jury-rigged. To get water for the cement, we ended up siphoning it out of a tank on the roof top (which is another cool use of physics, by the way) because there wasn’t a spigot on it. To draw a horizontal line, rather than using a bubble level, two of the guys leading the project used the water level inside a clear hose to mark spots that were the same height.
Anyways, we’ve made some great progress this week in the fight against this area’s annual 10 inches of precipitation. Incidentally, this is one of the places that boasts a “rainy season,” and it seems that most of its expected rainfall for the year has come since we’ve started the roof repairs.

I wish I had more time to type and edit and post between all the work that we are doing here, but consider this a better-than-nothing update for now. To give you a glimmer of hope that more updates will come, I should mention that I’m required to do a certain amount of writing to receive academic credit for this trip, so I’ll at least have some more reflections that I can post in here in the next few weeks. 

Thanks for reading!


P.S. The Huichol village trip was yesterday, but it took me a little time and opportunity to reorder the word salad that I threw down on the drive up. I'll write a post about that ministry later.