Jesse, United States
From the first camioneta en route to the project near Panajachel to the goodbyes at the end of the two weeks, my time with Constru Casa was both memorable and influential.
I came to Guatemala with my friend Beth and we both wanted to work in a rural area, which led us to San Andres Semetebaj, a short ride from Panajachel in the back of a pickup truck packed with 21 other people.
The weekend before the project started, I got a haircut from a man named Chico. We talked the whole time and I learned that he was receiving the house that we would be working on the next week. Chico starts his construction job at 7 am every day, so he told us that he would be helping starting at 5 on Monday. I told him we would see him then and sure enough, there he was at 5 with his pick ax and shovel, working to level his plot of land and we worked together before he had to leave. Later that day, we met Mario, the albañil (construction worker) for Chico's house.
Over the course of the first week, we mixed concrete by hand, laid bricks, dug trenches, sifted sand and moved countless bricks. The 10 blisters on my hands proved that although I didn't have the experience the rest did, I was willing to work hard alongside them to get the job done. Working in a community that is grateful for your help is perhaps the most rewarding part of development work. This was evident in San Andres Semetebaj from community members coming down to work alongside us everyday and also from the countless snacks the community would bring multiple times a day.
Since San Andres is rural, the only lodging available was at the local convent. Beth and I slept in the guest room, woke up with the morning bells at 5:23 on point every day, ate with the nuns and washed our clothes by hand in the same pila they did. At the end of our time, an unlikely friendship was born, and we were invited to go back and stay with them anytime.
While working on the project, we tried to sample all of the local comedores as well. Our favorite, by far, was a place called Andale Tacos, owned by a man named Herman who made the best tacos this side of the equator. We went there for lunch almost every day and even took Logan and some other Constru Casa staff there when they came to visit. Though this food was delicious, the best meal I had on the trip was the one I ate in Chico's house after we had been working on it all week. To show his gratitude, Chico and his family made everyone on the site lunch at the end of the first week. It really warmed my heart in a way few things do. Chico brought some bloques in from outside and set up a little round table. We sat on blocks and also used them as tables. And no meal here is complete without the obligatory 6 liters of Pepsi served in coffee cups. His wife made caldo de pollo, a sort of chicken soup and fresh tamales. When lunch was finished, everyone handed their dishes to Chico and went back to work. The best part was eating with Chico, his family and the workers in the house we just finished. I loved staring at the roof and the line of bricks I know I laid because there was a little too much sabietta in some of the gaps.
At the end of my two weeks with Constru Casa I not only learned countless things about construction, but the relationships I formed were invaluable as well. I'll always be grateful for the hospitality we received at the convent and everyone's willingness to roll up their sleeves to get the job done.