To wrap up the never-ending concrete story, let me begin by sharing, that as long as this concrete story feels, our day felt longer.
After we returned from lunch, the kids huddled and decided whether or not we would proceed and finish with the project: clothes were torn, arms were dry and peeling, construction boots were close to being sucked off of our feet. My hands, albeit bandaged, had none of the damage that some of the other kids did (especially the girls handling the tossed buckets). Some of them had arms and legs that were covered in criss-crossed mini cuts: where post-cut, cement, grit, water, and other particles had mixed and dried inside of them.
The cuts inside pants must have occurred as stuff made its way up the interior of the pants and then aggravated the skin. The one girl’s legs looked like she’d been whipped. Others’ had varying degrees of injury, but they were definitely not nearly as excited as they had been at 7 a.m. when we began earlier that day.
We discovered the extent of the wounds during our lunch break during which everything got bandaged and wrapped. The girls were especially attentive to putting individual bandaids over ever cut on their fingers—some of the hands had no skin showing, there were that many bandaids on them!
Our lunch was simple: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit, chips, and cookies. My favorite lunchtime occurrence was definitely our sharing our food with the policemen who accompanied us. I spoke with the policemen briefly, again, through mangled Spanish. I’m not sure how much of my speaking they understood, but I was able to gather that they both had families with children and that they worked long shifts—3 days on and they only slept for a few hours at the station, in cots. We would have them with us the next day as well.
The return to the concrete post-lunch was epic. Epic for several reasons.
1) The kids were exhausted. These were students whose families threw very successful fundraisers in their community; more likely than not, the teenagers hadn’t ever really done any amount of physical labor, let alone build and pour a roof.
2) The kids were hurt. The amount of cuts was unlike any I’ve ever seen before. I still haven’t quite figured out how exactly, they happened, given the gloves all of them were wearing.
3) My back was very unhappy. I had taken several painkillers earlier—with the idea that I’d use as little as possible. I needed more. Result: Monica was useless (more or less).
4) The principal and several other locals decided, collectively, that the next day, a crew would be hired to finish the project; the students had already exhausted themselves, and the adults decided it was unfair to require the kids to do more.
5) The kids were given an option—to finish the half of the roof we’d started, or to find another project to do. They rallied around the cry of “For the children!”
6) Jen told the kids about my back and tasked them with ensuring that I was not bending and lifting. So hard to let teenagers help you, when all you want to do is muscle through it, especially because the local men think the women aren’t strong enough. It took such discipline (and crushing back pain) to allow the help. Yet again, another experience of receiving.
7) Once the teenagers decided to finish, they attacked the project with renewed energy. We banged it out all over again—moving, mixing, filling, passing, spreading, tossing; repeat filling through tossing, over and over and over. The work passed more quickly the second time around. We finished by 5:30 and went home to dinner.
Really, the evening ended as soon as we sat on the bus. Teens (and adults) drifted to sleep; Juan Carlos took us home before he returned the police officers to the station; we left our shoes outside, we ate, and we slept: all were in bed, out cold, by 8 or 8:30. If you’ve ever taken teenagers on a service trip, you know that this is an unknown phenomenon! The next day would be much easier, we thought.
Here’s a picture of the final product at the end of the day: