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Day 2: Monday, 10/18/04

Fresh and ready after a good night's rest, we gathered in the kitchen for biscuits and gravy and then waited as the day's work assignments got started. There was plenty of work to go around. Some went to what will soon be the mission's clinic to put in a drop ceiling and stucco and paint the walls. A few built rafters for the houses of two church members, while many others went out to those houses to lay cinder block, apply stucco, put in windows, and run plumbing and electricity. Everyone from North Liberty went out to the two houses to work. Here we all are climbing into the back of an aging pickup to ride to the work site. Rob Wilkes is standing at left. Abby Wilkes sits on the flatbed with her mom, Sue, poking her head around to look at the camera. Sue's sister Lynn Golden sits on a board in the middle of the flatbed. Andy Phillips stands in the back of the bed at right.

Many houses in Piedras Negras, the nearby town, were damaged or destroyed in a flood late last year. On structures left standing, discoloration showed you how high the waters rose -- easily five feet. People who didn't lose their homes still lost most of their possessions. We helped build new homes for members of the church at Vida Nueva who were affected.

At right, musclebound Abby Wilkes carries a cinder block so it could be laid in. Unlike our frame houses, most homes here are made of cinder block. Wood is apparently hard to come by and is of poor quality. While many people apply stucco and paint over their cinder block homes, the poorest people live in bare cinder block inside and out. The poorest of the poor just have a piece of metal as a roof.

Here, Rob Wilkes applies mortar and lays in cinder blocks to form a wall. We had plenty of tools for our jobs at our disposal -- wheelbarrows, trowels, shovels, and more. Bags of mortar and stucco were also provided to us at the work sites. All we had to do was show up, mix up some mortar or stucco, and get going.

It was overcast and cool in the morning, but as morning gave way to afternoon the sun came out and it got very hot! We brought plenty of water and reminded each other to stay hydrated. We also took regular breaks and watched out for signs of heat exhaustion in each other.


These little guys kept us plenty amused all day as they wrestled with each other. Their mama was always nearby, and made sure she checked out each one of us before we could go near her pups.

It seems like dogs wander around pretty freely here. They're everywhere. The mama dog spent a lot of her time this afternoon under a pickup truck across the street. It had to be cooler there than it was for us applying stucco or installing windows under the hot sun.

Andy Phillips's friend Keith Hann is a plumber. He and Kedge Benge from the Hazelwood congregation, who's also a plumber, started to put a toilet in a bathroom, but then found they needed lots of parts to do the job and ended up moving on to other jobs while they waited. Keith joined the stucco crew.

Sue Wilkes, in the yellow shirt, is bent over in this photo applying stucco to the bottom of an exterior wall. Applying stucco isn't too difficult, and with a little practice (at this house's expense) we were doing a pretty good job of it. Dawn Edmondson and Taffy French, both from Hazelwood, are on her left and right. Taffy was making sure the window she'd just installed was perfectly vertical.

After the stucco dried a bit, we took squares of Styrofoam, dipped them in water, and "sanded" the stucco smooth. At first, none of us knew quite what to think of this technique we were taught, but it worked really well! It was pretty tedious, but Sue Wilkes and Keith Hann really got into the groove of it and covered a lot of wall.

The windows went in throughout the day. They were simply put in place and cemented in. Judging by the dried cement goop around windows on most houses, this is the common way to put in a window here.

At left, Duke Brown from Hazelwood is trying to look busy applying stucco. Jim Grey, who picked up the nickname "Rose" because of his Rose-Hulman shirt, is trying to look busier than Duke. Andy Phillips is mixing stucco, a job that will wear you out in a hurry.

It doesn't seem that there it's necessary to get any permits to build a house. You just start building. Many houses are partially finished, waiting for the owner to have money to buy more supplies. And it's not clear whether there's any code to adhere to.  The fellow from Hazelwood who was doing some electrical work said that he just walked up and down the street to see how others put in their meter boxes as a guide to how he should do his. He said that there was no single way; people seemed to do it however made sense.

At right are three local men who worked with us. Juan Carlos is on the right; he works for the mission, and the fellow at left will live in this house. They showed us how to work with the stucco, and then applied a bunch of it themselves. They sure were fast! They were friendly and as helpful as possible despite the language barrier. We all made ourselves understood as best we could.

As the day got hotter, we got thirstier. We ran out of drinking water sometime after 3 pm, so somebody walked to a corner store to buy Cokes. We took an extended break at that point to recover a little from the heat. But then, realizing our time was short and that we had a whole wheelbarrow full of stucco to use, we applied the rest of it and then cleaned up until it was time to climb back on the pickup to go back to the mission.

While we prepare our own breakfasts and lunches, the mission makes us dinner every day. The food has got to be authentic Mexican since it's made by Mexicans in Mexico! And it's delicious. Before and after dinner we got showers -- six shower heads for forty people makes shower time a real symphony of scheduling. At 8:30 we'll have our evening devotion, and then we'll relax for the rest of the night -- or immediately zonk out in our beds, depending on how hard we worked today!