Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Jim's visits to Agua Escondido, Guatemala

Friday afternoon I visited the Agua Escondidas home-building project with Juan, the construction supervisor, to deliver bags of cement. My photos are on the Mayan Families' Picasa Web site or will appear soon. The site is about 45 minutes from Panajachel, high up on the mountain on the northeast side of the lake, nearly as far as San Lucas Toliman. Along the way we passed through the small city of Godinez.

 We dropped the cement bags alongside small piles of gravel and sand, about 50 yards from the home site. There also were large jugs of water to mix the cement. (try to imagine running short of water whilst mixing cement, and the water supply being hundreds of yards away!)

  I met Isabel, the mother of Ana Alicia, #1241. Her family is living there now in a very primitive, one-"room" plastic and wood structure with enough space for two beds and little else. In person, it seemed smaller than it did in Picasa photos from last month. Her husband and son were working with a man from another family. There was another man doing some carpentry work on another house; he said he was not a future resident and had been hired by Mayan Families. They said all the families were working together on all the houses.

   It was quite hot and very dry, and the work was very difficult. They were dry-mixing the sand, gravel and cement during our visit in preparation of adding the water after a lunch break. This particular mix was in preparation to pour a 2" thick floor. This would be the second poured flour of the 6 houses that were framed up as of that day. If you look carefully at the photos you will see that the house designs are all the same, and that each house is in a different point in construction.

   In summary: each house is about 10'x20' with one door and one window; there is an 18" deep poured footing around the perimeter, on top which is a 3-course tall wall of concrete block. There are six 4"x4" poles holding up metal corrugated roofing panels (which are not well attached and will leak once the rains come - see photos); there are horizontal wood cross beams at intervals between the poles and sheets of plywood are (or will be) nailed to them.

   And that's it. Humble homes, very close to one other. The men told me that they are all working together and that no one will move in until they can all move in. I myself doubt that this will be the case. One family was visiting the site Friday, and Isabels family as you may know has been living there for a while - if the rains come, they likely will seek shelter in something other than their patched together "home." Especially if it collapses from heavy rain.

  I did not see any sort of trench above the site that would divert water toward the nearby ravine. Sharon said there were eight families involved, but the site prep had been completed for only 6 houses. I'm not sure what is up with the other two houses. And I did not see a prepared area to begin construction for them - my memory may fail me on that point. It may show in the photos.

 The homes are on a very steep slope and I am relieved that Guatemala is having a very dry rainy season, so that work can continue as rapidly as possible. I sure hope they finish all the houses before any heavy rains come -- there is much to do yet and few hands to do it. Once all the cement is mixed and applied, they could continue to work on the wood construction in the rain.
Yesterday, I went back to Aguas Escondidas with the "Families for Guatemala" group from the Cincinnati area, who donated, and were delivering, materials to build one of the two houses that had not yet been funded. I went in the truck with Charley and Juan and Oscar from Mayan Familes, Bruce and Vic from the group, and John the filmmaker/photographer from Korea who is here documenting MF activities. (BTW:  I designed and built (and plumbed) my two houses in Connecticut, and have some rusty skills). Bruce and Vic are extremely handy and knowledgeable, and we all pitched in as best as we could under the circumstances. We wanted more tools, but that was not an option, so we "made do."

The rest of that group arrived later with a big bag of shoes and sneakers for the residents, and lunch  -- pasta bolognese! --  for everyone. I did not count, but there seemed to be dozens of children at the site, along with most of the adults who own property. The "Families" group has been great by the way -- visiting their students and families and elderly nutrition programs, installing stoves, painting murals, and helping out in myriad other ways.

 Our truck with the materials arrived first -- nearly an entire house's worth on the truck along with all of us. We carried materials downhill to the houses, and you will surely see photos on Picasa of everyone pitching in, big and small, young and "old." Bruce and Vic and I pitched in to frame a wall, along with Charley, Oscar and Juan from Mayan Families and the homeowner Leocario. John was capturing the entire scene digitally with film and still photos. The kids were just great fun and a joy to be around. They helped too.

 Several men were working on the houses at the low end of the site, where two more houses will eventually be built. They were working on various steps in construction of the second of those houses. The first of which was mostly finished. Three houses are enclosed as of yesterday, two are ready for the side wall framing to be built, and then they will be closed in with plywood. The sixth is under construction, with the footings being poured and blocks being set as quickly as possible.
 Once they are all enclosed, with the doors and windows built, there is finish work to do. For example, the metal corrugated roofing has lifted up in spots -- Petrona (a mother in one family)  is well aware of this issue and pointed it out to me -- and water will come through. There is no supporting framework underneath, so they will likely have to add a post underneath, and would benefit from lots of caulking. The plywood walls that have been installed need to be more securely attached, since they are all "cupping" and will permit water to enter. "Nailers" will need to be installed inside these areas to secure the plywood, but there is enough framing to attach these to. 
 Bruce and I were looking at  the roof angles and where the water runoff will go and I am guessing that this may well be dealt with once the rains come, as surely they soon will. There will be water running downhill from above the site, so it would benefit from a trench to send it towards the "ravine," which is not deep and they are crossing it on foot toward the nearby coffee fields. Small trenches will be needed to send the roof runoff toward the ravine. 

 I am very happy to report that there is water being piped to the site from a "chorro," or tap, far uphill. It fills two large containers and then they use small plastic tubing to use water for mixing concrete. I believe this is for  construction purposes only. 

 There is an area cleared and ready for the 7th house, and I was told the 8th house will be next to it. The site for the 8th house is a tight fit, but Juan, coordinator of the project, assured me that a large culvert will be installed to prevent water in the small ravine from undermining that house. And he said that not a lot of water comes down that ravine and problems were not anticipated. 
 So I want to summarize: Everyone is working very hard, the workers know what they are doing, and surely know all about the issues described above -- but they have a big task on their hands. There will be last-minute issues to troubleshoot and solve. Probably people and belongings will get wet. Funding is still needed for the 8th family's house.  
 On the way to and from the site, and elsewhere of course, I see humble houses similar to these, and in similar dicey locations, all over the countryside. The people at Aguas Escondidas are wonderful, you need only to spend a few minutes with little Ronny and your heart will be his and you will do anything to help him and his sisters and brothers, cousins and playmates, see their dream of home ownership come true. I really can't wait to see them again .. whenever that is.

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