I¬¥ve just finished working six hours in the hot, humid sun. My fingernails are brown and red from the earth I¬¥ve been digging. My neck is red and achy. My back is sore and my hamstrings are screaming in protest. My smile is from ear to ear.
We have been working on a water project for the last few days. Today we hauled piping up a large hill, through the jungle to be installed in a well. Imagine 13 Americans hauling three pipes in each shoulder, with backs already weighed down with overpacked backpacks. (Of course today was the day I thought I should bring a book in case we got bored. I cursed myself more than once for this foolish decision.) We marched through the trees, scraping our legs on spiny bushes and stepping carefully over the occasional pile of manure. Cows and horses grazed as we tromped up and down the hills, hauling the pipes in sections. Parrots called to us, high in the trees. We even heard rumors about a monkey or two.
The trenches had already been dug for the piping. It was our responsibility to line up each pipe from the the top of the hill to the bottom — about 1.5 kilometers. We are at 5,000 feet, and you can imagine it took about three trips up and down this hill with pipes on my shoulders before I found a place to ditch my backpack until the day¬¥s work was complete.
It took nearly a gallon of water, a Cliff bar, a banana, orange and handful of peanuts to provide enough energy to fuel just my system, but hours later, the pipe was complete and being placed together by the Nicaraguan plumbers. We followed behind them with shovels, carefully filling in the trenches with rocks and soil, being sure not to break the precious cargo we¬¥d spent all day hauling.
It was exhausting work, but amazing. Working by my side was a 28 year old woman named Lorena. She told me she is an oddity in her village because she isn¬¥t yet married. I nodded my head, unsure of how much to share and thankful that 28 isn¬¥t considered “old maid” in the US. We worked together placing rocks and chatting. She was petite, with dark brown hair pulled behind a pink bandana, and flashed a wide smile with front teeth sloppily capped in silver and gold. She told me she was happy to come out and volunteer on the project because she currently spends two hours a day hauling water up the hill from the river below to her house. This is just for her consumption. Imagine if Lorena had a family! (She¬¥d more than likely send her children, actually. We visited with many kids taking our same route through the forest with jugs of water resting precariously on their shoulders.)
Once our new water project is complete, Lorena said it would take just two minutes a day to get her buckets full. I asked her what she¬¥d do with the extra time and she smiled wildly considering her options.
I smiled back, thankful for my own.
Tomorrow, we meet with the midwives and work at the orphanage. The adventure continues.