Sunday, March 11, 2012

Digging a hole with the Christians of Tyler, Texas

Great news, my partner said. I'm going along with a church group doing a water project to see how it works, and you can come.
CASM, the Honduran agency Jody is working for, was helping the group with the logistics. She thought it would be good to see the work, and maybe there would be a communications piece in it.
So at 8 a.m. Saturday we walked up to the Hotel Puente Maya, met a bunch of Texans and hopped in the back of a pickup truck. We dropped about half a dozen of them - and six or seven boxes of medical supplies - at the clinic in Santa Rita de Copan, where they were offering free care to all comers. (They had medical skills; it wasn't totally random.) It was market day in Santa Rita, and teens from the local school were on hand to help with the clinic, which is on the attractive, well-planted square. I practised my Spanish with a happily drunk old guy; in fact, my Spanish seems particularly well-suited to genially inebriated people.
Then back in the truck, and probably 90 minutes of steady climbing, on dirt roads, high into the mountains.
At considerable speed. Merlin, Jody's boss, was driving and he has the skills and commitment of one of those Finnish WRC rally drivers. (That is, for non-motor sport fans, high praise.)
We crossed streams, had stunning views, passed tiny houses and small towns and ended up at La Cumbre, way up in the mountains, a community of houses strung along dirt roads and trails. Up one of the trails through a coffee plantation - they are great looking plants, dense bushy, dark green foliage - and we came to the project.
Which was a hole in the ground, a medium-size hole in the ground at this point. The community water system had a reservoir higher up, but it wasn't large enough. The good people of the First Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, were here to fund and help build a second reservoir to ensure the community didn't run out of water when things got dry. The two tanks and the village would be connected with piping when it's done.
The reservoir was being dug into the hillside. It was to be a circle, about 20 feet across and four or five feet deep. That meant though, because of the slope, that the wall would be about five feet tall on the downhill side and 15 feet tall on the uphill side.
Some people from the community had been working on it. It was probably two feet deep. The Texans - a mixed group, from maybe early 30s to nearing 70, I'd guess - grabbed shovels and pickaxes and started moving dirt. There was one wheelbarrow and a narrow dirt ramp to get it out of the hole. (The kind of useful thing I would have forgotten to leave.)
So we dug too, of course. It would be remarkably lame to watch a bunch of Americans and Hondurans digging a community water project.
It was hard. The views were great, and we were high enough in the hills that it wasn't roasting hot. (Which is one reason it's such good coffee country.) But wielding a short, heavy pickaxe and trying to heave dirt out of a hole isn't easy.
The Hondurans were the strongest. They do this kind of work. But some of those Texans were real workhorses. One guy just settled into part of the hole and worked his way steadily downward.
I held my own, though I started too fast and then faded a little. And my one run at pushing the hugely heavy wheelbarrow out of the hole convinced me that perhaps that was best left to others.
A woman from the community and two young girls brought us lunch - tortillas, refried beans, spaghetti and scrambled eggs - and by the time we called it a day the hole was pretty impressive - another two feet deep, I'd say. We moved way more dirt than I thought we would, though I noticed people got quieter as the day wore on.
The Texans were taking Sunday off, but figured the hole would be dug by the end of Monday and pouring the concrete - also a hand-mix, wheelbarrow operation - would be next.
I was impressed with those people. They worked with varying amounts of strength and dedication, and occasionally seemed a little irked with each other, but they made a big dent in the reservoir, stayed in good spirits, joked with the Hondurans and welcomed a couple of Canadians hanging around. They held a bunch of fundraising events to get enough money for the supplies and worked with a religious organization in the U.S. that links volunteers and projects.
And they were impressively realistic, perhaps because some of them had been doing this kind of thing regularly for about 20 years. Some projects worked great, they said, some only got partly done, one or two had not really turned out. But they showed up, accepted whatever living conditions were at hand, worked hard during their stay and left having accomplished what they could.
Outreach, they call it, and the First Christian Church in Tyler has had a longstanding commitment to use 10 per cent of the money that comes in to help others, in their community or anywhere they see a need they can fill.
I even liked the church motto - Unity in matters of faith, diversity in matters of opinion, in all things love.
It was a good day.


Jan Arlene said...

Dig on brother, dig on. :)

Seriously, I can imagine how hard that must have been. Certainly not the kind of work we're accustomed to, but good that there was at least some progress. :)




I love the motto, "Unity in matters of faith, diversity in matters of opinion, in all things love". Leanne and I are drafting a charter for our devocionales. Maybe we can include that!