Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wee Little Puente

We have completed the bridge in Rancheria, Nicaragua as a part of the CH2M Foundation and Bridges to Prosperity partnership.  While I would love to provide daily briefings, there are plenty of blogs to do that.  Instead, I will provide a few highlights of how this trip stood out to me compared to some of my previous B2P adventures.  The following three topics were the differentiators that made this one of my favorite bridge trips of all time. 

  • Incredible people
  • Power of humor
  • Job Satisfaction

When I think back to Rancheria, I will think of faces, not tools.  I will think of names, not towns.  I will think of Hector who walked 1.5 hours to and from the bridge everyday, arriving before the rest of us stumbled over from our ready made breakfast in time for the morning briefing and exercises.   I will think of Darwin, the really good soccer player who was too shy to let me take his picture, but he was there when we needed someone to climb a tree (in soccer cleats) and machete a branch that was in the way of our survey equipment.

I will think of Haydeen, a young girl I met on the second to last day because I thought she had a crush on Mangel (the middle sons in what became our onsite family- more on them later).  As it turned out, she said that Mangel was in her family, so she did not want him to be her novio (boyfriend).  Instead, I gathered that she wanted to talk with us girls.  We were women who were hammering nails and not afraid to climb the scaffolding, and my hunch was that she was going to be like that when she grew up too.  She was shy at first, but on the last day she was pulling us over to dance.

Hanging with Haydeen and Mangel at the bridge site

Our family... I will never forget this family.  Mom - Dona Lorena who cooked for us for two weeks and whose tears caused my tears on the day we left.  Dad - Don Juan who kept the cows out of our campsite every day and who was afraid to take photos, except this one!  Sons - Juan (14), Mangel (10), and Derleen (8) who became the best friends to our entire CH2M group.  I will remember Juan taking us to the deep spot in the river where we had a group bath under the stars.  It was one of my favorite nights, and he just sat there shivering while we all laughed and embraced the awkwardness.  I will remember Mangel because we got 12 headers back and forth playing soccer.  I could see the determination in his face, and he was so incredibly skilled that he was catering to me rather than the other way around.  Mangel is one I have thought about often since my return.  I guarantee if I could have packed him in my bag as I had hoped, he would get a college scholarship for soccer, and I know he would be successful in whatever career he would choose (my guess is journalism).  Instead he will probably follow his brother Juan in taking care of the cattle after middle school because the high school is out of financial reach for this family.

I will remember Derleen meeting us each morning at the bodega listening to our morning briefings.  There was never a time that kid did not have a smile on his face.  What a good reminder when you hear the happiness in his laughter while he played with a cardboard box - the power of a child's imagination.  The ability to have fun significantly offset the lack of any food, clothes, or money in their pockets.

And of course Rebecca, the 4 year old that ran the show, both in her family and our family.  I can't count the times we all did exactly what she said just because of the authority in her 4 year old voice.  When she demanded "Nathan" 10 times in a row, she generally got a response.

Befriending the community was something I was (selfishly) expecting.  That is part of the reason that I love to work with Bridges to Prosperity.  These projects take months, and the in-country staff does a great job connecting with the benefactors of the work, so relationships are established from the beginning.  Generally the communities are comprised of really good people with amazing stories who are uncomfortably shy and skeptical when you show up and who have touched your heart so much you want to pack them in your bags when you leave.   This time with Brandon, Katie, Robyn, Alex, and Leonel was no different.  There was a respect for anyone associated with the B2P organization, and particularly Robyn who had spent months living in the community!  She was a local celebrity on inauguration day!  

But this time, there was an X-factor in that it wasn't just me as the gringo, or a group of loud American teenagers who could be spotted from the highway.  We were 10 professionals from the same company, which meant very little at the time, coming from all over the world.  In hind sight, this made me realize that the CH2M Koolaid about "our people are the differentiator" really has some legitimacy.  I told Tessa, whoever picked the teams did an amazing job!  Every single person on this team had so much to offer, and there was not one person who didn't have a positive benefit on my experience!  I honestly wish there would be a way we could reconvene this group of people at another point in time!
  • Helena - you can't be mad around her because she is always happy and laughing
  • Ksenia - she was the brains behind a lot of the detailed operations, though she was camera shy!
  • Marlon - the tester of the clinica who made the absolute most of every day, be it working or kicking up the legs and talking with Don Juan
  • Tim - who had more electronics, power tools, camping gear, and cooler of beers than any  American Walmart
  • Nathan - the adopted older brother of our family as the kids would say his name at least 20 times per day
  • Mo - my partner in crime on the scaffolding who was the reason that some of the scaffolding fit together
  • Kenny - the most improved Spanish speaker who provided the most laughs from Spanish blunders to dancing to dad jokes
  • Owen - made sure we all stayed safe at all times (despite his broken pinky toe)
  • Javier - the translator who kept everyone moving in one direction on schedule 

Constructing this bridge led to more belly laughs than I have had in years.  This was a result of a group of people living in less than ideal conditions making the absolute most of every day because we knew it wasn't going to last long enough.  From Kenny's chicken dance (which is apparently how the Scots like to move) to Leonel singing "I'm sexy and I know it" to Mo's unexpected piggy backs to Helena's gun show, there was never I time I was longing to be elsewhere.  One of my favorite quotes is "Happiness is never stopping to wonder if you are."  There was no time to stop and wonder how I was feeling between working, eating delicious readily prepared meals, river bathing, drinking local beers, and crashing in the tent for some short nights sleep.  At each one of these activities I was laughing in the present rather than longing for the past or future.  Part of this presence can be attributed to the lack of technology... ah what a relief... but part of it was truly enjoying the camaraderie of everyone around.  There is no need to long for home when you are belly laughing at a song about platypuses!

So I have gone on and on about the people, but this bridge had one other special quality that has left an impression on me.  As a millennial, I am all about instant gratification.  Throughout my 8 year career at CH2M, I have learned that projects take time and money and patience and changes and rework and maybe sometimes they get built.  The model that Bridges to Prosperity and CH2M have built provides one of the most rewarding experiences in one's life within a two week time frame.  There was a lot of work (mostly by other people) building up to this trip and throughout the two weeks we were there.  Having worked on many bridges in those stages, I totally understand the necessary but thankless effort that goes into those underground phases of the bridge.  But for these two weeks, we got to come in, finish her up, share the glory, and celebrate the success!  Whether it was one drop of sweat or 10 gallons of sweat contributed to this bridge, it would be impossible for anyone to see the smiles from the locals and not feel an overwhelming sense of pride.  Each day we watched women, kids, families, motorcycles, horses, and milk trucks pass through the river, often taking off their shoes and rolling up their pants on each side, lucky that is was passible.  Knowing that the pant rolling and the piggy backs are things of the past is a gratifying feeling.  While I had a small part in this overall project, this project had a big imprint on me.  My appreciation for simple things like roads, showers, toilets, schools, books, and toys have deepened.  My appreciation for manual laborers has definitely grown!  And the fact that every time I look at this bridge, I will feel a sense of pride in how I helped change the lives of the 200 people in this community today and many more in the future.  After all, isn't that the reason we all go to work each day?

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