Tuesday, January 31, 2012

30 before 30: I built a house

I am blogging about 30 things I have done before I turn 30! If you want to read from the beginning, start here.

I built a house. In five days.

Now don't be calling me to construct your dream home or anything. This wasn't the kind of home that we are accustomed to. No, this was the kind of house in an impoverished area of Tijuana that makes you grateful.

In my fourth year of college (that would be my first senior year) I started volunteering with a local youth group. I loved those kids. In fact, I can thank them for the inspiration to become a teacher and to delve deeper into my faith.

Every summer they took a trip across the border to Tijuana to build homes. It was quite an undertaking. I don't remember the specifics, but there must have been 50 high school kids as well as 15-20 adults. We camped on a mesa in tents (with armed guards, by the way). We used outhouses that remind me of that opening scene in Slumdog Millionaire. Our showers were literally buckets hung on a string. There was the incident with the rattlesnake under my tent, but I prefer not to talk about that. At night there was prayer, song and fellowship. It was beautiful.

But during the day? Man, oh man. We worked. Our group was at two sites, building two houses. Thankfully there were some adults who were experienced from years past. We had a manual on what to construct and we were given the hardwood and supplies for the home itself. The tools all came with us from San Diego.

On the first day we laid a foundation. We hand mixed dirt, rocks, water and concrete. We poured and leveled it. It was backbreaking work.

Then we went back and I spent a day sawing 2x4s. With a hand saw. My entire hand was a blister. We assembled a frame. We constructed a roof. And walls. I used a hammer. (Aside: remember that episode of Gilmore Girls where Rory shows up at Habitat for Humanity with the hammer that Lorelai decked out with pink feathers? Ya, that kind of hammer would never have worked) Once the exterior was wrapped with tack paper (I think that is what is called...is that right? anyone? I don't really know), we wrapped the house with chicken wire. It had to be really taut because the next thing we were doing was stucco-ing the wall. With concrete. In case you were wondering, concrete doesn't stick to walls very easily. But it is awfully fun to do it!

If you aren't familiar with the impoverished parts of the Mexico border, you need to know that it is dry desert. There are hills and canyons. There are no trees. There are no paved roads. There is no plumbing. The people who live there have barrels which are filled by water trucks a few times a week. There are wires running in the sand; people just keep cutting into the lines to draw power to their homes.

One day I was invited into the current house of the family we were building for. It was a one room house with no foundation. It was filthy and lacked insulation. The home we built had a flat, concrete foundation, two rooms and windows. The high school kids pooled their personal money so that we could buy drywall and paint to do a little extra on the interior than the original plan called for. What a moving experience--to see kids throw their own money into a hat to do more for those who have less.

I worked hard that week. It was physically exhausting. But it was fun too. What a blast to be "at camp" with all those awesome high school students. While we were working on the house we sang. When we were back at the camp we sang and laughed. One afternoon we stopped at a taqueria for great food. And there was the adventure when I was driving a van out of Mexico and nearly killed myself and some students while trying not to lose the caravan...

The kids from St. Therese were filled with faith and passion. I went on that trip because their enthusiasm to work on that project was contagious. I am grateful to those students (who are all adults now! AHH!) for all that they taught me about faith and fellowship. I am grateful that they invited me to take this trip with them and share in such an amazing weeklong experience. I am grateful to the family who accepted our help and allowed us to work with them.

I helped to build a home in Mexico.

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