Ponce, Puerto Rico – Weekly Report – Feb 24-28, 2020

March 3, 2020

The new group of weekly volunteers arrived on Saturday night and took care of themselves by staying at the MDS sleeping trailer, which has four bunk beds. We all arrived separately at the Mennonite Church for Sunday morning worship. Following the worship service they went through the MDS safety video, and fed us a nice lunch.  There were six 20 year olds from Ontario and one 60 year old from Ontario. The later had been in MCC Bolivia in the late 1980’s, and we had many acquaintances in common and lots of experiences to talk about.  He came over and stayed with us at our apartment starting on Monday evening. 

The week consisted almost entirely of digging holes. I’m not sure if you can fully imagine (we doubt it) what it’s like to dig holes in a hot Puerto Rican sun with lots of humidity for 4 days in a row.  Lots of rest and water breaks. The new house we are building in the spot where we tore the old one out last week is 36 feet by 30 feet. There are 16 pillars underneath this house. Each pillar has a foundation that is 36″ by 36″ by 30″ deep.  Yes, that is a lot of dirt. We used pickaxes and long pry bars for digging, and shovels for scooping loose dirt out.  

Each footer will have 15″ of concrete with lots of rebar. So by Friday morning we had essentially completed the digging project and started cutting rebar. Each footer has 8 rebar in one direction wired together with 8 rebar in the other direction – basically filling the 36 by 36 space. There will also be rebar in a vertical direction inside the concrete pillar that we will still need to cut and bend. Each pillar will be four feet high (from the base of the footer) and 12″ by 12″ wide. 

The front of the house is to be at the level of the sidewalk, which is actually about 7 feet above ground level where we are making the footers. The floor at the back side of the house could be about nine feet above ground level as the lot slopes. So above each pillar will be treated wood bracing in order to get to a level floor and the start of the house.  So before any house construction is even started there is a good deal of work with continued cutting and bending rebar, cement work, and all of the wood framing to get to floor level.

MDS uses an engineering firm in Virginia run by Johann Zimmerman. He has Puerto Rican connections and often comes to the island. He will be arriving this weekend for several days and bringing with him detailed plans of the house and all the underside support construction. He had been emailing the footer and pillar plans to the project leaders here, but those actually changed a couple of times during the week. So his presence here at the first part of the week will be very much welcomed.

In last week’s update we mentioned that the bathroom in the old house could stay to be used by volunteers for some time to come. It turned out that it needed to be demolished after all because the corner of the house came right to just inside. But right beside the bathroom and away from the new house construction was the septic tank. We opened a hole at the top and set up a new stool that Tony bought at Home Depot. Mark made walls, roof, and a hinged door and hooked up the plumbing.  This will now serve us during construction and will be taken down later. 

This week we got the MDS laptop from the closed project from Aibonito, and we were able to see ahead of time who the new volunteers will be for this week. There is one couple from Indiana older than us, another couple from Indiana, and one man from Ontario.

This week we may actually take a break from the two projects here in Ponce to go about 15 miles west where an elderly couple is still living in a shelter as a result of the January earth quakes. They have a property that has space to build a temporary shelter that the project leaders here expect could be put together in two days. This would allow them to go back to their own place and leave the shelter.

Transportation for the weekly volunteers to and from San Juan is interesting. All 7 weekly volunteers left in one MDS van Friday afternoon. They stayed overnight at a guest house that MDS uses not too far from the airport. Saturday morning they took the van to the airport and parked it there. The five volunteers flying in this afternoon will find that van and make their way to Ponce on their own.  We expect them sometime between 5:30 and 6.

Every morning our routine is to drive our pickup to Don Miguel’s yard where our tool trailer is parked (fenced in).  From there it is approximately a 10 to 15 minute drive to our work site. Streets here are a challenge. They are almost narrow enough to be called one-way streets, but they are actually two way traffic with cars parked on both sides. So there is a lot of squeezing through parked cars and accommodating oncoming traffic. In addition the streets are very hilly and sometimes steep. There is one hill that we climb for two blocks in automatic low gear, and at the top we cannot see over the pickup hood for oncoming traffic or possible potholes.  Sometime before we leave we’d like to get a video of our daily trips.