Haiti Mission Trip 2012 part 9: Tear down that wall!!

Wednesday June 13th 2012

Curious; I seem to always start out by describing my sleep pattern from the night before. In hind sight I suppose it helps explain my emotional state during the day’s activities.

Last night there were no excuses for loss of sleep. Exhausted from the day’s sledgehammer work, 800mg of Ibuprofen relaxing me, taking away the swelling in my ankle, a fantastic set of ear plugs and the newly acquired ability to cope with the humidity at night, there truly was no reason for sleep not to come. Well except for maybe waking up to something nibbling upon the open wound atop my ankle. Terrified of what it might be, shocked by the size of the creature as it covered my ankle and part of my foot, I merely shook my foot really hard, grimacing as a large clunk could be heard through my ear plugs when it hit the ground. Closing my eyes then trying to change the scary creature images racing through my mind; I Laid upon my cot praying the surge of adrenaline would pass quickly allowing sleep to come back! My mind spun into overdrive and once again I began planning the take-down of the portico. The dreaded Portico!

The portico and front wall are the only portion of the structure still standing and while everyone moseyed off to sleep I sat on the porch staring at it, playing every conceivable option over and over again in my mind. You see this portico has many “unknowns” associated with its design. How is the solid concrete roof tied into the main wall? How much internal damage has been done to the four remaining columns that support the outer front edge? If we start breaking concrete in one area will the opposite side fail, collapsing and possibly seriously injuring or heaven forbid kill one our people? There have been plenty of responsibilities thrown at me during my short tenure here on this earth, many were handled quickly and decisively, while others took much more thought and a little luck. Of course there were ones I failed miserably at, and though lessons were learned from these failures, I was pretty sure luck and failure were something I wasn’t willing to throw into the mix on this occasion. We were a group of ten with nothing more than sledgehammers, will power and a fantastic work ethic. What I would have given for a Bobcat tractor, or a Cat dozer to simply push over this last towering obstacle.

So there it was my brain in full operating mode, rehashing all the probabilities, calculating weights, gravity, fulcrum, and points of contact. There I lay, spinning like a top with no resolve, no sleep, no rest, just a large unknown waiting to rear its ugly head upon the first light of the morning sun.

Little did I know my current frustration was only just beginning..

We assembled at our regular location, a quick down and dirty safety briefing was given. Heck everyone heard it so many times over the last week it probably didn’t need to be done. But in reality when you become laxidasical about the daily routine is when accidents happen. Then whose fault is it? Oh yeah it’s the guy who didn’t give the safety briefing!

John C and I walked over to the Portico sizing it up one last time. Our plan was simple yet relatively safe. With too many unknowns about how the porch was actually tied into the building our goal was to have it collapse upon itself. Weaken the wall with four solid point of contact, and then weaken the four posts leaving two mini support walls to be knocked aside in the end. This would leave no room for error as the entire thing would come down upon itself, imploding if you will, thereby guaranteeing no one could possibly be in the collapse zone. It wasn’t fool proof but it was as close as one could get with the tools we carried.

Carefully taping both gaps where the roof met the wall then placing tape streamers ¼ inch apart along the seam of tape. This would allow my assigned safety person to tell if the wall was separating from the roof by how many streamers pulled from the cement. Even the slightest movement would be easily visible as a streamer would pop free from the roof. Jan became our safety officer and she was dutifully placed into position with her eyes locked upon the tape. John C and I took our positions to make a series of breaks along the concrete wall. Within seconds of making our first hits a Haitian worker who I had not seen before began marching around stirring up our crew. This bald, shirtless, seemingly angry little man pulled our interpreter aside, directing him towards John and myself. Marcanie came and asked us to please stop, the Haitian crew didn’t feel what we were doing was safe. Once again carefully explaining our plan of attack to Marcanie for relay back to the crew I was met with a bit of disdain. The bald man was once again not happy, moving our crew away from the building and flailing his arms about. My frustration level was rising as again I tried to relay our plan; asking Marcanie to explain the plans measure of success revolves around safety! This was met with more frustration from bald guy who continued to keep the workers back! While taking a sledge from one of them he made several hitting motions on one of the pillars. This was the last place you needed to attack first on this structure and now my ego was starting to take over as my blood began to boil at his apparent ignorance towards the safety of his own people!

Stewing over the current situation something dawned on me. Ego; it was my ego that was getting in the way. These people don’t know me and I don’t know them, there was no hiring process, no specialized training, and no certifications needed to be shown to walk this jobsite. Just my word, our plan, my ego pitted against this mans. There lay the problem? In reality who am I? I am the outsider, the stranger from another land that’s come here to work on THEIR project! This is their church, their community, their family. This is the very last wall of a building that has stood the test of time for 60+ years. If they want to take it down their way, well so be it! If it was my church I am sure I would feel the same way, assuming that is part of this man’s frustration with us. I don’t have to like the outcome, that’s not my job! My job is to make sure everyone on our team is safe first and foremost! Safe they all were, so we gathered up our belongings, then we relayed through Marcanie for them to have at it! Bring down the last wall on their church! Use bald guys’ plan, whatever that may be! We all found ourselves a good seat and I waited with baited breath to see what great plan bald guy had to bring down this last piece of concrete and steel.

Bald guys great plan?

Hit the columns as hard as you can as many times as you can until it falls down! Why the hell didn’t I think of that? Crap I could have just gotten a great night’s sleep if only I had just said screw it! Let’s just hit it until it falls! Safety be damned, throw caution to the wind! Just hit the columns really hard and hope you can jump out of the way in time when it all comes crashing down! And that’s just what they did; Wilson and another man took to hitting it, while jumping out of the way after each strike! It was scary and painful to watch. Every safety centered fiber inside me screaming for them to get out of the way! But they continued, strike after grueling strike until it shook, rumbled and slowly twisted separating from the main wall then partially coming down. The two men jumped out of the way in time and no one was hurt. It took many more precarious strikes to fully collapse the roof sealing its fate. In the end it went off without incident, I wasn’t happy about the situation, but it wasn’t for me to like or dislike. The portico for the most part was on the ground and that is all that mattered. Everyone cheered everyone grabbed tools and we all took to breaking apart the solid concrete roof.

Bald guy continued to lurk around the site for the rest of the day. The Haitian crew acted strangely when he was around and it bothered me. We had become this very cohesive unit and now there seemed to be a small fracture forming. There was another problem brewing. Much of the broken concrete being moved from the foundation floor was being dumped well outside the perimeter set forth by the engineer. This was quite troublesome as I gave him my word we would dump the remnants correctly, saving him time and work later during the foundation portion of the project. Having relayed my concerns numerous times the pile kept growing, expanding and spilling over the lines. Most of us prayed the engineer would see the mass amounts of rubble moved then realize his expectations may have been unreasonable. But my gut said otherwise and one should always go with their gut.

Heather had been worrying me quite a bit for early in the week she took my “stay hydrated speech” quite seriously! Taking in three times the amount of water she needed too during the day; this practice caused her ankles to swell! We quickly named them cankles and though it was all in good fun she spent a better part of the week fighting an ongoing condition. We cut her water in half and had her drinking coffee. When she wasn’t working her ankles were kept up and cool. Some days they shed quite a bit fluid while other days her ankles looked as though they would explode! Through it all she worked like a champ, never complaining but I knew my friend was having trouble and it bothered me.

There was a moment today when through sweat and exhaustion I sat upon a broken piece of concrete. Placing my sledgehammer on the ground, pulling down my sock to rub my very swollen ankle I looked up past the brim of my hat to see Cody still swinging a sledge without falter. He had been going nonstop, breaking one brick after another, working alongside the Haitians without fail. I stared at him through the eyes of a father, for he appeared to be no longer a boy. He stood there not a small child to be protected but a young man with strength and determination. He was becoming a man, and pride filled my chest as tears streamed from my eyes. There were no words to say what needed or didn’t need to be said, just me staring at him crying my eyes out like a little baby. I think it was Heather who asked me if I was ok to which I replied in a smart tone “I got something in my eye” while rubbing my face! She just laughed, and after I explained my emotions it only strengthened what she already knew. I loved my son and was filled with joy.

The engineer stopped by late in the afternoon, he was extremely impressed with the amount of work we had accomplished! He didn’t think we would have the entire building on the ground by Wednesday. Pastor Charles joined us as we walked the grounds going over all we had accomplished. The Engineer pulled from his pocket plans for the new church! It was very exciting to see the artist’s rendering. It gave us all a real sense of purpose. As we walked the perimeter making our way towards the debris pile he noticed it was way beyond where it was to be located. Before we went much further, through Caz we explained that errors had been made during movement of the debris. I also explained that we respected his decisions as he was adamant about correcting the problem. I assured him that we would and asked for an alternate dumping spot as this pile had grown well beyond its means. The front near the street would do so we walked out front and marked off a new zone. These boundaries would not be crossed for I had given my word and with a handshake he was gone.

This left us feeling a wee bit dejected! For most of what we already had moved would have to be moved again. One rock at a time.

The day was done; one 1950’s flat top building was completely on the ground and amazingly we all still liked each other! Jeff Probst hadn’t shown up; so no one was being voted off the island and we were surrounded by a cast of extremely funny and hard working people!

Heather and I had a picture taken of us wearing our SF Giants hats with a sign that stated “Together we are Giant” a slogan from the Giants ballclub. That was great fun!

We met Rosie the Riveter today. Our very own Maggie was swinging away with a sledgehammer when something caught my eye. Her shirt, her bandana tied around her head, could it be I thought to myself, could it possibly be? Asking her to stop in front of the last wall standing, then posing her to emmulate one of my favorite war time bond drive photos with a modern tweak. A picture was taken. Looking to the screen my jaw dropped as we all gazed in amazement. Maggie is our modern day Rosie the Riveter! I have known this woman since she was a small girl; she has the drive of a bull, the tenacity of lion and can outwork most men! Once her mind is set I believe there is nothing this woman will not accomplish in her life. The picture we took that day is the true Maggie we all know and love.

Anne has become wickedly funny! We found that her name drops into just about any situation. As in she is an ANNEimal when it comes to work. Or hey, have you seen her Ray Annes sunglasses? Her humor is dry, delivered on time and quirky. There have been a string of inventions she is looking to patent so look out world for coming to a store near you is bacon floss. That’s right it has been determined that bacon goes with everything so Anne’s Bacon Floss should be hitting the stores soon. But then what do you expect from the preachers daughter?

John C had developed a callus on his hand which he would slowly stroke while pondering. After time he had taken to calling it precious. It was a little creepy yet devilishly humorous at the same time.

Everyone seems to be in high spirits’ still, but as for myself? I am not sure I have another day in me. Between the constant lack of sleep, the heat, my back, my shoulder and the tennis ball sized ankle I am sporting around, my mind is having a harder time overcoming these whiney little obstacles’.

I am also feeling completely separated from my family, especially from my best friend. I can’t wait to see her and tell her how much I love her. This experience has been very fulfilling, extremely emotional and moving beyond words; two more nights to go, three more nights until we are home with our loved ones.

The hardest work is yet to come…..

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