By: KIRSTEN FENN
I wanted today to be better. In fact, I had planned today to be the best day of the entire week. Enough of the heat stroke and enough of feeling from the work. I planned to go to Juana’s house physically and mentally prepared to give 110 per cent. I wanted to prove to myself that I could be stronger than the person I was at the beginning of this week.
I woke up bright and early with everyone else at 6:30 a.m. I put on my game face, my ugly hat (heat stroke’s not getting me today!) and got pumped to get this house done – at least as much as we could by the end of the day.
To my disappointment, I arrived at the site to realize there wouldn’t be much physical work at all. We had spent the entire week mixing cement, expanding the floor, and putting in beams to hold up the walls. Now it was time to lay bricks and see those walls transform into something real. But for this, my team and I were relegated to cheer leaders for most of the day. The foremen needed to do the brick-laying so no mistakes were made that would threaten the safety of Juana’s family.
In the meantime, I did everything I possibly could to contribute. I shoveled and carried buckets of rocks to make cement; I lifted incredibly heavy bags of mortar with the help of my teammates; and I jumped to the front of the line to pass bricks across the house to our foremen.
It felt good to push myself when I was tired and to be there for this stage of the building process. But soon enough it came time for the foremen to lay down the bricks, and my team and I ended up sitting in the neighbour’s house with nothing to do.
We were bummed and – not going to lie – a little bit bored and angry. We wanted so badly to do more for the foremen and for our family. But we eventually came to terms with the fact that there really wasn’t much we could do. That’s when the day took an interesting turn – one that brought smiles to our faces and had just as much meaning, if not more, than being present for every step of the building process.
Our little friend Alonda, seeing us sitting there dejected and bored, came over with that big innocent smile of hers. Typical Alonda, that at the very moment when we felt like our presence was no good to anyone, she comes along and shows us just how wrong we were.
She and the other little kids flocked to us, and we realized how lucky we were to be able to spend time with them. We got to know the family we were helping – even if it wasn’t through words. All they wanted was someone to play with, and someone to entertain them. But it turned out they were doing more of the entertaining than we were.
Curious about the camera my teammate was holding, Alonda picked it up out of their hands and began toying with it, wondering how it got its magic powers. She could see the world through a whole new lens — literally — as she spun around in circles, looking at everyone’s faces up close on the screen.
It seemed to be the most astounding thing she’d ever seen — watching her giggle as she examined all the plants in the yard, her dogs, and her friend’s bright faces had everyone laughing together at the innocence of it all.
She spent the entire afternoon doing this, figuring out how to use the buttons, and making her friends take pictures of her with everyone else.
We came into the site today expecting to work hard, set on the idea that building was the most important thing we could do. But something as simple as that camera showed us that all that work meant very little without a connection to the family we were working for.
We spent the rest of the afternoon goofing around with the kids and learning how to forget about the pressure we put on ourselves all the time. Sure, we may have busy lives to keep up with at home, and we knew it was important to get that house done, but if we can’t take the time to pause and breathe it all in, life will pass us by. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that getting things done is the only measure of success. Sometimes though, it’s good to just be kids again and enjoy the moment.
So I tried to take everything in. I marveled at how free Alonda and her friends are to just be kids, to explore, to climb atop piles of bricks, or to sit on the ledge of the wall that divides the house. Where I live, parents are too worried about their children scraping their knees to give them such freedom to live and learn.
They certainly wouldn’t let a bunch of kids start a water fight in the middle of a construction site. But we did it here.
With all her sass and fire, Juana’s 13-year-old daughter Avilene picked up a bucket of water and dumped it on one of our heads. I guess she decided it would be more fun than letting us mope in the corner. And it certainly was.
She didn’t stop until every last one of us was soaked from head to toe: her neighbours, the foremen, and even the little kids. She left no one behind, and pretty soon, we were all chasing each other with buckets of water and enjoying the cool sensation as it splashed across our sun-burned skin.
For the first time all week, we got a real chance to bond with the people we were helping. Not being able to work on the house brought me back to my childhood memories and reminded me how to make fun out of nothing at all.
While I didn’t get to push myself physically, like I originally planned, I did have the best day of the week by far. I realized this afternoon that it’s not all about the physical project we’re working on, per se. It’s about the people we have around while we’re doing it. The meaning of this project comes from them.