Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What's a nice girl like me doing pricing out urinals?

My new best friends: Nelson Rodriguez, right, the man doing
the work at Angelitos; and Ovidio Mayorga of Casa
Constructor, where I just bought $2500 worth of materials
Sometimes you just have to sit back and wonder how the heck you got yourself into something. I had one such moment at about 8 p.m. last night, shortly after a halting phone conversation in Spanish with a plumbing contractor trying to sort out how and when I would be paying for the materials he needed to build new bathrooms and replace the water system at a rundown children's home here in Copan.
I've lived a fine, long life without ever feeling the need to do home renovations. I know nothing about plumbing, water systems, urinal sturdiness or bombas, the mysterious and apparently pricey pumps that shoot water from cistern to holding tank to bathroom in countries like this one.
I've never considered what kind of ceramic tile I like in a bathroom, or whether the grout should be white or black. Up until four hours ago, I hadn't thought about the benefits of a press-button tap over a faucet-style one, or whether a two-foot-long trough urinal was sufficiently long enough for three small boys to use at the same time.
So how has it come to be that  I'm overseeing a fairly complex renovation project in a foreign land, in a language that I've been speaking for all of seven months? I don't shy away from taking on the "guy" role when it suits me (as my partner regularly points out), but I'm sure the men I'm working with must also find it at least a little strange that the jefa for the project is an older woman from Canada with inadequate Spanish and no clue about construction.
I blame Emily Monroe, the young American who introduced me to Angelitos Felices children's home in the first place.
First she made me see what a hovel the place was, then she pointed out the disastrous bathrooms. Up until then I'd just been contemplating stuffing new foam mattresses into plastic for the 30 or so children who live there, maybe doing a few crafts with them once in a while. But once I walked into those bathrooms and took a good look, there was no turning back.
So here we go. It's both thrilling and terrifying to be here, knowing how much of an improvement the project will make to the daily comfort of the children, yet at the same time having heard way too many nightmare-renovation stories to believe that we're just going to get this started and roll on smoothly all the way to the end. I'm still getting over the jitters from a couple weeks ago after one of the local fellows who has been very, very helpful with this project raised the spectre of the 2,500-litre water tank we're putting in crashing through the floor and killing the children as they lay sleeping in their beds below. (Hopefully we've got that one under control now with a new plan to reinforce the floor.)
As for Emily, I guess I'll forgive her for sucking me into all this, seeing as her own big dreams started moving forward this week when she received permission from Copan city hall to open a new daycare centre for impoverished working mothers.
That's probably going to move several children right out of Angelitos, where they won't  need to be once there's a better daycare option. While most of the Angelitos kids are wards of the state and have no other place they can go, a few are dropped off for the day by their moms simply because 100 lempiras ($5) a month is all the family can afford to pay for daycare. Everyone associated with the place wants a better environment for the children of Angelitos, including new bathrooms, but not having to be there in the first place would be the best solution of all for those kids.
Emily and her friend Charrissa Taylor - a special-ed teacher from New Zealand - are doing some excellent work with the kids at Angelitos already. It's very good news that they'll soon be providing a healthier, better-supported option for families in Copan. Check out the details of Emily's project here.
In the meantime, bathrooms ho.

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