Today is Sunday, July 14, 2019, and I am back in San Juan finishing up my weekend break after completing my second week of volunteering with All Hands and Hearts (AHAH). I am excited to update you on all that has happened since my last entry as it has been a very eventful last 7 seven days for me. Rather than go on in a long narrative, I will choose a few highlights to discuss in depth.
Life on Base-My communal living adventures have continued, although I have been able to adjust to life living on the Yabucoa base camp. For starters, I was able to string together 5 straight days of 6+ hours of sleep. This has mostly been due to a combination of exhaustion and the fact that I finally have a functioning fan. Despite the improvements, some challenges remain. First, I finally felt the pain of trying to do laundry with only ONE washer and dryer for 70+ people. It took three days to get to clothes washed. Ironically, there is a laundromat within walking distance but it closes at 4pm (I usually don’t return to base until 330). Another issue is food rationing. While the organization provides food, many of the people on base (i.e. younger college kids) have never lived in a communal environment. As a result, they all pile their plates with food without consideration for those behind them. After 2 days of being left on the short end of the chow line, I’ve basically resorted to paying for my own dinners. On a positive note, AHAH does an excellent job in ensuring that the base is well-maintained and most of the volunteers have done their part as well.
Life in the Field- Last week was jam-packed with work. I started with the same team that I had been on my initial week and finished complete renovation of my first house. We started by chipping and power-washing the roofing which could either be fun or exhausting depending on the weather. We also made cement to cant the edges of the roof and plug any miscellaneous holes. Finally, we applied two coats of fresh sealant to prevent leaks during heavy rainfall. With the roof finished, our team turned to the inside of the house which we had to conduct sanitation. The sanitation process consisted of plastic wrapping furniture, taking the panels out of the ceiling, and scrubbing/scrapping mold throughout the house. We did this all while wearing one of the chemical suits like Walter White wore in Breaking Bad while he cooked meth. The combination of the hot and stuffy suit, unknown objects flying in your face, and the inability to see at times made sanitation pretty unpleasant. However, this is probably one of the more important tasks that AHAH performs as mold can have adverse effects on the homeowner’s health. After finishing up that house, my team went to work on another house way up in the mountains. This was one of the more perplexing moments of my service because this residence was more of a compound as opposed to a single house as the homeowners were extremely well-off. It almost felt like we were coming to do cosmetic roofing work as opposed to disaster recovery. From my understanding, the income level of the homeowners is not considered when prioritizing who gets their house worked on which I think is a shame. I only got to work on that house for two days before I went to another team and did sanitation on another house. The third house was significantly more challenging than the first house because the owner was not very hygienic. Despite how uncomfortable those “sani-suits” can get, I was definitely glad to have been wearing it.
Driving in Puerto Rico- Puerto Rico may be a U.S. territory but U.S. driving laws and etiquette definitely don’t apply on the roads. I finally experienced this first-hand when I became an “official” AHAH driver. Because most of the volunteers are younger, the organization needs drivers as you have to be over 25 years old to drive an organization vehicle. It took them a week to run my license and give me the driving test. Ironically, my test was the first time that they didn’t just allow for the cursory certification drive around the neighborhood. Instead, I had to drive a more “realistic” route that we would use to drive to work sites. This meant driving up and down mountains where roads had no dividing lines, cars routinely took sharp curves at 60 mph, and most of the route didn’t have protection guardrails to prevent vehicles from tumbling off to the side. Driving in Puerto Rico is literally the Wild West except for there are no sheriffs. While I am now able to use the organization vehicles in my off-time, I am now on a different work team because of the needs of the organization.
Personal Update- This week I did two more job interviews (while at the work site) and was actually given a tentative offer for one. Given that I have three other “tentative” offers on the table, this really isn’t an indication of what’s in store for my immediate future as the time frame for the federal government background process can be unpredictable. Right now, I plan on doing two more weeks on my current project and taking a few weeks for a personal vacation. Ideally, I would like to do another stint for 2 weeks in August but there isn’t a guarantee that I will get a spot due to the popularity of the program. Hopefully by next week I will have more clarification on my immediate future.
I am planning on staying on the base camp next weekend and taking a day trip to El Yunque National Rain Forest which means I might not be able to make another entry for a few weeks depending on my internet connection. Regardless, I will provide an update as soon as I am able.
AHAH Volunteer Fundraising Page; https://give.allhandsandhearts.org/fundraiser/2182253