Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day Fourteen: Mr. Sparkle and the Dance of the Plywood

Day Fourteen: Mr. Sparkle and The Dance of the Plywood

Our meeting with the engineer, Mr. Trotter, finally came.  It helped.  A ton.  He explained what he was thinking in his original plan, helped us organize our thoughts around the conditions we now face, and answered all of our questions about how to proceed.  So now we have a plan that we hope we can pull off in the next four days.  (He also had a friendly sparkle in his eye, so we are more likely to call him “Mr. Sparkle” than Mr. Trotter.) 

The general idea is to reduce the overall size of the tank we are currently building, with an eye to establishing an even bigger containment tank later, perhaps close to the intake tank but maybe not.  So, where we have a 24-foot trench for an undersupport for whatever project we build, we are now going to lay down a 16-foot support that will help to prevent erosion from underneath the floor of the tank. 

On that support, we will lay a concrete pad that will underlie the tank.  We think right now that the pad will be 16 feet long to match the support but we want it to extend wider than the tank.  So, we think the tank will be 12 feet long and about six or eight feet wide, but the pad will have a little “sidewalk” on two sides for a couple of feet so that people can stand on it rather than on the wet riverbank. 

Because we were focused on concrete work today, most of us didn’t have the expertise to do much work of consequence.  So whenever someone wasn’t working, different bunches of us would tackle different muddy slopes and try to reduce the slipping hazards on them.  Luke and Jared could start a professional eco-stair company, Scott and Christina added a few that became bleachers from which to watch the tank action, and Lindsey, Iris, Morgan, and Dani took control of the slope right by our tarp tents.  (It turns out that Iris is a natural with a machete, which surprised even her.)  As an added bonus, we used all natural materials for our landscaping work, including everything that had been cut down or chopped off in the clearing of the space. 

Just before lunch, we finally made enough progress in the trench to set an 8-foot form and pour concrete into it.  The process of prepping the space, bailing the water, mixing the concrete, moving the mixture to the form, getting the empty buckets back up the short hill, and mixing the concrete in the form took everyone we had.  They were using a “dry mix” approach, which means that they were pouring the combination of dry cement, sand, and gravel right into the space where water already stood and mixing it as they went. 

Scott came up with an ingenious use of our battery-powered drills when he rigged a piece of bent rebar into it to use as a mechanical stirrer.  It made all of the difference in the world to be able to really mix the concrete properly with something other than a shovel, pick, or pitchfork. 

We realized that the first batch of concrete was setting up pretty fast so we went ahead and fast-forwarded the prep work on the second batch.  Though we had planned to remove and reuse the first form in pouring the second batch, we instead decided to make a whole new form and butt it up against the one we had already poured.  We were hurrying because it was getting late.  At one point, three people went to retrieve a piece of the heavy-duty plywood that we are using, which was a pretty heavy load for three people to carry.  It was especially challenging on the muddy slopes that we face at our site.  

The three people (to remain unnamed) started down the hill and at one point or another, each one of them slid and started to fall.  Without fail, though, that person would recover and regain footing, but the momentary lapse would throw off one of the other two, who would trigger a similar reaction.  They were jerking and jumping and the plywood was teetering all over the place but somehow they all managed to stay upright and get to the bottom of the hill intact.  One of them never even stopped talking, no matter how out of control his footing became.  It seemed almost choreographed, perhaps as a dance routine, perhaps as a comedy routine.  In either case, for us it became “The Dance of the Plywood” and any of us who witnessed it just fell silent and watched dumbfounded as it all unfolded. 

Near the end of the afternoon, we decided to go for it and pour the second form.  Goose ran up the hill to grab all of the headlamps he could find “just in case,” and we started the process of pouring during what we knew was our last hour of daylight.  Like Scott’s power tool ingenuity, the headlamps paid off enormously as dusk began to fall, stars came out, fireflies twinkled, and our pails of concrete mix made their way down our bucket brigade lines and into the trench. 

It felt like a fabulous achievement to have finished that whole support, especially because that means we will very likely manage to shape and pour most of the floor when we get back from a brief souvenir hunt in the morning tomorrow.  Then we can pour walls in the remaining days and hopefully have a completed intake tank before we leave. 

We have gotten pretty convinced that this project is something that the community wants and will appreciate.  We get lots of support as we are walking the hill from the worksite to our guesthouse and we have learned from Mr. Sparkle and others that this kind of water work is normal and much-needed throughout the island.  In fact, he says that one of the fancy bottled water companies in the area uses almost the same kind of tank that we are building as its primary intake for spring water.  It helped us immensely to get all of this information (and support for our project). 

Along with all of this positive reinforcement, we got one bit of bad news, which is that Hilary seems to have sprained her finger.  She was a catcher at the bottom of a pulley a few days ago and the load caught her by the pinkie in a strange way.  It was a bit misshapen right away and it hurt her, but it didn’t turn black and blue and she could still move it.  We’ve been icing it and taping it to her ring finger but she can’t wear her work gloves and is a bit limited in the range of jobs she can do.  She is a total workhorse, though, which means she is still out there full time (even if she is wearing only one glove) and she is still sometimes a one-handed catcher of empty buckets on the line.  She’s a trooper, but she (and we) would still appreciate your sympathy, good wishes, prayers, and other positive thoughts as she continues to plug away.

Oh, and by the way, almost all of us have had our first big run-ins with mosquitoes in the last day or two.  We have been pretty safe from bites until now and we have been attributing our success to an Avon product called Skin-So-Soft, which most of us use in massive quantities daily.  We still think it is a miracle repellant, but we have gotten ourselves in situations where we wash it off then forget to reapply (like when we swam in the Caribbean Sea a few nights ago) and we believe that's why we got nailed.  No matter what, the bugs in general here are nothing like this summer's Haiti trip or last January's Amazon trip.  Now on to the Benadryl spray . . .


  1. You all are getting so much done! This is great!

  2. Hi There Dominica Heroes,
    Sounds like you have made some tremendous progress, both in your work and in working together! What a tremendous experience you've had. Thank you for taking such good care each other and the people you are serving. Hope this last week is filled with good memories......for a lifetime!