Sweet baby jesus. It sure ain’t easy trying to describe just how intensely challenging, rewarding, beautiful, and surreal the past two weeks were rebuilding the Paix Bouche Primary School in Dominica.
I keep looking through my photos to prove to myself that it wasn’t all a dream. I smile at my bruises, scrapes, and awful tan lines because they serve as physical evidence that I am a mother fucking bad ass. My eyeballs and my body have seen and done some crazy shit, man! We built a school in Jurassic Park!
When I applied to All Hands and Hearts to help post-Maria relief efforts, I had ZERO clue what I was getting myself into. That was probably for the best because no lie – the work was tough as a mutha fucka. I will never look at a pile of sand or a cinder block in the same way again. Building a school on a steep ass hill in the jungle ain’t no joke!
I now know how to use an angle grinder, the sweet spot and rhythm to knock in a cement nail, and how to mix up a beautiful batch of mortar. I carried tons of plywood, rolled hundreds of coats of paint, moved mountains of cement blocks, and sifted a trillion of grains of sand. Under the Dominican sun and pouring rain, I pushed my body to its limit. Every cut, blister, bruise, and bug bite was so damn worth it.
Heres what a typical day looks like as a volunteer:
6:15am – Rise and Shine, Child!
Climb down from your bunk bed to the clinking of coffee cups and frying of eggs. Your toothbrush will be in the pile by the sink. You pray that the bathroom you share with 15 other volunteers is free.
Unless you want to change in front of your three to six bunk mates (which is totally acceptable), find your clothes for the day and bring them with you to the bathroom. Your outfit will consist of: 1) a purple work shirt 2) a pair of dusty work shorts 3) relatively clean socks.
Now that your dressed, you need to fuel up for the day. Your options for breakfast provisions are: 1) fresh bread with peanut butter and jelly 2) corn flakes with powdered milk 3) oatmeal 4) eggs. Scarf down the meal of your choosing, grab your backpack, strap on your boots, and head out the door.
Descend the 25 stairs of the house and take in the morning view. Remind yourself that you’re not dreaming – that view is 100% real and no, you’re not in Jurassic Park or the Jungle Book.
The worksite is down the hill, and these will be the only peaceful 10 moments of your day. Enjoy them.
6:30am – Time to Clock In
Arrive at the worksite and find where you left your hard hat after yesterday’s long day. Take a swig of water, slide your hands into your concrete-caked gloves, say a little prayer and begin your day.
There is a sign-up sheet for jobs needed for the day, but this is a rough outline. You’ll start with this task, but you may be re-routed throughout the day to fill in where needed. Perhaps to carry plywood across the playground, carry buckets of discarded material to a corner pile, dig a trench, shovel sand from one corner to another, etc. You’re just happy to be busy – the worst task is searching for one.
9:30am – First Break of the Day
The first notch in your morning is your 9:30 break. A woman drives up to the worksite with bakes (basically Dominican empanadas), and freeze pops. Get in the crowd around her car and fight for one before she sells out. Hang out, enjoy your second breakfast, and take in the view.
Someone will tell you that break is over and you resume your morning task with the excitement of knowing you’re one step closer to lunch. Maybe now you’re scraping paint off a wall, carrying cinder blocks from one spot to another, sifting sand for plaster, or priming a metal gate. Hopefully there is music and hopefully it’s good. Even if it’s not the hottest part of the day, you’re already sweating through your purple work shirt. Remember to wear a bandana under your hard hat to avoid sunscreen sweat drops in your eyes!
12:00pm – LUNCH
Hallelujah, you made it! Walk down the hill to the lovely Vanessa or Allison’s for lunch.
There you will be met with glorious trays with the most delicious Dominican home cooking and you will be ever so grateful. The menu may consist of chicken wings, beef stew, ribs, or fried fish with starchy vegetables, rice, and beans. Super freakin bomb. Bon appetite!
Hike back up to the site before 1pm so you can sleep off your food coma before work is resumed.
1:00pm – Back to Work!
Back on the grind! Whatever you’re doing now your body will start to complain: achy knees, arthritic knuckles, that blister on your left palm, your lower back… All those guys aren’t happy at this point, but you push on to complete the task at hand. This school ain’t gonna be built by slackers! There will be another break in the afternoon.
You’ve taken hella water breaks, but you realize at this point that you haven’t gone pee once since the morning. You’re mildly concerned about this, but realize that you’ve just sweat it all out because your purple work shirt is now entirely a darker color. Also, the bathrooms on site usually don’t work so the absence of this bodily trigger is actually in your favor.
4:00pm – Clock Out and Get the Eff Home
End of work day! Throw your gloves and safety glasses in your helmet and mentally prepare for the trek back home up that massive hill. Maybe you’ll be lucky and hitch a ride in the back of a staff members pickup truck. If not, you can treat yourself to a cold juice from one of the corner stores on the way back up.
5:30pm – Group Meeting and DINNATIME
Hopefully you were able to snag some quality shower time to rinse off the grime and sweat you accumulated throughout the day. Now, head to the roof and grab a cinder block to listen to the day’s notes and the tomorrow’s forecast.
After the meeting, you head back down the hill for dinner. The meal is equally delicious and filling as lunch and your body is tired but happy.
8:00pm – Wind Down, Do Yo Thang
Back on base and surrounded by the most fun and interesting people, you’ll forget how tired you are and stay up past your 9pm curfew to sit and talk on the roof. Quiet hours start at 9:30, but a swig of Kabuli (local beer of choice) and good convo doesn’t have to be too loud.
You stay up on the roof and stare at the stars until your eyes can’t stay open anymore. Regrettably, you half-sleepwalk back to your room and part your mosquito net, climbing back into your bunk to do it all over again tomorrow, you mother eff’n bad ass.
If you’d like to donate to the rebuilding efforts in Dominica, I’ve set up a fundraising page. All proceeds will go directly to the All Hands and Hearts project in Dominica. Thanks guys! Xoxo