Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can remember the feeling of the wind in my hair. The sounds of laughter. The feeling of being at peace. It has only been a few days since we have returned home and already I find myself struggling to keep the memories present. My heart open and connected.
On the first night, as we all sat together in the dining hall of the Fundación Maria Cavalleri, I looked around the room at the young men and women assembled. 12 high school students, many of whom did not know each other when they had stepped on the plane just a few short hours before. But now, in a new country, we were all we had, a group of strangers sitting in a circle, nervous, hopeful, and unaware of what was about to happen. To all of us. "This will be a week of tearing down walls," our host said to us and I saw some disappointment in the young faces. We had come here to build a school, not to tear down walls.
The group piled into trucks and made the 1/2 hour ride to the worksite for the first time. We stopped briefly in the town of San Ramon and a handsome young Nicaraguan with a wide smile hopped in the back with the kids. The children were waiting for us, big brown eyes peaking out the windows and doors of the blue and white structure. Danilo, the foreman, greeted us and put us to work moving concrete blocks and mixing mescla, the Spanish word for concrete, as we pushed wheelbarrows of sand and rock and carried buckets of water to the small, concrete patio. The sun was hot and the air was still. The sounds of the students engaged in their lessons, floated all around us. Eight months of planning for this moment. We were finally here.
By day we labored. Bloque and mescla, brick and mortar. Teams formed. The brick squads and the mixers. Wheelbarrows zoomed in and out filled with rocks and schoolchildren and the sounds of laughter. We learned how to lay brick, how to fill the cavities of the concreto with piedras, placing rocks in the holes of the concrete blocks, covering them with the wet mortar. Community members smiled at us as they worked side by side, smiles that replaced the words we did not know, could not say. Smiles that said so much more. A brown faced man, his face chiseled with age, tied rebar in the hot sun. A community member brought bread she had made, sweet crescents filled with the hint of sugar. Soccer balls were kicked. Baseballs flew. Songs of welcome were sung.
And as we labored away, something amazing happened. The handsome Nicaraguan, a volunteer firefighter, shared his love of baseball. Our gentle hosts, a couple who now call this country home, shared their own stories. Hers, a conscious decision to leave behind an unfulfilling life in the U.S. to follow her husband back to Central America, to do something that mattered. Work that will change this small part of the world. His, the memories of Archbishop Romero and the struggle for change in his native El Salvador, a struggle that resulted in torture and exile, loss beyond words. A struggle that led him here, working to make a difference in the lives of children. Their beautiful children, a new generation of hope, found homes in the laps of their newfound friends.
The students shared too. In the evenings, as we gathered together to discuss the day, there were stories of children, of laughter, of lessons learned. Wheelbarrow races and learning to jump rope, coloring and bracelet making and songs sung off key. Broken Spanish and hand signals opened the door to communication deeper than words could go. How was it, they wondered, that with all the technology we have, the ipods and cell phones and facebook chats, we are so disconnected? It isn't money that's important, they proclaimed, but the connection between all of us that really matters; that really makes someone happy.
My heart sang.
Yes, something was happening here in this far away land. In laying bricks, walls had indeed come down.