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More than words

By Nicole Doebert

Thrivent Builds Worldwide trip participant, El Salvador, August 2009

Below is an entry from Nicole Doebert’s journal from her trip to the Thrivent Builds Worldwide community in El Salvador.

Build Day One: Monday, August 4
We were up by about 6:00 a.m., all decked out in work clothes and boots for a 7:00 breakfast. By 7:30 we were off to the build site in a rural part of Santa Ana where Habitat for Humanity El Salvador has obtained land for a community of about 60 homes. We drove to a larger building that was already completed and will eventually be a day care center. For now, it is being used as “construction central.” Habitat El Salvador staff and Pastor Najela all greeted us and gathered us together for a morning devotion. Pastor Najela, with translation from Patty, led our devotion and prayer, after which we held hands for he Lord’s Prayer, said in Spanish and English at the same time. We also met one of our partner families, Óscar and Marisol and their children Óscarito and Paola.

With water in hand, we headed toward the two duplexes we would help build. The four Thrivent Builds teams here before us had gotten much of the house construction done so our team could finish the houses this week. The day’s tasks: apply two coats of primer (called “cal”) to the houses, cover the floors with a sort of cinder gravel to level them before laying tile and haul wheel barrows full of dirt to put around each house. The latter was my job…which meant bringing the dirt from one and a half blocks away! I was determined to show that I could do it. Team member Len, a former marine, joined me. He showed me that loading more dirt toward the front of the wheelbarrow put more weight over the wheel and made it easier to move. When one of the masons noticed that I had been hauling dirt most of the day, he said I had “muy músculos,” or “much muscles.” I told him it was because I was a tough American woman.

After a short break, I shifted duties a bit (realizing my limitations) and hauled cinder gravel into the house with my teammate Tim. This gravel pile was only about 20 feet from the house. Tim and I took the carts of cinder across all kinds of crazy bridges the masons set up so we wouldn’t get stuck in the mud. We took the gravel into the house and smoothed it with a shovel.

At mid-morning, the partner family who would be moving into the house came to visit. The family introduced themselves: José Antonio and Aída…and soon they will be joined by little Felipe. Somehow, through a few shared words, I learned that the baby was due in October; José Antonio sells cell phones; they hope to run a pharmacy in the community and Aída is excited about the beautiful view from their home. They even showed me ultrasound photos of little Felipe. I couldn’t believe how much we could share with hand gestures and a few words. Meeting the family was a memorable experience.

Encouraged by my previous success, I spoke a bit with the masons during lunch. Again, I found that just a few words of Spanish got me much further than I could’ve imagined. I learned that Antonio had 13 brothers and sisters and five children ranging in age from two to 17. I learned that Juan and Will were brothers and that Matozo had been learning English from the previous teams. Of course, I made mistakes. For instance, the masons all thought it was hilarious when I said “tengo esposa,” which means “I have a wife,” instead of “esposo” for “husband.” But even with my serious lack of grammar skills and large vocabulary, I found that if I tried or even made hand gestures, they were eager to share with me. And I’m so very glad they did.

In the afternoon, I painted and enjoyed fresh watermelon. After cleaning up, our whole team felt very tired but satisfied with the work that was done. During the ride home we reflected on the language barrier being less of an issue than we’d thought it would be. There are just some things—like family and helping others—that are universal.

Want to read more about the trip? Read the rest of Nicole’s journal.