When: May 9 through May 13
Team Leader: Iron Horse
Team: BTB , Checkpoint, Donkey Kong, Dozer, Escargot, Hops, Iron Horse – all of us FNG’s to Nicaragua.
7 PAX teamed up for a field trip to Nicaragua and were rewarded with a full dose of all 3 F’s.
The Mission was to repair a crumbling suspension bridge that is the only access to a village of 400+ impoverished people in the rainforest in the center of the country.
2 days of travel….3 days to work. Failure is not an option.
We went expecting to “replace the deck boards on the bridge and return in a year to repair the main infrastructure” and ended up rebuilding and/or reinforcing the entire bridge.
Too many “God happenings” to count, and an experience none of us will ever forget.
HOW’D WE GET HERE?
- Last October after GRC #815 YHC is talking to one of my Board members and casually mention to him that with the same teamwork and physical effort of a GRC we could have literally built a house.
- His response: “Do you think you could get a group of guys who would be willing, for instance, to fly into Nicaragua; hike a day inland carrying all their personal gear, build a bridge out of indigenous materials, and hike back out…..total of approx 1 week of effort?” A completely fictitious scenario…..we thought.
- So YHC sends a note to 5 of my fellow RuckTards to gauge interest with this theoretical idea.
- Of course YHC gets enthusiastic “when do we leave?” replies…and send them on to him just for chuckles.
- That Sunday (4 days after), said Board member goes to Church and relays this conversation with his Pastor – and the guest speaker that week is Leslie from Oklahoma who runs a ministry in Nicaragua (go figure!) (the 2nd poorest country, behind Haiti, in the Western Hemisphere). The Pastor mentions this to her, and she says “I have your bridge!” So YHC receives a text message from him that day with a picture of the bridge with the caption: “Here’s your bridge”.
- After a few calls with Leslie we begin to think we may have something here, and all the ingredients for the F3 / GoRuck psycho mentality – – carry heavy stuff, get dirty, don’t quit, TEAM.
- The first formal ask goes out February 15. BTB, DK, and Checkpoint are in Day 1 (actually Hour 1)….Checkpoint knows Rick (soon to be Dozer…SeaBee, Forensic Engineer)….Hops gets teased by an email and then deal closed at a 3rd F….Escargot gets wind at same 3rd F and a week later is the final draft selection. 7 it will be!
On to the trip….It went down something like this.
Day 1 (Fri) – COP/WARMUP (TRAVEL):
- 0400 and Hops pulls up to my house for the pickup to the airport. As YHC walks down the driveway he tells me that DK has been up all night in the emergency room, after stepping on his pry bar that he had just sharpened (????). ‘What the ????’ (this remained a topic of wonder and discussion the entire week and we have been watching the news for local unsolved murders).
- We all meet up at the American ticket counter at 445. Spending a little too much time being casual. Finally we enter the joy and efficient operation that is TSA (with CP scooting through TSA pre-check and off to the gate).
- The TSA officer repeatedly and aggressively tells people to go to the C Checkpoint (not our Checkpoint) which will open in 5 min. at 0500. Line is long so we head out. We wait at C with 15-20 others…5 min…10 min….15. Lone TSA agent sticks his head out to inform us “we’ll open in 15 min”. When other passengers point out the current time (5:15) he shrugs and utters the memorable: “well, we’re the government”
- We head back to B – line now considerably longer and we’re at the end – only 1 line open (Your govt at work). DK gets pulled for his first of many strip searches during the trip. He later shares that they were far more interested in the bag of Cliff bars than his collection of climbing gear, carbineers and other metal objects. Hops and YHC head for the gate with Dozer in pursuit. The doors are already closed but the agent lets us in – – they clear standby, giving away the last two open seats as BTB and DK are still rolling down the hall.
- Game over. Wild text exchanges on alternate options before the plane takes off with us having left two men behind.
- We’re 1 hour in….not good.
- BTB and DK find a flight to Ft. Lauderdale, a taxi to Miami and a later flight to Managua, and after lunch with a feral (and possible rabid?) cat, we are all reunited and joined by our fantastic translator (Julio) and driver (Juan Pablo) and drive the 3 hours to the center of Nicaragua, with the first look at the incredible poverty in portions of this country. The countryside is beautiful as we leave the arid coastline and climb into the rainforest, covered with coffee plantations
- We arrive at the nearest road to the village at 5pm, load up our gear and walk down the hill towards the bridge.
- It is in much worse shape than we had seen or imagined. We see the urgency. We start to realize the reality of the magnitude of what must be done….not the 3 day job we had planned for.
- It is also much higher up….60 ft. to the river below.
- Cross the bridge and up the muddy, rocky mountain to the village…now seeing the poverty up close.
- Our first meeting with the village leaders – all needing to be translated. They have “a plan” to rebuild the entire bridge (not just the walking boards) and to dig a few latrines on the side – it’s not quite our plan….we brace for the graceful negotiation and drop a few hints that we might have a difference in approach.
- Great dinner cooked by the villagers – staples of the week: tortilla’s, rice, beans, eggs……and a little beer we picked up at the gas station.
- They have rigged up a shower so we (most of us) use that….Checkpoint decides to go fishing in the water barrel and comes out with Hops’ shorts (there is no explanation for this).
- To bed by 730pm on air mattresses on the tile floor of the community center…..a tad buggy…..a lot of snoring….a rooster that thinks 2am is the morning (consistent each night)…but not bad.
Day 2 (Sat) – GETTING TO THE REAL THANG
- It’s Saturday – we’ve got 3 days and that’s it – we’re all a bit on edge after seeing the bridge the day before….the plan of just replacing the deck boards is out.
- We load up our gear (BTB’s tool bags should be the new GRC coupons) and head down the mountain to the bridge.
- A small group of the villagers join us and we begin international negotiation on scope and technique, trying to sensitively point out to them the magnitude of the job and the resulting limitations on approach. Finally they (reluctantly) agree to our suggested plan and we get going. While there was little tangible progress before lunch we did start to prove out a methodology to play the Real Life Jenga that would be the theme over the next 3 days – pulling a piece out, and then replacing it, while hanging above the water. (it helps to have talent with you on this!)
- We discover the rainforest hardwood is too hard to nail and certainly unable to have deck screws inserted without power tools. Luckily Escargo brought battery powered tools. Not so lucky for the use of other power tools until …. a villager cuts the end off of an extension cord, climbs a tree, and splices into a live overhead powerline with a stick between the hot wires – #resourceful.
- Momentum picked up in the afternoon with DK and CP hanging off the bridge strapped into their mountain climbing gear, Escargot playing master builder (a man with a vision!), Dozer ensuring we didn’t pull anything out that dropped us into the water, BTB supporting on-bridge construction, and Hops and Iron Horse playing mule.
- Charlie, a 15 year old boy from a neighboring village has joined us to help – and he remains with us throughout the project. An incredible boy with an outgoing, proactive attitude – we rarely spoke a word that the other understood but he endeared himself to the entire team as we communicated with Charades. One of his first acts was to dive into the murky fast moving river and emerge with a dropped wrench……to be repeated a few more times during the week.
- BTB secures on of our few minor “injuries” of the week by kneeling in a mound of Nicaraguan fire ants….not having enough he chose to go back for seconds on Monday.
- Charlie also become the resident photographer, running everyone’s camera batteries to empty with his photo shoots, including a healthy amount of selfies.
- A long way to go but we’re starting to feel like we can get this done.
- Another beer run – and into bed by 7:45 …. The snoring chorus continues ….Rooster at 2am…..loud bugs….you know the drill.
- Oh, did we mention one of the chickens we saw running around the community center disappeared after breakfast, feathers were seen in the kitchen and we had pan fried chicken for lunch. Hoping the next day’s lunch was tough beef and not a missing skinny dog
Day 3 (Sun) – EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
- With the slow start on Saturday, we’re pretty pumped and ready to get at it.
- Breakfast (rice, beans, eggs, tortilla’s, coffee sans sugar) and we’re on the trail down the mountain.
- The work teams get at it.
- We’re making good progress – but get delayed while waiting for Julio to return from the nearest city with some critical parts (pipes, fasteners, rods, bolts, screws).
- In the meantime, Charlie leads us down river to a very cool waterfall, rapids and lagoon where we enjoy some swimming (mouths shut to avoid a visit from Mr. Squirty).
- On the climb back out Hops is nearly decapitated by an eye-high string of barbed wire strung through the forest #stayoffmyproperty. This creates a nice little groove in his head. YHC notes the wire seemed to be fairly new so the odds of a serious blood disease should be manageable. Is that the Hep A, Hep B or Tetanus shot?
- Back at the bridge the parts have arrived and we begin again……and then……regional power outage.
- Julio calls the power company to find out when they can repair it and they let him know that they don’t intend to work Sunday – – or Monday….. we’re screwed.
- Our man Charlie to the rescue – – he knows a guy who is a night guard at the local cheese plant. They have a generator to keep the refrigerators running. We all pile into the car with our cordless drill batteries and charger and head over the cheeseland. Charlie hops out and after a few minutes waves us in. We’re back in business for the cost of a liter of Coke and a bag of chips.
- While we wait for the batteries to charge we head into Matagalpa for a quick walk around the city, checkpoint finds $1 cuban cigars, and the others scope out a potential watering hole (or 2).
- Back in the car – pick up the batteries – and get a couple hours of more work done before dark.
- (did YHC mention we picked up some beer?)
- Checkpoint introduces us to Loot – a card game we’re pretty sure he made up. Arrrrrrr !
Day 4 (Mon) – GET ‘ER DONE!
- The village will come down for a ceremony to bless the church right before lunch so we hit it hard to get the bridge done.
- The amazing feat of the week is watching Escargot drill from 2 sides of an 8” 4×4 and hit it spot on with a perfectly straight 3/8” hole. Speechless.
- The physical structure is pretty much complete when we see dozens of children, women and men (most are out working) gather at the bridge.
- 4 women lead the group in reading from scripture, praying and singing – and express to us what the repair of their bridge means to the village.
- A totally humbling and moving experience – – each team member individually mentioned that this short ceremony made the entire trip worthwhile.
- They had just given us far more than we gave to them.
- For the “cost” of 4-5 days out of our schedule, God allowed us to be the small piece of the delivery vehicle of His blessing to this community….All of Him, none of us.
- After lunch we are racing the clock to finish up the bridge – last boards and parts – and the safety fencing running throughout.
- The final touches are done at 6pm, last day, by headlamp
- 7 people – couldn’t have done it with 6, didn’t need 8.
- 3 days of work – couldn’t have finished in 2 ½.
- Instead of replacing the walking deck the team had replaced, reinforced and validated the entire structure – – two 1 week trips compressed into 3 days
- After dropping off the tools, a quick dinner and cleaning up, we head into Matagalpa for a celebratory beer(s) – there is great relief and great satisfaction – -but also a common feeling of awe in what just happened. One answer: Only God.
- Back to the village where, upon arrival at the road, numerous members of the village meet us in the dark and escort us down the hill, across the bridge and up the mountain as a way of expressing thanks and care for us. Nearly as powerful as the ceremony that took place 10 hours before.
Day 5 (Travel) – ON THE ROAD AGAIN
- We hit the road at 7am for the 3 hour drive back to Managua.
- Juan Pablo calls a coffee farm to see if we can stop by to buy coffee – – through the gate and back to the warehouse.
- Best coffee we’ve ever tasted – or so it seems.
- We load up and back on the road.
- Julio has negotiated with the airport hotel for us to buy a room for pre-boarding showers…..oh my!
- We get to the airport, with DK being pulled for his customary cavity search….”Sir, are these knives?”
- Airborne to Miami.
- Once landed, we go through US Customs and….guess what….DK is last seen being escorted to “the back room”. (we conclude he is a suspicious looking fellow and are pleased with the TSA profile filters being used).
- Back to Charlotte a little after midnight. Wow.
- The village hadn’t bought, cut and moved the materials beforehand,
- The village had bought nails, as planned, instead of screws,
- CP and DK had not brought their climbing gear,
- Escargot had not decided to throw in his cordless drill,
- BTB had not bought 2 gi-normous bags of tools we weren’t sure we would ever need,
- Charlie hadn’t been able to dive our tools out of the river,
- We hadn’t been able to get power down to the bridge,
- Charlie hadn’t known a guy who would let us charge our tools,
- Julio had not been able to locate a pipe and welder (twice) in the city,
- We did not the precise number and mix of people and talent (some had ideas, some superior (!) skills and expertise, some led, some served)
…………..we could have never finished.
- Fitness – a lot of hard work – that rocky, muddy hill we traversed twice (or more) a day was a beast.
- Fellowship – many of us had not known each other (well) before the trip – now bonded for a lifetime.
- Faith – Sometimes when God moves it is hard to see. When you witness it compressed into a few days, and when time after time, He opened the doors and He straightened the paths, it is undeniable. What a privilege for all of us to be a part of a very, very, little contribution to the happiness of people whose lives are so different from ours.
After we hit the bed at 2am Wednesday, we will never see our homes, food, beds, water, lights, lives….or a bridge…the same again….YHC hopes.
AAR Written By: Iron Horse
Interested in joining the next team that travels for a mission trip? Let us know!