A friend described how when she retired she committed to making three new friends a day. I can still remember the day she found me here in Oaxaca. It was a Friday in Llano Park in June 2013. I was sitting quietly and surreptitiously taking photos of the locals who, like me, had huddled under the shade. Three new friends a day. Three new friends a month is too much for me (but I am also not retired).
Instead, I try to write about at least three new things each day I am in Oaxaca. Some days this means I must break from my routine and try out new adventures. Thus, I went to Abasolo, a small, poor village behind Tlacochahuaya. I accompanied three students studying civil engineering in Mexico City (Alex, Eric, and Sergio). We went to an enVia borrower’s house and built an outdoor stove with three burners, one large comal, one small, and one pot. We poked a hole in the laminated metal roof and sent the smoke out through the roof. No more will it burn her eyes, fill her lungs. The engineers joked that with the new oven, they were also giving her pulmones (lungs).
I cannot explain how hard the bricklaying and associated work were for my hands that mostly only type. There were times that the intensity of the heat and the flies and the labor were almost too much for me, but I pressed on. I filtered dirt; I shoveled and stirred concrete; I soaked bricks. I stirred more concrete and carried water in buckets. I carefully assembled (and in two cases reassembled) the back wall of the oven. I can’t think of anything I have been prouder to make. Mostly, I am proud because it is useful and will change this family’s life.
The woman confided that she was doubtful she’d like what we made, especially since we appeared (at least some of us) to be from the United States. Only I was, and she said that I didn’t work like someone—especially a woman—from the US. I took it as a compliment. My team also mentioned that I was, like them, a volunteer. She was even more impressed. In the end, she fed us a bowl of beans, some tortillas, some pork, and Pepsi.
The supervisors of the microlending program came out to check our progress, take some photos, and drive us out to the highway to take a bus home, and they asked me if I had fun. I could not even feign that it was a fun day, but it was an excellent educational experience in many ways. I now understand how to mix concrete and mud and the rest of the recipe for making a small stove.
I asked the guys if I was any help at all. They unreservedly said that I was, but they said I could use two more weeks of practice! They intend to complete thirty stoves. We finished number thirteen.