Gap Year

One week living on the rubble

Hello from Dundas Town, Abaco, Bahamas! I’m writing to you from the same position as last week, accompanied by some tea I brought from home (matcha grapefruit), an incredibly overpriced apple ($3), and an extremely loud Christian service going on next door. A few of my “bubblemates” are here too, milling about and grazing on the various snacks we bought from the tiny convenience stores and Maxwells, a huge foreign-owned grocery store nearby.

A few adjectives to describe my first week on base: hot, humid, sweaty, sawdust-laden, smelly, uncomfortable, itchy (mosquitos are outrageous here), full of little grievances, educational, challenging (physically and mentally), and full of wonderful little moments of inspiration, happiness, and a real sense of accomplishment.

The week started with a few days of orientation and training. We did a few hours of introduction to Abaco and the destruction wrought by Dorian, a health and safety orientation (even including the risk of COVID, heatstroke/heat exhaustion is probably the most dangerous experience we probably will encounter), and over four hours of first-aid training. Then we learned how to use some of the power tools: mainly drilling and two types of saws to cut wood.

I learned how to use a drill! (This was the first day, hence the lack of a hard hat and gloves.)

Though my “bubble” is the largest of the three here (13 volunteers and four staff), we only got one picnic table whereas the other bubbles got two. Hm.

We made our first priority building another table on our own.

Nothing beats the feeling of physically creating something instantly usable with your own bare hands. Right after building it, we got to eat lunch!

A typical Bahamian meal: chicken strips, sweet potato, and boiled veggies.

After the first few days of orientations and tool trainings, my days started to fall into a pattern. I would wake up in the morning at either 5:30 or 6 AM, eat a breakfast of oats with peanut butter and dates or eggs with onion (the only fresh vegetable provided to us), work on building shade structures, benches, saw horses, and shelves until our lunch at noon, work until 4 PM, have our 5PM All Hands meeting, eat dinner, shower outside, and sleep at around 9-10 PM.

On Friday, we finished our quarantine and were finally able to go out into the surrounding community, which also meant that we could finally start our work on the school!

The end goal for this program is to build a primary school called Little Darlings Academy. In the Bahamas, there are no public primary schools, so it’s commonplace to send one’s children to private school. This school was completely devastated by Dorian, and because it wasn’t public, the government won’t allocate any resources to rebuild it.

This is what Little Darlings Academy looks like right now.

We’ve only had one day of work on the site so far, but it’s been really enjoyable, rewarding work so far. I learned how to use a metal grinding tool (I honestly still don’t know what it’s called). To operate it safely, one has to wear a mask, goggles, gloves, and a hard hat.

I’m on the far left.

I also worked on shoveling rubble out of the trenches we were digging. Jim, a former Marine, taught me how to properly use a shovel for the first time!

It was SO hot… I now realize that Bahamas is at the equator and therefore much closer to the sun

This week is probably the least labor-intensive out of the whole 8-week program, but it definitely kicked my ass. I’m grateful for the chance to rest today—we’re going to Treasure Cove to go swimming. I plan on reading, napping, and eating lots of yummy snacks.

Hope all is well wherever you are.

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  1. Mei, this is like witnessing the miracle with you! Can’t wait to see changes happening. Also sending lots of courage and love. We’ll feed you a lot after you are back!

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