In August 2009 I traveled to Managua, Nicaragua with Central Community Church, based in Greensboro, NC, to assist in the construction of a school. It was an eight-day excursion, involving cement, collapsed chapel roofs, snakebites, 25000 palm fronds, and swimming in volcanoes.
We flew into Managua via Atlanta, and after glimpsing the western tip of forbidden Cuba, arrived shortly after sunset. Our contact was Henry Vargas, a Venezuela-born missionary; he met our group at Sandino International Airport with news that the chapel we were to stay in had collapsed twenty minutes before our arrival.
We stayed Henry's house instead - he was in the process of building it, so it was a bit like the lawn-and-garden section of Home Depot: lots of open air, lots of potted plants, and stacks of masonry. It would be our home for a week... my personal space was the cement floor just under the edge of the roof.
Day One was pretty easy - we visited a local Nicaraguan pentecostal church, and then headed to a volcanic lake for the day. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon. We finished off the day shopping in Managua's Old City... Cuban cigars, local whiskeys, and some Nicaraguan wall art filled our packs.
A lake in the center of a dormant volcano
At 6:00 am Monday morning we set out for the worksite. We were divided into two basic workgroups: the first was construction, assigned to adding the second story of the new school building. The second was essentially a cleanup detail in charge of cleaning up the collapsed chapel. Some 15,000 palm fronds composed the bulk of the roof - they were thatched over a rickety two-by-four frame - and had to be removed to a storage location a few hundred yards through the jungle. I spent the first five hours on construction duty before being transferred to clean-up... apparently they needed an extra hand and there was one too many clambering across the walls.
We quickly determined that the most effective way to get the job done was to have several people removing the fronds from the frame and tossing them in enormous piles while several more of us loaded them onto a ramshackle cart and hauled them to the storage hut. The trail wound down a steep hill, across a stream (there was a footbridge, thankfully) and into a picturesque clearing. We rotated the pulling duties, switching during every load.
We toiled under the merciless tropical sun for four straight days, and by Thursday we were done. On Friday the groups combined to knock out the final level of the school building... we flew home Saturday morning.
Left to right, from top: Carrying palm fronds via two-wheeled cart to storage hut, a hibiscus flower in the jungle, Enrique, the son of a local Nicaraguan farmer, and a horse feeding on the school grounds.