From Lines of Code to Rock Lines and Back Again

Friday, March 14th, 2008

A bridge, it turns out, requires a lot of mass to keep it from being pulled down into whatever crevasse it happens to be spanning. In the case of the bridge in Guatemala I worked on for the last week and a half, that mass came from rocks and concrete. The Benque River was abundant with rocks of all sizes. Unfortunately, those rocks were in the river, quite a ways from their eventual home in the abutments on either side. After hours of pulling rocks out of the river and stacking them on the banks, we’d form a long line and pass the rocks from one person to the next until the last person could place it appropriately.

I’ve been a member of Engineers Without Borders for several years and whenever someone returns from a trip they are often accompanied by grand adjectives: wonderful, amazing, life-changing. I get the point now. These trips offer something that’s hard to find: a chance to interact with a different culture in a truly cooperative way.

There are a million stories to tell from the trip, and I’ll probably tell many of them here, but the thing I’ll remember most is those rock lines. It was the time when those of us from Chicago and the Mayan Kichi’ villagers who lived near the bridge site really bonded. It’s no coincidence that the two Kichi’ words we all knew by the end of the trip were heavy (al) and rock (pek.) It’s also no coincidence that the English word all of the Kichi’ knew by the end of the trip was “Oops!” Occasionally a particularly “al li pek” would make it almost all the way up the embankment when a combination of mud, sweat and aching hands would compromise someone’s grip and we’d all watch it roll back down to the river accompanied by laughs and shouts of “Oops!” from Chicagoans and Kichi’ alike. Good or bad, we were all in it together.


Welcome back!! Glad you didn’t die!

I second that! Although a dramatic fight with a mountain lion would have been cool. ;)

Ah, so you’re back. Took me a second to realize that (I thought you were just updating the blog, remotely).

Looks to have been a pretty singular experience. I’m looking forward to more stories!

Thanks everyone! More stories to come once I’m done with stupid finals tomorrow. Why am I taking these classes again?

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