Thursday morning, curled up on my side, I huddled under the thin blanket, wishing I’d turned off the air-conditioning after my last trip to the toilet. Drained from explosions of gastric distress, the chill that sneaked up my back made me feel as if I was trapped inside a cold, dark cave. I’d been so careful with what I’d eaten. I couldn’t figure out what could have caused my misery.
I knew I was too woozy to join the others at the work site. Weak and drained, I went back to sleep, knowing that the rest of the group was already laboring, using pick axes to rout out the hard-packed dirt where classroom floors would be. Then they would move the heavy chunks and rocks in wheelbarrows to another location. Some of the group worked on leveling the floors for the two large classrooms, shoveling and mixing cement. Others painted the walls of the new classrooms, inside and out,.
After sleeping for three more hours, I managed to drag myself up and get dressed. The hotel manager hailed a moto for me. I climbed in one of these red, three-wheeled taxis, with open sides and non-existent springs that tore around the streets of Naragote. The trip cost just forty cents, no matter how far you went. The trip up the last hill, through holes, ruts and bumps, shook my weakened body. Wind-swept dirt, as fine as powder, slammed into my eyes. My skin hurt when I arrived at the worksite. A blast of heat almost knocked me over when I stepped out of the moto, into the scorching sun. I gingerly walked through the gate to enter the school grounds. A ten-foot-high wire fence, with coils of barbed wire along the top, surrounded the school and grounds. The fence had been installed before any work began on the school. Theft and vandalism were serious problems in such a poor town.
I sat on a pile of bricks, in the shade, sipping water from my water-bottle, imagining I was supervising the others, so I wouldn’t appear lazy. Some offered sympathy for my experience and then hurried back to the chores of shoveling sand or gravel into buckets, carrying the filled containers and then, at the appropriate time, pouring them into the small cement mixer. Others carefully pushed wheelbarrows full of wet, sloshing cement, making sure none splashed out on the ground. There was no way I could do any of that work. I could barely stand up.
I found that three other co-workers, who had eaten at the same, supposedly excellent restaurant in the town of Granada, had similar experiences. One woman had ventured out to the site, but had to take a moto back to the hotel. We had all eaten the same fish dish.
A substantial, delicious lunch was served at noon every day at the site. That day, I was only able to eat a little rice. We sat together at student desks, in a semi-circle in one of the completed classrooms. Wendy, who cooked for the students at the NicaPhoto program (and was the wife of the martial-arts instructor), prepared the most appetizing meals for us. She marinated chicken breasts with a paste of garlic, cilantro and sour orange which created the most delicious chicken any of us had ever tasted. I dreamed when I would once again be able to taste Wendy’s amazing chicken. I knew that the next day I’d be back shoveling, raking, and lifting, as I had been before that fish dinner.