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Week 4- Let’s lay some decking!

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After our trip to Matagalpa, the team divided to conquer. Aaron went to Managua on an early morning bus to pick up Justin Guevara, one of our three travel mentors for this trip, from the airport. Justin is staying with us for 2 weeks and is a bridge engineer for Kiewit. He was a member of the Kiewit team that built the El Limon suspension bridge in Cínta Verde this past winter. As Aaron rode his bus toward Managa, Anthony and I stayed in Matagalpa a couple of extra hours to pick up a few bridge supplies while the rest of the team took the early bus back to Esquipulas.

In Esquipulas, Soley went grocery shopping for all of us. Soley has been awesome to have on the trip because she has a lot of experience cooking and loves the chance to cook for us, which has become a necessity on the days when no one arrives to prepare us food. She also does a really good job of coordinating meals and figuring out exactly what we will need to keep us well fed for the coming week. The food this summer is a million times better than I planned on.

On our way back to Cínta Verde it began raining hard. I decided that instead of being miserable in the rain while working, we would all be better off just waiting the rain out. The rain lasted the rest of the day, so we did not end up working the second half of the day and busied ourselves with a few games of Hearts instead. We all lost to Quinn’s ridiculous skills.

The next day, we had an early morning visit from Katie Lovvorn. Katie is filling in for Bridges to Prosperity’s (B2P) project manager, Brandon Johnson, while he is helping B2P in Rwanda until November. After Katie left the site, everyone except Anthony, Justin, and I went to the plantel in Esquipulas to spend the day cutting deckboards and crossbeams. It was a full day of carrying, cutting, and drilling the wood so that we could start laying the decking on Thursday.

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While they were busy at the plantel, we finished setting the sag. It is extremely important that all of the cables have their low points at the exact same elevation because otherwise the deckboards will be crooked and there will be torsion forces on the bridge that were not accounted for in the design. This could result in a potential bridge failure if enough weight is applied. The whole process was very tedious and took the entire day to complete.

After we finished, I took the surveying equipment to the river’s edge to work on my Stanley Grant research project that paid for my trip to Nicaragua this summer. My project is to assess the feasibility of implementing a river monitoring system. The system I set up about a week prior to this was made of 80 feet of house wire and a capacitance meter. When I got to the edge of the river I found that my river monitoring system was gone. There are two possibilities for the fate of my river monitoring system. One is it could have been swept away by the river. I deem this extremely unlikely since the wire is 80 feet long, buried under some dirt woven around some roots and had a series of rocks holding the wire in place down to the middle of the river. It would have required some serious water power to remove the wire and there was no rain over the weekend that could have caused the river to rise enough for this to occur. The second possibility is theft. The evidence to support that conclusion is that I found a prong previously attached to the wire that allowed me to take readings on my capacitance meter lying delicately on a rock by the edge of the river. It seems that human interference is the most likely cause of my missing research project. But, I sadly suppose that this provides me with a conclusion to my study. The current system is not feasible since there is nothing in place to prevent theft. I hope that someone next year will be able to improve upon this system because I believe that being able to monitor the river levels would be extremely helpful for communities and B2P’s assessment of the impact of their bridges.

The next day was pretty uneventful. We spent the day staining wood with a diesel and salt mixture while listening to Justin’s iPod. Other groups of people were busy excavating the area for the approach ramps and collecting rocks.

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On Thursday, we got to begin the decking. Being able to harness up and walk across the bridge on the cable while pushing out deckboards was pretty exciting and only a little scary. Compared to last year’s site, it was nothing.

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Starting the decking was slow going, and it took us a long time to get into a rhythm. We worked late because we had to finish the approach ramp excavation so that we could stay on schedule. By the end of the day, all the crossbeams were up and the excavation was finished.

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After a full work day on Friday, all of the deckboards were laid and work on the massive approach ramp on the near side of the river was underway. As the sun was going down, we were able to walk across the bridge for the first time. The bridge is finally looking like a bridge. All of our hard work is finally starting to come together.

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The next day, all the safety fencing along the walkway was put on the bridge and a lot of progress was made on the approach ramps. The community was very enthusiastic about being in harnesses working on the fencing all day. I love working on B2P’s bridge sites because the more you work, the more the excitement builds in the community and you can tell that your help is making a positive impact in the lives of the community members. I love spending my summers being a part of a project that is going to help make lives easier for communities such as Cínta Verde.

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This bridge build is very different from our build last year in Jícaro. The community of Jícaro was so spread out that we rarely saw anyone, but our host family outside of the construction site. In Cínta Verde, we are constantly surrounded by a majority of the children and teenagers in the community. The longer we are here, the more comfortable and outgoing they become around us. Due to the romantic nature of the culture, Soley, Natalie, and I are flirted with throughout the day. Each such gesture from the young men of the community is hardly predatory. The issue comes from their awareness of the discomfort it brings us. Still, their advances come in day after day. Nevertheless, I really want the best for all of them and I hope this bridge helps more of them receive a good education. In this community, everyone is offered an elementary education, after which most work in the fields following completion of the sixth grade. For a few children, they do not even reach that level of education because they either skip school or have trouble learning. I know of a ten year old and thirteen year old who are still in the first grade and are unable to write their names. Amongst all the children, there is one eleven year that stands out to all of us for his intelligence. Currently, he is in fifth grade and has only one grade left before he is expected to begin working in the fields. I really hope that he is an exception and allowed to continue on to high school because he has a lot of potential as long as he has the opportunity to receive a good education.

The plan is to continue working on the approach ramps until it is time for us to leave Cínta Verde for good. So there will be a lot of rock collecting, carrying, and stacking in our future.

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