Belize Blog Post 8 - Am I Native Yet?

Day 46 - 24 Saturday

(Continued this from the earlier blog post, since I wrote it early afternoon)
Decided I needed a break today, away from everything and everyone, so I skipped church, and spent the morning writing some website code. Then I caught a bus into town to get some chinese food and some internet time, where I tested the code, tweaked it a bit, and chilled.

Living here wouldn't be so bad if I had some basics of life, like income, a place of my own, and my own transportation. Otherwise its just a very nice place to be stuck in. Stuck none the less.

Its nice to have a day of rest, but its also kind of frustrating to be looking at a perfectly nice day, that I could be getting some welding down on the roof. I think I miss making my own hours.

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Anyway, I was at the chinese restaraunt for about 4 hours, got some work done, read a lot of emails, and made my mark on the Facebook universe. Stopped at a store to replentish my stock of Snickers bars, and then caught a bus back to the new home. Kind of a mixed deal there. The bus is cheap, but you have to wait for it, and then you still have to walk where ever you end up going. But its cheap!

I had a good plate of chicken fried rice mid afternoon, so of course now I'm almost hungry, but not really. Toast and an orange should take care of the evening.

Never fails, I get back to the home, where we don't have internet, and I think of a few more things I'd like to look up. Sigh.

Another thing I miss is being able to look up something on Ebay, buy it, and have it delivered to my door. Even in Canada, as annoying as that was with the duty, customs, and ass backward postal system.

This might not be such a bad place to live, if I could figure out which one of my skills or abilities was worth any money.

Day 47 - 25 Sunday
Got to sleep in just a little bit today. I guess it really doesn't matter either way, I mean, what would they do, send me home? I'm homeless! Hehe...

Anyway, I welded on the trusses from about 8am until around 3pm or something like that. Ran out of the shielding gas for the MIG welder, which we plan to replace tomorrow, so I figured on just welding until I used it up.

Have one end of the Dutch Hip thingy welded now, and was part way through the other end when I used up the gas. Until now, much of the roof was just tack welded, so I was going back and finishing up what we'd started last week.

So, not so bad for a Sunday.

Day 48 - 26 Monday
Today was a no welding day. Stanley took back the empty tank of shielding gas for the MIG welder, and when he returned they were out of the Argon / CO2 mix gas, but they did have regular CO2 gas available. No problem, we can use that. Except the tank's are different, and we need an adapter to hook our regulator up. Ah, but we're ahead of the curve, see, Stanley brought the adapter too. Ohhhh no, its the wrong adapter. Sigh.

So then they went to another place, which had the right adapter. Well, no, its not quite right either. Close, but you know how that goes, when dealing with high pressure gas, close is almost like a grenade. So, no welding.

As it was already almost dark when they got back with the second wrong adapter, I thought I'd see what welding would look like with no gas.

First observation, is wow, welding is incredibly bright, in the dark! Wow...

Anyway... we can also run the welder without gas, and with a flux wire, but we don't have that either. So I thought I'd see how bad it actually is, to run bare wire, and no shielding gas. Turns out, its kind of ugly looking, but I think that's mostly because of burning the galvanized coating off the metal. It still pops and sputters, but over all, it is still a decent bead. I'd not recommend it for anything important, but we'll go with it for welding on some trim on the roof.

In other news today, I cut about 80 or 90 trim pieces. They probably have a name, but basically its a scrap of the truss "C" channel that we'll weld to the end of the truss, hanging down. The facia and rain gutter and something else will attach to that. Or something like that. Anyway, there were a bunch of them, and they're about 7 inches long. Then I cut some 1" pipe into 1 7/8" lengths. I think it was a 20 foot pipe when I started, when I was done, it fit in a bucket. This is the kind of job we'd give to the least skilled worker. Guess why I got to do it? hehe

Or, to think of it another way, I got to stand on the ground all day, under a tent for shade, while the more skilled workers were slaving away in the hot sun, balancing on the trusses. Some times its good to be the only gringo!

Coming up on 7 weeks in country. Wow, time is an abstract concept. At least until you run out of it.

Day 49 - 27 Tuesday
Squish goes the scorpion!
Tonight as I was walking up the stairs to my room I saw a weird black blob, so I turned around for a better look, and sure enough, there was a pretty big sized black scorpion, just hanging out on the stairs. I figure about 3 inches long, maybe longer if he'd straighten out the tail. So I figured I haven't gotten any good pictures of these yet, so I grabbed my little camera. I didn't have room to bring the flash for the big camera, and it was already after sunset. Anyway, the scorpion was kind enough to wait for me to get ready, didn't really strike up a pose, though. So I got a couple pictures of it, then put a boot print on it. Made an interesting splat pattern, so I got another picture of that. About half an hour later, I walked past again, and the ants were all over the remains. Guess scorpions are good eating? Nature, go figure!

Earlier today, lets see... I did a lot more metal cutting, managed to use up two of our 14" metal cutting disks on the chop saw. That got me to thinking, in about 3 hours, those 2 blades cost about a whole days wage for the guys who we are hiring. Not sure how I feel about that. Just a random data point here. Cost of labor is pretty low. Cost of tools and supplies is high, and I'm working for free.

We did eventually get our 2 tanks of shielding gas this afternoon, the real Argon / CO2 again. Earlier we were going to try out straight CO2, but weren't able to find the correct tank adapter.

All morning I was on the chop saw, under the tent, and it was a sunny day. Then in the afternoon, when I could have been welding, it looked like it was going to rain. Even spit a couple times. Finally around 4pm we decided to at least try to get some welding, so up we went. I then promply welded the wrong piece on the roof. So I got to grind it off. Two good things there, I only did a short tack bead, and I was able to show how good the welder was working, in that the weld penetrated nicely. Still, I did weld the wrong piece...

Anyway, we did get the right piece tacked up before the actual rain started.

We'll be ready when the rain stops though. We got 2 whole tanks of the gas for the MIG welder, and another big spool of wire. And I hear we have an arc welder coming that we can try out for a while. It might even be a generator unit, meaning no more extension cords. Hoping it comes with long enough leads or we won't be getting anywhere. We'll see!

Just when I got comfortable with the MIG, I'll have to relearn stick welding again. MIG is easier. I suspect they'll be looking at me pretty closely. No pressure right?

Day 50 - 28 Wednesday
Well, today we started off with our new welder. I spent a few minutes taping up all the bare wire on the leads, then it was the moment of truth. Gulp. Lets see if I can strike an arc infront of the whole crew.

Ta-daaaa :) It was a beautiful thing. I did a quick bead, asked for a small power adjustment, and about a minute later, everything was sizzling along nicely.

Let me just back up a bit here. The welder was borrowed from "Word at Work", which is another religeous charity based type organization. I'm writing this "off line" but hopefully by the time I get to some internet I'll be able to paste in a link to their website.

Some of their people had just been here this last week, and we were talking about the welder we were using, so I suspect this is why they offered for us to borrow their welder. See? Networking can be useful!

I've come to nickname our MIG welder "Abe"... as in Abraham Lincoln, since the welder is made by Lincoln Electric. Or maybe "Little Red", because, well, its kind of small and its red.

So, the new welder is a big blue Miller. Its gasoline powered generator driven full power electric arc welding furry, on wheels. The only thing it's missing is self propelled, maybe track driven, and some tesla coils. Don't worry, I'm secretly working on all of the above. Pictures may follow. Good thing no one reads this secret web thingy right?

Soon John and Stanley came back from some power shopping, and got us a good stash of welding rods. 6013's I am pretty sure they were. They were recommended for welding on the galvanized metal the trusses are made from.

I get up on the roof, Mr Miller was fired up with a mighty roar, and I got off a couple decent beads. I was quite impressed with myself. Then it was the moment of terror... er.. truth. Time for some overhead welding. Yeah. I chocked. It was kind of a lying on your back, over a short overhang, and the rod was too long to get into position. Anyway, I could not for the life of me get the arc to strike, it just stuck. Grrr... break it loose, stick... stick... stick. Finally I gave up, tried another angle. Nope. Ok, lets go back to a regular upright weld, and try another spot. Stuck. Grrr. About that time I get "tapped out" and I handed the gear to Mike. It stuck for him a time or two, then he found his groove, and that was all they wrote.

A while later, Jack decides we still aren't welding fast enough, so we bring up Abe, the MIG welder, and I'm back to work too. The big Arc welder was used for the open, fast welds, and I got to do the detail stuff that was too slow for the fast welder. Since that meant I spent more time crawling around the roof and getting set up, my duty cycle issues were less of a problem. Where I can only weld maybe 2 minutes out of 10, if I spend more time untangling my cables and moving out onto a truss, the welder doesn't over heat as much.

Also, we were now welding the perlins onto the trusses. That means we were only welding a short bead, less than 2 inches long, every 4 feet. Things are really moving fast now!

Lunch time came along, and since my MIG welder was working well, I decided to keep welding until it over heated, then I'd eat a quick bite, and come back for some practice on the big Arc welder. That worked out pretty well, as the crew left, we got some quiet time away from the big generator running, and then when the roof was empty, I could fire up the welder and get some quality bonding time.

Hmm bonding, that's almost a welding joke there.

Almost.

In all, I got to burn a few sticks, and think I'm getting more comfortable with it all. If you've never welded, it looks easy, until you actually try it. The act of getting the arc to start goes something like this. You position the end of the rod over the work piece. As it gets closer, the electrical arc starts, with a loud flash and pop, and in about 1/10th of a second, the rod gets stuck to the metal. That's not good. So you try to twist it off and hopefully it breaks free with out too much trama. Then you try again. And again. Ideally you'd see the flash, pull back just a bit, then settle in so the rod is just on the edge of the new molten puddle of metal created by the sun like intense heat of the electrical arc. Its a suble thing. From watching others weld, everyone gets it stuck now and then.

About 2pm it started to rain. It had been overcast and clowdy all day today, so I wasn't too surprised. In fact, over lunch time, I'd found the tarp to cover Abe the MIG welder with, since Abe sits up on the roof with us. Oh, that reminds me. The new welder has amazingly long wire leads, so you park the welder on the ground, under a tent, and then just run around the roof with the stinger. Its really wonderful. Not so with Abe, the MIG welder. Abe has a 10 foot lead. So rather than running around the roof tops, its more of a chore of lugging this 50 pound box everywhere. As if that's not enough, being a MIG welder, it uses the shielding gas, so you also have a pretty heavy high pressure cylinder on the end of 30 feet of hose. Its all the details that make simple things seem not so simple, see?

Anyway, with the rain, we tarped up the welder, and ran for cover. After a while it stopped raining, and I was faced with a choice, of potential electricution, or looking scared and staying off the roof. I figured an hour long coffee break seemed appropriate, so as the rest of the crew went back to work, I spent some time picking up, sweeping, and then went back to the volunteer house. That would be bad enough, but where I was drinking coffee is right in front of everyone who was working. That feels kind of yucky. But you know what feels worse? Electrical current going through your body, when you're wet, standing on a metal roof. And for anyone who forgot, I got tazered pretty good last week. So, no, not feeling so bad about taking an hour off.

Around 4pm, it still hadn't rained again, so I went back out and helped roll up some cords. I spent some extra time looking over the welding leads for the big arc welder, and found several more bare spots that either were new, or that were just missed this morning. I would consider bare wires on an arc welder lead to be potentially life ending. Its those little things that just make my life here so much fun. Electricution. Poisonous snakes, spiders, frogs, and scorpions.

My plan for tomorrow is to try to get out on the roof before the crew gets here, get the arc welder set up, and get some more practice. What they've been doing is to weld the perlins on one side only, to get everything up there quicker, then as I get time I'll go back and fill things in, either with the arc welder, or I can follow at a slower pace with the MIG welder. So, since I can start earlier, I don't take a full hour lunch, I could work later, and I also work longer on Friday, and can work on Sunday... Hmmm

Day 51 - 29 Thursday
It had rained most of last night, so by morning things were pretty wet. I got up early anyway, and had the welder cables plugged in and ready for the crew. At first they didn't seem like they were going to go welding, but I guess they didn't think it was too wet. Jungle rules?

Me, on the other hand, I've had plenty of shocks in this lifetime, so I stayed on the ground, under the tent. John needed some brackets made for the next porch project, so that seemed like a good wet day plan.

I ended up spending most of the day cutting, grinding, drilling, and by supper time I hada good pile of metal ready to prime.

The weather, well, yeah, it sprinkled a few times, so never did really dry out. We're hopping for some sunshine tomorrow.

The next pile of trusses got delivered this afternoon, so we'll be moving right into the next roof. I understand we're planning to have lots of trusses up before the next group of volunteers gets here, and they'll help with putting the red roof metal up. Compared to welding trusses, roof metal is pretty simple to put up. We have a few cordless screw guns ready to go. The roof is a 4/12 pitch, so not really that steep (4 foot rise in 12 feet of run... hope I got that right?)

And as if life wasn't interesting enough, this evening I started seeing flying ants all around us. Like we don't already have enough bugs here?

Day 52 - 30 Friday
7:09 PM 30-Nov-2012
I swear, it feels like midnight, and its barely 7pm. Urg. Tired and sore to the bone. There was no rain this morning, so I got going with the MIG welder right away, and welded pretty much straight through until lunch time. The way things have been going, Mike has been using the big Arc welder to weld the perlins in place, but he only welds one side. Then as I get time, I'll go along and weld the other side with the MIG welder. Not sure how much sense that makes, but that's how we've been doing it so far.

Kind of doesn't make sense, because if you're already there, why not weld both sides and be done with it? Although it does mean they can lay things out faster.

The big problem for me, is its a real pain in the butt dragging the MIG welder around the trusses. On the bottom edge its pretty easy, because we can walk on the porch. At least on the one side of the building. But as you go up the truss toward the middle peak, I've been putting the welder on a truss bottom, on a board. Its like dragging a 50 pound canon ball behind you through the jungle gym. By noon I was exhausted. If I was going to do this more often, I'd be inventing some kind of a pulley cart that could slide across the trusses. But I've been known to invent a $100 fix to a $5 problem.

Then in the afternoon, since its Friday, the rest of the crew left at 1pm. That meant I had the place to myself, so I got to use the big Arc welder. Oh is that ever nice. its got a long enough stinger lead that lets me hit any part of the roof, and the welder itself stays in one place. Oh wow. I do still have to drag about 60 feet of heavy guage wire with me, but its not so bad. Life was good, I was zipping along finishing up the welds, when I felt a cool breeze hit me. Oh oh, that always happens when its about to rain. I lifted the welding helmet a bit, and realized I was about a minute from getting wet. Yikes! The last thing I want to be doing is arc welding in the rain, so I hung the stinger over a truss, and scooted carefully along to the ladder. Once on the ground, I turned off the generator, and about then the floodgates were opened. Cut that pretty close!

I was hoping it would stop in few minutes so I could go pick up where I left off, or at least get the cables off the roof. Half an hour later, the rain finally stopped long enough for me to get the stinger lead down, and put the rest of the tools away. Let me tell you, metal trusses are kind of slippery when they're wet! That was a very slow, careful, freaky few minutes crawling up and then back down.

There is nothing as nice as when your boots are back on solid ground!

With nothing else that I could work on, I decided to do laundry. In all, I did still get to weld a couple hours this afternoon before the rain hit, so it turned out to be a good day.

I might have to look into a career in welding of some kind or other. Until now, most of my career choices have ended up being something people want, not actually need. Wedding photography, computers, people can kind of live with out. Pondering that one for now.

Wow, how is it that tomorrow is December already? Wow. I so don't care, now that I think of it :)

Day 53 - 1st December - Saturday
Hmmm Day of rest. So I rested.
Watched a couple movies, didn't do anything else. Kind of boring, but I guess I needed a down day.
Will make up for it tomorrow.

Day 54 - 2nd Sunday
Yup, glad I rested yesterday!

I slept in an hour today, so started work by 8am instead of 7am. From there on, I welded pretty much non stop until 4pm. I had about 20 minutes for lunch, and maybe 15 minutes waiting for the sprinkling to stop, but other than that, I was up on the roof, burning rods the whole time.

I'm torn. I like the power of the big welder, but the little MIG puts out a much nicer looking weld. If I ever go shopping for a welder, ... well I guess it would depend on what I wanted to do with it right? Anyway...

Now I'm tired. It was pretty nice day today, little breeze, some sunshine, some clowds. Several times I thought for sure the big rain was coming, but it never did. Nice to get a break in the weather at least once in a while :)

Most of the welding is done on the first building now, soon it will be ready for the actual roofing material. I guess its all part of the roof, right? Then again, for all I know, there are 4 more steps before we put the red roof on. Always funny when someone asks me how things are going. How should I know?

Day 55 - 3rd Monday
Rain, MIG welding, burns all over my arms and chest and even down to my hip, my knees, and I got shocked a few times. Sigh.

Today sucked. Big Time.

Usually I just won't weld in the rain, or when things are wet. But it feels yucky, because its, well, I guess disrespectful or something to everyone else who is working. So today I tried to stick it out. I was out on the jungle scaffolding. The guys go out into the jungle and whack down sticks with machettes, and they build scaffolding. I guess they don't like the metal scaffolding or something. Anyway, its already wet, and I'm dragging my MIG welder along on this 12" wide plank, that is nailed down to the jungle sticks. Its actually fairly solid feeling. I'm kind of impressed. Then Kevin, one of the locals, says, oops, look out, that board looks like its broken. Oh great, thanks. Now let me try to levitate myself and my 50 pound welder across the next 6 feet to the next good board.

Then it starts raining, but not really hard yet, so I keep welding. Oh, and I keep getting burned from all the falling sparks, cause I'm welding overhead today. 'Bout burned my nipple off, because the t-shirt for today has a really loose stretched collar. So, later, at lunch time, I'm in my bathroom with my knife, scraping and digging burned in slag from my chest. The only good part is most of the burns had already killed the nerves, so it really didn't hurt too bad. Is it cotterized or vulcanized when you burn a wound so it doesn't bleed?

Except the one that fell all the way down to my belt line, where it got pressed in, and sizzled. Ouch. Its hard standing still when you get burned like that. Nothing worse than getting burned AND falling off the scaffold.

At lunch time I changed shirts, to a newer, dry shirt with a better collar. But by then my welding gloves were pretty wet. Interesting side story there, the welding gloves we bought local kind of suck. I've been getting burned through these regularly. Belize must have a different style of welding, maybe one that doesn't involve melting metals or something, because these are pretty useless. They're kind of made from suade, so I'd thought they were ok. Local cows must be thinner skinned than what I'm used to?

By after lunch my welding gloves are pretty wet, so now I'm also getting shocked while welding. Lets see, shocked, wet, burned, on a scaffold. This might be Hell.

By 4pm, I'm done. Mostly we work till 4:30 or 5pm, but my nerves are fried. I had gone up on the roof to move some boards to get set up for tomorrow, but after a few minutes there I decided I'd be better off waiting, and starting fresh in the morning.

Oh yeah, my welding helmet sucks too. Just saying!

The hard thing for me to get used to, is the fact that I'm not making any money now, so I can't just go buy stuff like I'm used to. When I did my last "working" job, where I worked with tools and stuff, once or twice a week I'd go shopping, and I'd buy tools or what ever to make my life easier. I miss that. Its hard to be a volunteer, knowing that things are crazy expensive here, if they can even find what I need, and knowing that there is a very limited budget. Actually, if anyone reading this has an extra $800,000, more or less, yeah, that's how far short we think we are on the budget.

Or a new welding helmet and gloves would be ok, too.

Tomorrow it all starts again. Some days I just want to go home. Then I remember I'm homeless. So I guess I'll stay for now :)

Day 56 - December 4th Tuesday
Rain. That is all!

Ok, there was some sunshine for a few minutes, just enough to confuse you. From lunch time on, it was either drizzle, sprinkle, misty, or freaking monsoon. It did stop a couple of times, just taunting you to grab something electrical and come out to play.

In the first building we're working on, the smallest of the 4, there is a big open room. We have a large banquet sized tent set up, and some of the bigger tools are kept under the tent. For the afternoon we had the whole crew under the tent, cutting, grinding, and welding. Kind of a tropical version of a sweat shop, you could say. Would have been a fun picture, but I was busy cutting and drilling.

I did keep one eye looking out, though. If I'd seen animals walking past two by two, I wouldn't have been too surprised.

For anyone keeping track, we have the first building nearly ready for the actual red roof metal. We'll be waiting for the volunteer crew to put that on, though. The second building has one end nearly finished already. I mean, the dutch hip end, not a whole half end done. But the end is the slow part, the rest will go fast. We've been learning lessons and work flow in the first building, so the rest should go pretty quick. I hear there are a couple welding people coming down in the next group. Kind of hope they can integrate into the crew. Not sure if that makes sense, but its kind of a mess sometimes, dropping new people into the middle of a crew that already knows whats going on.

None of that applies to me, of course. I'm still pretty clueless :) As long as I have someone working with me to keep me straight, I can do the actual welding, and they can set me up.

Oh, and I did get a welding helmet. Well, sort of. Stanley bought a new helmet, just a basic one, so Mike will be using that one. I get to use the auto darkening helmet when I'm MIG welding. Sorry Mike, I was hoping they'd get a nice one! Apparently the auto darkening helmets are about $300 Belize dollars here. Wow.

Day 57 - 5th Wednesday
Sunshine today. No rain at all. It was nice, might have been almost too hot, but that could have just been because it was so sudden, after all the cool rainy weather.

We are now almost done the roofing structure on the first building, we have started the next two buildings. So we have finished nothing, and we are spread out all over. Kind of a mess, really. I got assigned to finish up one area, which seemed like a good project. To speed things up, the other welder, Mike, is just tacking things up.

The problem, at least in my view, is its double the work, because then I get to go along behind and cover all the same ground. That in it self sucks, but what makes it even worse, is there was a crew of about 4 people, and scaffolds and ladders putting the structure in place. And Mike is using the big welder, which means he has super long welding leads (cables) so can just walk around and weld. When I go in to finish, I'm dragging along my little MIG welder (still weighs 50 pounds, plus about 10 pounds of wire on the spool), and my leads are only 10 feet long. And the scaffolds are moved already, so I'm dragging this welder along on planks threaded through the trusses.

Then, for some reason that I never even stuck around long enough to find out, it was decided to swap things around middle of the afternoon. So, there I was, I'd just gotten my leads and welder untangled and moved to where I could basically finish up my assigned area. The welder had enough time to cool down, so I was ready to go. Jack says its time to move. I said I wanted to actually finish something, for a change. He said no, we're moving. So I moved. Right off the roof, with my gloves and my water bottle. I figured I'd go back when I felt better.

Still don't feel better.

So tomorrow I'm going into town to renew my visa, and I think I'll spend the afternoon drinking cokes, eating Chinese, and get some internet stuff done.

I might take Friday off too.

As I was explaining to John, this whole job is way off my normal comfort pattern. I don't work well with a crew. I'm afraid of heights. I don't normally do construction. I don't communicate well, my hearing isn't so good, and I have little patience with getting jerked around needlessly. And I really have no idea what is going on most of the time. Even when the crew is speaking English, they're hard to understand.

If I had legs, I could run away.

Day 58 - 6th Thursday
I'm in town to renew my visa (which I already did), and now I'm at my favorite Chinese place getting my fix of internet, and curry chicken.

John, Stanley, Jack, and I had a quick meet this morning, then Stanley and I talked a bit more after. Culture is an interesting issue here. Namely, I have no culture I guess :) Anyway, my views were heard, and we'll all try hard to work together for the greater good. Nothing really bad, really.

Anyway, I have a zillion emails to read, so will post this and move on. Thanks for reading!

By Carlin Comm posted on 2012-12-6