I balance atop a shaky ladder constructed of long log braces and rickety stick steps held together with loose wire as I look out across the dust-blown fields surrounding Rhiannon Community in northern Ecuador. The hammer thuds against wood as I struggle to wrestle bent nails back into new braces that we cut from warped boards with a hacksaw. Our efforts to hold the greenhouse together through another day's pounding by the constant Andean wind are confounded by that same defiant yet predictable antagonist. The recycled materials we scrounged up from around the site fail to meet our needs. Dust stings my eyes and fills my ears, nose and mouth while my hair escapes the hat on my head to whip my cheeks in treacherous concordance with the intangible enemy. Frustration builds.
"You zink it work?" queries my French construction companion Ludo, speaking more with his large bushy eyebrows and lanky frame than with words. Though he is the mastermind behind the repairs design, he is as lost as the rest of us working on the project.
"I don't know buddy. I don't know," I reply in resignation with a slight shake of my head. I grab another bent nail and continue my futile task.
The Rhiannon Community is an organic farming community attempting to implement permaculture ideas to help increase self-sufficiency and decrease waste. A positive but complicating characteristic of self-sufficiency is a strong mentality of recycling and reusing. For our greenhouse repairs, we are meant to reuse the same plastic that has already been ripped and removed from the battered eucalyptus frame and tack it down with the same wood that failed to secure the plastic the first time.
At times the frustration creeps into the forefront of my mind and I find myself unnecessarily stressing over something outside of my control. Over the last year I have found myself in many situations where I could see my efforts doing little to surmount the task before me. Quite often my role has been as a short-term helping hand with no time to undertake any significant action in a project. I have learned though that maintaining a positive and flexible mindset is essential reguardless of the task. Being able to participate with enthusiasm and share constructive energy at all times is the best gift you can give someone.
The more I allow the stress and frustration to slip away, the more I see how my small efforts help support something larger than myself. For example, the community provides free English language classes in the nearby rural school, and, since Rhiannon is a permanent member of the municipality of Malchingui, maintains a consistent and long-term relationship there. Therefore, albeit indirectly, my actions supporting Rhiannon in turn support this positive presence.
The sun begins to set on another day of work. I look out across the valley behind the community and marvel at the snow-capped peak of volcano Cayambe drenched in the bright but dying colors of the day's last light. Stress melts away.
"Iz wery beauteeful, no?" says Ludo turning to me with his bushy brows arched high with inquisitive intent.
"It sure is," I reply in quiet contemplation. "We're lucky to experience it, aren't we?"
As I appreciate the beauty that surrounds me, I find myself giving thanks for all the difficulties and frustrations I have encountered along the way. Each new challenge has pushed me to higher levels of patience and positive thinking. I suppose when it comes to character-building, frustration provides the framework for self-improvement.