Tuesday, 17 July 2012

I am Now a Construction Worker

Monday we went and visited Omwabini Centre and meet the staff. I was having the time of my life because, for the first time, I could stay in the background and observe the goings on without being noticed too much. I loved the innocence and interest and questions of the Eerkes family. Their shock, dismay, and excitement at the challenges and successes of Omwabini was refreshing to see. It was similar to the feeling one gets when the see a newborn- a weird comparison I know, but the feeling is the same. I felt like a proud mother when they somewhat awkwardly greeted their first person with “Habari” and used the appropriate handshake. I am thoroughly enjoying their curiosity about this culture that I have become so accustomed to. I am loving answering their questions. I so enjoy hearing their attempt at the Swahili greetings. Their amazement at the interest shown to them because they're white makes me chuckle and remember my first weeks trying to deal with such experiences.

Today, Tuesday, I woke up early expecting to get to work before the sun however, we ended up leaving for the job site at 9. The compound begins to come alive outside my window by 5 AM and, in my excitement, I often find that I can't sleep anymore. This morning I simply got up and readied myself for my first African work day. We were to begin building a house for a family of seven children. Both parents are alive, but they are extremely poor. The roof was held on by large rocks but, one night a rock fell through the hole and nearly landed on one of the children sleeping below. The father has many brothers and most are quite wealthy but they refused to help their brother to build a new house.

The outline of the house is up. 
So we all piled into the van and set off for Joseph's house. The first job was to stake out the outline of the new house. It took awhile to get it completely square as we only had a measuring tape as our guide. But we eventually got our 18 by 14 foot rectangle squared off. I was in charge of roping off the area after which they went through and measured off the locations for the main posts. Once that was completed we pounded staked into the ground, pulled off the rope and began digging the post holes. Now, here we use what looks like 5 foot long pieces of rebar to dig these holes. Since I was the only woman who had stayed to dig I ensured that I at least completed one hole. I was quite embarrassed to realize that the father Joseph, had completed about 7 while I was still working on my first hole. We need to dig about 2 feet down and about 6 inches in diameter. The rebar tore up my soft “teacher hands” and I now have about 15 blisters to prove it. The satisfaction of finishing that hole was worth it.

Here I am digging my hole. Beside me is Ken digging his post hole. I have decided to attempt work in a skirt in the African style. It's actually much more cool than I expected.

Gradually supplies from the surrounding community began to arrive and, once the four corner holes were dug they began cutting large quartered logs to the appropriate length using machetes. So, with wood chips flying through the air, we continued our digging. After a few hours we had 20 holes dug and the poles well on their way to being firmly placed in their locations. We stopped for our tea break and then us wazungus were hustled off to hobnob with our spring project. Relationship building is highly important but, while we left the work in extremely capable hands, I still felt like I was copping out on our work.

The rest of the day was spent puttering around in our creaky old van over ditches and gullied roads, waving like Queen Elizabeth to all the children walking home from school, and playing football with the kids at Omwabini.

The stamina and the work ethic of these Kenyans has even out done our (the Eerkes' and my) communal Dutch Calvinist traditions - Overall a wonderful and exhausting day.

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