The phrase originated from the Nigerian ‘Igbo’ culture as the proverb “Ora na azu nwa,” traditionally understood as the notion that the entire village influences and raises every child, but as I’ve discovered on the first ‘build day’ here in Pokhara, it also applies to building homes and with it, the community.
Along with we intrepid American volunteers, local villagers are hacking away at the latrines and hammering bamboo framing right alongside us. We are the fair-skinned foreigners, shipped in from a far-away land to lend a helping hand to ensure that the village is vibrantly aware that they are real, that they are taken care of. Today was the first day of the 2012 Habitat for Humanity Pokhara, Nepal build.
We arrived by bus after a stunning commute through the lake-front village of Pokhara, a sleepy paradise surrounded by the delicately imposing and god-like Himayalas. Forty-five minutes of driving around, gasping at the beauty of those snow-capped peaks in the distance gave us the sense that we were doing something special, that these sights on our way to our humanity-ordained worksite was truly valid and good.
A number of local Pokhari children watched us unload from our bus, as we looked around, wondering just where we were going. There was no construction site, no sounds of hammering, or banners to mark the territory. No, we had to walk down into the valley to find where we were going to spend our next two weeks working. This was not a problem, as around every bend was a stunning waterfall, or a massive green gorge, or a rushing white river to move us onward.
In the distance, there were a group of villagers, clad in colorful garments alongside smiling children holding flowers. Yes, they
were waiting for us, and indeed we had arrived. As they lay white scarves over our necks and handed us flowers smiling “Namaste”, Julia started crying, just as she said she would. This was bigger than I had ever imagined.
We walked over to the build site and sat down as we were briefed on the rules and methods to the project. The frame was already up, built primarily with bamboo stalks driven into a concrete and stone foundation. There was a lot of work to do, which was explained to us all as Pokhiri children intently but playfully studied us.
Today’s plan was twofold: to install shaved bamboo slats into the walls of the frame, for later mortaring, and to dig up the latrine for the bathroom house, utilizing the stone and dirt to fill up the inside of the house to raise the flooring to the proper height. My roommate Bob and I instantly started working on the ditch-digging, being, you know, the macho motherfuckers we are.
It was tough–I spent a lot of my time slamming a pickaxe into the ground to dig up the rocks and loosen the dirt so we could shovel it into the house. The Nepali had a great technique for it which I quickly adopted, and we all worked hard together for two and a half hours in the blazing sun, joking, laughing, talking pigeon-English and getting it done. Water was crucial throughout though there was no refrigeration (you Americans and your refrigeration….).
I spent my down time playing with the local kids, banging on bamboo stalks playing repeat-after-me music with them. They were so much fun, and though we had absolutely no language in common, we found ourselves mimicking each other and laughing like incredible doofuses. They liked to climb all over me, and at one point, I rode a bike with one of them piggy-backed on me, racing two other kids on a bike. We had a blast.
As the sun got hotter in the sky, we started to wrap up our work. The latrine was nearly 5 feet deep, and nearly two thirds of the floor was filled up to the right level. The team working on weaving the bamboo slats had completed nearly all of the back wall, and the house looked visibly better than when we arrived. The Nepali were so happy. Working in digital music never once gave me the sense of accomplishment that we’d already gotten working at this site for barely a day.
We’ve got nearly two weeks to go, and we’ve already made fantastic progress. If we keep this pace up, we might even finish ahead of schedule.
The Pokhiri Nepali we are working with are so wonderful and gracious and full of the purest and most loving essence of life. We’re not only building houses here, but building relationships and true community. I’ve already fallen in love with these kids and want to see them thrive. We’ve been accepted into their world.
This was such a great idea.