We’ve finished our fourth work day, and with it arrives the weekend in Nepal. Naturally we are all dead tired, working out muscles that few of us on the team even knew we had. This sort of work isn’t routine for any of the volunteers (a disheartening lack of professional carpenters on the team this go around…), so we are all sweaty and spent by the end of the day.
Speaking of routines, now that we’ve made it a week, we have indeed found ours. Mornings start early here in Pokhara, rising around 5:30AM to slog ourselves down for breakfast and instant coffee before heading out the door at 7. We hop aboard our ramshackle bus for the bumpy ride through the tourist port where our hotel lay, and on towards our worksite in Lakeside about 45 minutes away. Four work days in, it is indeed starting to feel like a commute, but with that truly glorious Machapuchare impressing it’s sacred visage upon us, this is not a bad morning grind.
The kids almost always greet us as we descend the hill into the valley of our worksite. We greet them, and they smile toothy ‘Namaste!’s our way, instantly brightening the day. They’ve taken a liking to me in
particular, as I’ve got the arms they like to grab on to as I swing them around like a helicopter. They love saying my name, (‘BRUUHKS!!’), while flexing their arms and making snarly face. I’m some sort of hammer wielding American Gurkha to them, and I’m gonna let ’em believe it.
The frame of the place was already set up when we began work on Tuesday, so the next step was to fill in the siding with bamboo slats. This is a real labor intensive work–not hard work per se, though some of the knots in the bamboo were a bitch to hack through with the blade. This is good work, and I already really dig working with bamboo. Maybe there’s a bamboo gazebo in my future-backyard? Or yours? (I’m cheap)
We also began filling in the floor area with large stones, atop the dirt and rocks tossed in from digging the latrine. This was an all-hands-on-deck effort, requiring everyone on the team to shuffle from the
rock pile to the house, tossing rocks in through the future-windows and future-doors. After filling in the huge rocks, the next effort was to fill in between with tiny stones and pebbles, in order to minimize the empty spaces so the cement can go in efficiently. This required a bit more finesse, and it was a fun game to try to fill the hole as tightly as possible. If there’s a joke there, I don’t see it.
OH, I’ve caught a Nepali friend! (they’re basically Pokemon). Anil Sky,
one of the Habitat Nepal helpers, has become a good buddy on the job site, riffing with me and taking little seriously as we haul rocks and cement around the house. He’s a sharp guy and hilarious, and after I told him how much I was interested in finding and acquiring a traditional flute, he brought his in the next day and let me play it. I was terrible–flutes have never been kind to me–but as Anil saw how much I liked attempting the thing, he took a sharpie to it, and presented it to me as a gift. Anil Sky, my first Nepali friend: Facebook official!
The Technicians, as they’re called, are Nepali workhorses, hired by the future homeowner and assisted by us volunteers (hacks, really), and are fully capable of building this entire thing themselves. Are we really helping? Are we just rich white Americans wanting to pretend we’re doing good, but really just getting in the way of a culture left best to it’s own device?
No, I don’t see it that way. Habitat for Humanity’s system works with interested home owners on the system of what they call “sweat-equity”. This means that the interested people looking to acquire a house from Habitat have to put in a significant amount of work themselves on the house being build, right alongside the volunteers. They they purchase the house directly from Habitat, with a small down payment, and a small mortgage-style monthly payment system. This way, they are truly attached to the site by virtue of having labored into it, and by having a bit of a halo of help from Habitat up above.
What we are doing is offsetting the cost of the payments (labor, materials) by working for ‘free’ alongside the hired help–those that know what they’re doing. Yes, the Nepali’s could probably finish the house in two-thirds the time, but we’re providing free labor and empathy, helping people afford a house that they otherwise likely wouldn’t (in this case, Sharmila Pariyar, who survives on Nr500/day), while inspiring the kids with the understanding that the world may be big, but it doesn’t have to be terrifying.
Yes, our hotel may be a little ‘wifi-enabled’ compared to the rest of Nepal, yes, our meals may be a little ‘luxuriously nutritional’, yes, our bus may have fans in it that actually work, but all it takes is one look in the faces of the mother and daughter that will be living in the home we’re building, one smile from Siva, or Kris, or Carun, or any of the kids that have play with us day after day, and one massive goodbye wave as we leave the site each afternoon reassures me that we’re doing a good thing here.