I have to apologize for going more than a week between posts… I have been working on the garden shed with two guys, Nicholas and Karaoke, from 8:00 till 5:00 every day (and last week, I spent all of my free time napping because of late night baseball games). The shed is going so well. Nicholas and Karaoke are fantastic guys; Karaoke knows exactly what to do to make my design ideas actually happen. Sometimes, some of the permanent Daraja workers come to help build, deliver truckloads of material, or even just to stand around and watch (which is pretty awkward). So I find it funny that I am an 18-year-old mzungu girl working with and directing four or five African guys, but we have fun.
The first day, I awkwardly stood around and removed wheelbarrows full of soil as Nicholas did the digging. Somewhere within the first ten minutes of digging, Nicholas made a surprised noise. He had driven the pick into a water line, chipping out a chunk of the plastic. Water gushed out of the pipe, quickly filling the two-foot deep trench. Baya sana (very bad). However, some of the guys repaired it quickly, and Nicholas kept digging while I… watched.
It took me about an hour to decide that this arrangement wouldn’t work out for me. Who told me, after all, that I could not use a pickaxe? When had being an 18-year-old girl ever stopped me from doing anything? So I grabbed a pickaxe and a shovel, and with a combination of watching Nicholas and remembering working in the MA garden, I garnered enough technique to dive into digging a trench of my own. For the rest of the week, I worked alongside the men. Nevertheless, I’m certain the thoughts going through my head as I worked – mostly motivational exclamations like “Oh yeah!” or “You got this!” – differed slightly from the thoughts of my fellow workers. They, and all the other men who stopped by to stand around and watch, didn’t comment on my working for the most part, but they were clearly curious, impressed, and possibly amused too. By the end of the week, we had carved two-foot trenches into rock hard earth everywhere a wall would stand. We then filled them with marm, a type of soil found about four feet underground here that compresses well, and created a level floor of marm as well. Now, I have the calloused hands and sore upper body to prove that I am the manual laborer too, not just the architect.
This week so far, we have built the walls to be more than two feet high (5 or 6 courses of bricks). Directed by Karaoke, we first lay the corner bricks, check with a plumb bob to make sure they are plumb with the lower corners, lay strings to direct the bricks of this course, and trowel the mortar below and between each massive brick. It’s so exciting… I can’t believe I’ve been a part of the construction from sand and soil to these beautiful, strong, brick walls. They are tall enough now that the building really has taken shape, and seems like a reality instead of just a design dreamed up by the girls and me.
Yesterday, during sports, the girls got the opportunity to help with the building too. Half of them made more bricks (we need at least 800 to complete it, and we’ve made only just over 450!), while the other half got a lesson on mortaring bricks with Karaoke. They loved it, as always. They talked about making the bricks at home with their families over break, and especially about coming back to help with the shed as soon as possible. I think they truly feel ownership over it, as they should, since they have helped from the very beginning. They are so confident and excited about brickmaking; they even have little pieces of brick-packing technique that they have developed on their own. As we worked, we talked about travel, and they reminded me once again of their drive and ambition. I just can’t get over how amazing they are.
So hopefully by the beginning of next week, the walls will be up, and we can start on roofing. The building looks beautiful so far; I wish I could share pictures. I’ll keep taking pictures at every stage to bring back and show everyone. Pia confessed yesterday, “You know, I didn’t expect that the bricks we made a couple weeks ago would really make a building.” I don’t know if anyone could have imagined on 10.10.10 that the bricks we made could actually construct a functional shed, but we certainly have proven that they can. That transformation before the eyes of the girls from vision to action is a pretty powerful one to demonstrate, and I think, and hope, that they see and are awed by that as much as I myself am.