Sunday, 17 May 2015

Day 4 - First day of real work (perhaps in our lives!) (11-May-2015)

We were horrified to be told that breakfast would be served at 7am – but that's what happened! Frank, again, served the best scrambled eggs in the world. I mean, really, the best!

This is not the most flattering photo of our colleagues, so I'm not going to tell you their names now – but look at that spread!

Then we headed over to the orphanage to swap cars around / drop stuff off / pick stuff up... etc. Here we met the crew that we would be working with this week. Stupidly, I didn't take a photo at that point, but I have MANY photos as we go through the next few days. I will just list them for completeness.

The foreman is Fred. He is employed by Open Arms, and really manages all the build projects. The rest of the crew are casual workers, and they are paid just over a dollar a day in local currency. This is about double the going rate.

They are George (who is always wearing a woolly hat), John and Hadj who are the brickies; Leifer (or “no mistake”) and Luis who do most of the heavy lifting that us Muzungu just cannot do; William, Youssouf and Sinoah.

Around about the point of the introductions, one of my boots fell to pieces. I have had them an awful long time – probably going on for 20 years, but I expected more from Salomans! This caused a diversion for me to collect my sandals (the only other shoes I have with me - which is unusual, as I normally travel like Imelda Marcos, but unfortunate, as the boots offered a little protection from the terrain, whilst the sandals really don't)

By the time I got back to the site, the thatch was already down and burning, and the walls were not holding up a great deal of resistance to the hammering they were getting. The old hose was made of a bamboo frame, and plastered in dried mud. The technique was to break all the dried mud, to remove any structural strength that this was giving, and then to push the whole thing over using brute force. We Muzungu may not have much building experience, but brute strength and enthusiasm were available in bucket loads.

Meanwhile, Mike was digging a pit for a latrine (right next to the burning thatch, which made the job much more comfortable and bearable I'm sure!)

This photo is actually from tomorrow (when the professionals had completed the job) but you can see the pride in his little face! Latrines would normally need to be dug to three metres deep – but if they reach water they stop. They reached water here after about a metre. I guess this is to protect the water supplies from the contents of the latrine – but it occurs to me that if you wait until you hit water, that might be too late?? What do I know! (a few days later, I find that this is utter nonsense. It still needed to go another 2.5 metres down, but they had to allow water to drain away before continuing)

After all that enthusiasm, it was time for a break. This is the J&J gang sitting the shade of the neighbours house.

From left;  Françoise (from Consumer, Zug), Tessa (from Consumer, Maidenhead), Me, Pavel (from Consumer, Zug), Peter (from Janssen, UK) and Pierre (from Consumer, Zug). Obviously, Michael is taking the pic.

This little patch of shade has been shared over the last few days by us and the actual workmen (!), and the extended family who live in this house.

The neighbours have also been invaluable in the build by maintaining the water supply for the cement. Tessa, Françoise and myself, as the ladies in the team, got to accompany the ladies on a water run. The “pump” is about 500 metres from the house, and water is carried on the head. We all tried this (some with more success than others) with our child sized buckets (the real women carried large open washing bowls – we had small buckets that probably only held three litres of water!)

The pump is broken. Water seeps to the top of the pipe (where the pump handle should be) and is scooped out using a cup. This takes a LONG time for a big bucket. I know there are pictures of this, but I don't have them, as I was focusing on the bucket of water on my head, and trying not to take an early shower!

I was SLOW. To cover my embarrassment, when passing other women I pretended to dance. This seemed to entertain them, even if it meant I was a bit damp by the end!

Once back on site, I seemed to develop a bit of a crush on one of the brickies. Hadj is just on the bottom left corner of this picture. He is carefully and meticulously lining up the first corner, and I am faithfully handing him bricks. Hadj only has one English word, and that is “Block!” If he would only learn to say “Stop!” too, I would not keep tripping him up with unwanted help!

Anyway, Hadj features a lot in my photos, because he is just so meticulous, and I found him great to watch. Note, my colleagues and Fred, the foreman, all standing in a line, watching me work!

This is a wide view of the site, just as we were leaving at lunchtime. Just so you all understand the agenda, each day we get to the site around 7:30 (or 8 ish...), we work until midday, and then everybody stops for lunch. The crew have their lunch at the site, but us volunteers get whisked off to the orphanage for our lunch. After lunch, most of us do not return to the site, and it is just too damn hot. (We all have infinite respect for the crew who keep going). Today, Peter went back to the site. He really has found his place in the crew, and is happy to be there. Writing this a few days later, it took the rest of us a little longer to settle into our roles.

We had lunch at the orphanage – which was an amazing spread. I will tell you all about the lunches once I have a photo – it took us until Wednesday to remember to photograph the food before just diving in!

I have started a little tradition of greeting the staff at the home in the kitchen loudly in the local language, to which they all respond loudly (spelling is going to be wrong her) it sounds like:
Me: “Mwudi Bwanchi”
Them (chorus): “Didi Pweno”
Me: “Didi Pweno, Se Komo”
Them: “Se Komo”
Makes me happy anyway! Basically it's just Hello, how are you? I'm well, I'm well too, Thank you... sounds more exotic in Malawian.

There is a sign for a “sewing workshop” right next to the orphanage, so after lunch today Françoise, Pierre and myself took a walk around there. I love African fabric, and was keen to investigate the possibilities of getting a skirt made for me.

The workshop helps orphans and also teenagers who (euphemistically) “get themselves into trouble” to develop a trade. This is a wide photo of the workshop, and today they were working on a set of uniforms for a lodge up on Lake Malawi. It was set up by a Swiss lady called Metti.

Anyway, with help from Pierre, Françoise and I chose our fabrics. Pierre was not interested in choosing patterns, though, and ran away at that point in proceedings! Two skirts were ordered for 6000 Kwatcha each (around $12)

As we were leaving the orphanage, Chicu (the matron at the orphanage) returned from Mangochu with a new baby girl, call Madalitzon. How cute, I thought, a new born baby, and at 2.8kg (less than 6lb) she could have been new born. She's not. She's five months old.

As well as being seriously malnourished, she's also HIV+. Not a great start in life to be honest. But she's in a good place now.

We all whiled away the afternoon back at the cottage, Except Peter, who went back to the building site. Just a quick note about how dedicated this was – it was HOT. We were all stinking sweaty, and the only thing I could think about was a cool shower. To walk back to the building site this afternoon was dedication above and beyond. Of course, our Malawian colleagues had no choice but to continue working. Peter earned a great deal of respect for this (from us and the Malawians).

In the evening we drove to the Skinny Hippo for dinner. This is a bar run by a Malawian, which is, apparently, quite rare. The bar has a small swimming pool, which was filled to the gunnels with Malawian teenagers having a grand time. None of them could swim, so they were all wearing life vests!

When we arrived, it was before sunset, and it seemed that dinner on the patio would be a good idea... as the sun set, the mozzies started biting, and we reversed that decision. Dinner was fried Chambo fish with chips and green beans. It was absolutely wonderful!

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