Volunteer Vacation Day Seven: Last Day of Building

This was it – the end of the Global Village road. The final day of building had reached. When we pulled up that morning in the van we were greeted by several smiling Tajik children who extended their tiny hands for the shaking. As we walked away from our new friends to the house we saw a huge dump truck filled with dirt blocking our way. As you might guess now this dirt was dumped right in front of the gate. Ignited, we most definitely were, but also curious as to why the dirt couldn’t have shown up two days prior? No matter, we had work! Lots of it! We would go out with a volunteer bang on our last day building!

The mound of dirt was to be shoveled, placed in buckets and moved to the front porch area of the house. At the the time there was clutter filling the hole and once the clutter was removed we started on the task. I did some parts of the bucket line, but also got deeply engrossed with shoveling the dirt. Shoveling is not my strong suit. I have about zero upper body strength, so it takes a lot to really dig into the dirt, yet I was determined. As fast as the dirt had appeared, I wanted it to vanish. I started shoveling like a mad woman, quicker and quicker. Moving dirt wasn’t the only thing happening on this last day either. One volunteer was needed to make a cement paste for brick lying and there were two working on laying bricks in the window frame. I was seriously curious why none of this was thought of the first two days? It could have been they were waiting on materials, but everything we needed with the exception of the dirt appeared to have been there all along.

I wasn’t sure whether we would finish the work in half day’s time, but we did so with flying colors and as a special treat the women of the household made Kurutob! Now one of the other volunteers and me had been searching for this uniquely Dushanbe dish which is mentioned in the Lonely Plant guide in some restaurant we were never able to locate so we were thrilled the women decided to make it for us! I was so excited I’d asked if I could photograph this special occasion and gladly they let me snap away. After my photo session they rushed the large serving down to the worksite table were everyone was waiting to sample the dish. Overall, I believe it is safe to say all enjoyed the dish and I myself especially loved it!

But as I mentioned earlier this was it – the end of the Global Village road. We would return later only to provide the homeowner with gifts and say our final farewell in cleaner attire, but our manual labor was a wrap. Was our mission accomplished? Yes and no. Most of us always believe we can do more, that everyone can do more to help not just in the city of Dushanbe, Tajikistan, but in communities all over the world where there is a need for decent housing. For Dushanbe this was the first time a Global Village team had worked in the city and there is still a lot to learn for the affliiate and most certainly for any future volunteer who decides to embark on over to this incredible country.

Volunteer Vacation Day Six: Every Hand on a Bucket

Sometime early in the trip I made the rule: Every hand on a bucket. If you were one of the players in one of the many bucket lines this was important. Again, the task could have easily been a huge snore, but with all hands and eyes watching a bucket no one should have been completely bored with the bucket line duties. Everyone was to be included. Most of the time this was for me as I hated it when an empty bucket somehow cruised passed me while I was trying to pass a freshly filled bucket. For our second day on the worksite our construction supervisor managed to get it together and give us some real work to do for the day. Okay, so it mostly bucket detail again, but this time there was a lot of mud to transfer.

The mud was to head in two directions. One was behind the house on the back outer wall where there was a lot of spreading to be done and the construction worker back there was very helpful and friendly. The second destination was a room in the front of the house. The entire interior with the exception of the ceiling was to be covered in mud and the construction worker in this room was the complete opposite. All of the volunteers thought of him as some sort of madman. Grunting, slopping mud everywhere, and working quite furiously. No one was certain why this particular Tajik gentleman acted in such manner. We had our guesses though. Too many hands in his pot? Too many women on the worksite? Maybe he just had a few loose screws? The three volunteers that went in to work with him came out a mess. Mud on the hands, face, legs, lips, hair, you name it and mud was there. It was a sight to be seen.

In terms of highlights on day six that was really it. The workload was far too light for us at this site, but we continued wearing smiles and doing what was asked of us. Tomorrow would be the last day of building and a half day. I was a bit sad that there hadn’t been more hard work days and a little relieved. I had to remember the first two were on the back-breaking side.

Volunteer Vacation Day Five: Third Home, Same Duties

Most of the first-timers in the group weren’t surprised when we’d heard we were headed to a third worksite, but some of the veteran builders found this shuffling interesting. On my first Global Village trip five years back in Cluj-Napoca, Romania we stayed at the same worksite for the entire trip and noticed very significant changes from the time we arrived to the day we left. Christina (the six time GV builder) found it strange, but good. If ever you want an idea of how the local people live bouncing from home to home will give you a better understanding quicker. In Tajikistan we could still see what was within our means to lend our helping hands on the first and second homes. Making concrete was not easy at all, but we knew if they’d had more of the wooden frame up we could have knocked the entire concrete portion out. With the second home there is far too much to mention where I’m positive we could have been of use. However, the story was they decided to move us because this family really needed our help. Their goal was to have the home completed by the end of this month.

According to the new homeowner, Anvar, the house had previously caught on fire back on May 3, 1998. The fire was caused by fighting and shooting that had broken out and they were presently staying nearby in a place where rent is $50 USD a month. That kind of money for rent is considered ridiculously expensive which was why the family is really looking to complete the building by month’s end. There are six family members in all: Anvar, his wife, son, daughter and two grandchildren. The daughter who was my age was divorced, which piqued my interest some because divorce is rare in countries like Tajikistan. I never found out much and I would have loved to have sat and chatted with the daughter for a while, but naturally language complications intersected.

Getting started on this new site was frustrating for most of us. The work space was smaller than the previous two and it didn’t seem well-organized or that they had thought out in which ways they desired our assistance. There were too many of us for the duties assigned at this new site which for the first day ended up being some mud smearing on the back side of the house. One or two lucky individuals had their chance to place their fingers in the cool wet mud and smooth it across the rather rough bricks! The others were part of a small bucket line. Many of us became distracted with all the neighborhood children coming by to stare, giggle and chatter. Though the homeowner or his son tried running them off on many occasions they always found their way back to the big bluish metal gate in front of the house to gawk and have their photos taken. We still had two days left and I hoped there would be more to do other than filling our camera’s memory cards with pictures of cute Tajik children.

On the flipside we discovered more about this last homeowner than the other two and with that I felt more connected.

Volunteer Vacation Day Four: Bringing Mud to the Roof

If you recall, yesterday I touched on the mud making process and how we were left out of squishing our feet in the cool wetness of it all which probably would have felt great in Dushanbe’s heat, but with time we would have muddier days. Day four wasn’t going to be one of them. For a brave two volunteers there was the task of going up on the crowded roof to hand off buckets to the construction master, Hussein. The rest of the group would remain below creating a bucket line from the mud mixture to the house where the buckets would then be pulled up top by a rope with a hook. By this time I had really gotten used to this bucket line thing. At first the task seemed a little mundane to have come all the way to Central Asia just to hand off buckets; I mean we wanted to build a house! However at the end of each day you could see the effects of how nine extra bodies impacted the worksite. I could just imagine the build days without so many people around, after mixing mud each construction worker coming out of the circle, each carrying buckets one-by-one up the steps to the hook waiting to pulley them up. I shook off the thought. The process seemed far too slow, too long.

Although I wasn’t brave enough to hang out on the roof for long I went up to investigate just what was going on. A wood frame had been laid down before our arrival and over that wood frame was cardboard. The mud was to be dumped onto the cardboard and smoothed out by Hussein. I found the cardboard aspect interesting and looked around wondering if all homes were created equally and the same in Tajikistan. I pondered the way my own roof was made. Space was getting tight. There were six people on the roof and while I was confident in their housing blueprints combined with our work, I still felt shaky and decided to re-join the bucket line below.

Down on ground level we passed the time away swinging the heavy mud buckets to the sound of whatever songs popped into our heads. At the very front of the line Christina had decided to make the homeowner’s 16 year-old son count each bucket he filled with mud in English up to one hundred. In turn he made me count to one hundred in Tajik. I was an easy target. I was the one running around all day everyday asking for new Tajik words. My little knowledge of Farsi hadn’t come in as handy as I hoped it would, but numbers are still the same with some minor differences in pronunciation. I was exhausted afterwards. No matter which language you’re using to count to one hundred it’s pretty darn tiring to do! Right around the time I finished the work above had been completed and there was no more room to spread mud. The roof was far from complete though. If I’m correct they still need to set or hang some type of tin or aluminum material overhead so the mud doesn’t wash away with the weather. Like standing in the mud mixture we would be exempt from that process too.

Volunteer Vacation Day Three: More Dirt, More Mud

On day three we found we were being moved to a new site for another family close by to the one we had been working with the first two days. This new home was being built from the ground up, but we were coming in with a significant portion of the framing done. The home would belong to a doctor, his wife and 16 year-old son along with the parents of either the doctor or the wife. It became a little unclear and confusing at times how much extended family resided in anyone household in Tajikistan. The part about Habitat Global Village builds I enjoy most is the interaction with the families on the worksite, but the doctor was often at the office, the wife seldom around and the son actually helped out quite a bit when school was out. That day we would be making and mixing mud. Sort of.

All of the women in our group got pretty excited when we heard we would be making mud and mixing mud. We were certain this was the part of the build were we would detox our achy limbs by accidentally getting mud on our arms and legs during the process, but to our surprise and slight disappointment we were not granted the rights to play in the mud. Instead we would fetch water in buckets once more to pour over the dirt and straw that would later get tossed in. Once the straw became part of the equation I don’t really think anyone was dying to jump in. I imagined developing a nasty looking rash from the foreign materials and what my customs form might look like on the way back into the U.S.

U.S. Customs Form: Have you spent any time on farms, pastures, agricultural lands or with any foreign livestock?

My Response:
Of course not. I just rolled and tossed around in Grade-A Tajikistan hay.

So my volunteer vacation continued being more of a construction boot-camp than a spa excursion with detoxing-mud treatments. I was cool with that. My body was starting to adjust to the physical labor and I could barely feel pain anymore. Second to creating mud we had to shovel dirt into buckets and fill in the hole that would later become the front porch. Neither task was exactly easier than other in the blazing dry heat. Throughout the day we took many water breaks which gave us time to joke with our onsite volunteers/translators (Khushvakhtullo and Khurshed) and probe them for useful Tajik or Russian phrases. Beyond the language the entire group was eager to learn more about the families. And little by little we learned more and more. Aside from our small cultural lessons and unfaltering efforts day three on the worksite was slightly uneventful in regards to anything shocking. Once we filled the porch and the mud and straw had been mixed our day was done. Tomorrow all that mud would go up right onto the roof!