Volunteer Vacation Day One: Shovels, Buckets, & the Pit

On the days leading up to my departure both friends and family raised their eyebrows and shook their heads as I casually talked about my coming vacation. Vacation in their eyes is not taken in unpronounceable places bordering Afghanistan like Tajikistan and most certainly does not involve any kind of strenuous labor. While many applauded my efforts, several just wished I’d picked a different destination. In my eyes aid is aid and it makes no difference in which part of the globe one decides to lend a helping hand. I thought about all these things as sweat trickled off my brow rolling its way down and around my chin.

For the first day the team had been broken up into three groups. There were those who shoveled dirt into buckets, those who carried dirt to the pit, and those who worked in the pit shoveling and smoothing the dirt. I was part of the bucket line. The temperature was easily 100 degrees. The Tajik construction masters and workers watched in slight disbelief as our team of nine foreigners; seven women and two men baked with our tools in the heat. We were hard workers and wanted to do great things for the homeowner on his worksite. All of our building would be done in Dushanbe, the capital city of Tajikistan, but this particular community or village was called Konstitutsiya as I was told by one of our helpful translators Khushvakhtullo. The homeowner’s name was Rahmon which meant merciful or kind and the adorable child he often carried was his grandson Ishmael. The women were rarely ever around.

Everyone on the site was pleasant and though carrying buckets of dirt took a toll on my scrawny little arms this was the type of cultural exchange I’d been looking for. This was my second Global Village build with Habitat for Humanity International, but after five years it was long overdue. I’d learned from the first the importance of giving something or anything back to the communities in my far off excursions felt highly rewarding. Interacting in ways beyond that of the average tourist I became apart of larger cultural exchange. Along with each pass of my two buckets 3/4 filled with dirt to our Tajik construction supervisor, Saiali, I passed a smile and a little hope, I’m sure. In Tajikistan the average house cost $4,864 USD. The average income I was told was around $20-$30 USD a month. Part of me couldn’t imagine. As I lifted another bucket I tried to picture what living in the country year round must be like? It was difficult.

Our knowledge of the Tajik language increased far faster on site than it would have just walking Rudaki. Most of us tried using terms like rahmat (thank you) and iltimos (please) as we exchanged tools or buckets. I challenged things a bit by asking for words and phrases like superstar and piece of cake. Jokingly I told our new friends the work was easy or khelyi sabud, but it wasn’t all that easy as everyone continued working their butts off and by the end of the day our huge dirt mound was practically nothing. We’d successfully moved most of the dirt needed to fill the foundation of the room from the mound to the room. We titled the room the pit considering it was nothing more than an empty space prior to our being there. Our volunteers, Allie and Diego in the pit were by far some of the dirtiest and like vacuums, sucked up the most dirt. At the end of day one the entire team could feel their efforts in their bones and see them in bruises that had only began to develop.

It was a good day and we were told the next would be harder. This is just the beginning of my volunteer vacation in Tajikistan.