Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 4: Rebar

What a jam packed day today.  We had breakfast together as usual at 7:30am, but this day was planned with surprises.  One of our team members is having her birthday today, so while we were eating, the lights in the restaurant were turned out and all of a sudden we had a birthday cake.  Not a bad way to start the day.

After breakfast we were waiting to leave at 8:30am when we were told there would be a delay as there was a political dispute between two families...not associated with the the village.  Several phone calls were made and finally by 9:15am it was decided that all was OK to head to the village.  Upon arriving we were confronted by the a man swinging a branch at our bus, yelling all kinds of things.  The bus driver just turned off the bus and we sat there for about 5 minutes until he finished yelling and then headed on his way....interesting greeting!!  Apparently this man creates all kind of problems in the village and has been known to have a fairly bad drinking problem.

By 10:00am we were at our build site and ready for another day.  Today we were told people would continue to work on the house that needed sand sifted and help with plastering and painting the house.  They also told us we needed 5 people to go to a new house where a 1000 bricks needed to be moved.  This home is larger than the others we have been working on, as there are two families living there...5-6 people.  Finally, 5 of us needed to stay at the original house we started, as people were there to start the rebar work.  Since I've never done rebar work, I thought I would volunteer to help at this house to begin with.

While we were waiting at the house to get started, we started talking to one of the young girls in the village.  She showed us a neat way to blow bubbles.  There is a tree in the village where you can break off the leaves and then snap the stem.  A liquid comes out and if you blow very carefully you will get bubbles...easier said than done, but very cool.

Finally it was time to start working.  We spent a good little bit watching the guys cut and bend the rebar.  It's all done by hand and hard work.  To cut the rebar they have one person holding a small axe, which is placed on the piece of rebar and then another person hits the axe with a sledgehammer about 5 times before it breaks through.  Then they have a machine they've created that has makings for the rebar and another person bends the rebar into small squares.  Once the pieces were cut we then were shown how to tie the rebar....easier said than done!!!  After many tries and lots of correction...I'm sure the guy who was showing us was having a great laugh...we finally got the hang of it.  Apparently the guys thought we did a great job...they were surprised!  I can say however, that I was no good at twisting the wires we tied on, so I stuck with tying them.  The motto with Habitat is you do what you can.

We first tied straight bars of rebar to create a square base that would be put at the bottom of each of the six holes we built.  Then we took the little squares that were made and attached them to create long columns.  These columns would then attach to the base we made and go into the hole.  There were about 6 of us working on the rebar all morning and by noon we had finished all six columns.  One more accomplishment checked off our list!!

Today is the last day before Good Friday, so our foreman is leaving early to head home to see his family.  For this reason, the afternoon was not a build day, but rather a cultural experience day.  Habitat believes that the entire build experience should be more than just building homes, so they include all kinds of activities and information about India into our days.  For the afternoon we spent time in the fields where the women were working.

Rice and peanuts are the crops that are behind in the fields where we are working.  Many of the women head there everyday to pick the rice and peanuts.   We see them everyday coming in from the fields with sticks and crops being carried on their heads...very cool!!!  Their work is very difficult and shade at all in the fields.  The first woman we met had worked in the fields her entire life...she looked to be in her 50's or 60's, but who knows.  She had no front teeth left and cataracts to the point where she could barely see.  She came out of the field to show us the tool she used to pick the rice...very primitive.

From here we came across a man who was watching to ensure the goats did not go into the fields and eat the rice.  He was sitting under a tree in the shade and every time the goats came close he would yell out and run after them.  The goats are pretty cute, but I'm sure not so great for the crops.

Further along we came across the peanut fields.  Peanuts grow in the ground and kind of look like potato crops.  The peanuts we saw were not yet ready to be picked, but some further down were being harvested while we were there.  The crops seemed to be rotated, with rice crops only being in the ground three times a year for a total of 180 days...the other 180 or so days, the workers may have no work.  Last year they had lots of rain and a monsoon wiped out the crops....very difficult for everyone.

The villagers here eat a lot of rice.  It is about 10 INR (Indian Ruppees)....$0.25....for a 50Kg bag.  Most families would eat rice with everyone one of their meals.  The guy at one of the houses we are working at told us he sometimes eats chicken, but 1 pound would cost 100 INR...$ on a 5000 INR salary a month, that's a lot of money!!!!  It is no doubt hard for them to get enough vitamins and nutrients and in fact, one of our home owners had to go to the hospital today and they told her she had low sugar and was very weak....hope she is feeling better when we return next week.

We headed back to the village around 3:30pm and spent the next 30 minutes chatting with the villagers and the local kids.  More and more of the children come out at lunch some of our team was actually playing cricket with them.  One of the houses we were working on this week had two windows and a door put on...looks great!!  We were told that according to astrology, today was a "good day" to install the door, so it was put in even before all the brick work and frame was ready.  Once it was installed it was blessed and red dots placed around it.  Then they hung an evil eye outside it to ward off any evil spirits...very interesting to hear all about this.  The two women that have been working very hard at this site are very proud of the home.  I think one is the homeowner and the other a relative.

We arrived back at the hotel around 5:00pm and then headed to dinner around 7:30pm.  Jennifer surprised us all with a lovely gift...a book that was written by Grace Hickey, a grade 5 student from PEI!!  She won a Canada wide contest that asked grades 4-6 students to write about what home meant to them...what an amazing story.  The book is a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity PEI, so if anyone would like a book they are still available for purchase...just let me know.

After dinner, we planned to surprise our Birthday we told everyone we had a team meeting in one of the other team members room.  They had gone out and bought balloons...tied up with dental floss..., flowers, wine, champagne...only bottle in Pondicherry...streamers...held up with medical tape... and a party hat for the birthday girl....we are a creative and sneaky bunch.  Once she arrived in the room we all appeared and wished her a Happy Birthday...she had no idea this was going to happen.  We also bought her a beautiful picture frame made out of recycled paper and each of us signed it as a gift.  So with drinks in all our hands, we made a toast, had lots of stomach muscles are still sore...and finished off the night by 10:30pm.  Long day, but one of the best yet...can it get any better!!!

Until tomorrow....

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