Monday, December 19, 2011

intern takes a trip: nepal part 3

namaste again from nepal! well, i am now officially finished with the habitat for humanity build part of my trip to nepal. this has been the toughest, most physically challenging 2 weeks of my life.  i thought i was fit before i came here but i had no idea what building a home the old fashioned way in a developing country entailed.  in l.a. there are all of these fancy bootcamp classes and gyms...  i think habitat should seriously consider creating their own workout regimen... a full body workout with a great physique and a few houses to show for it!  the tools we used were completely old school - shovels, picks, spades, a screen for sifting sand and good old fashioned arms for lifting. the fact that 4 families now have homes because of our hard work almost makes the nasty hotels worthwhile. my habitat team was really awesome and completely made up for the fact that our leaders were so very far from it.  it was very cool how we worked together in harmony so quickly after having only just met.
the outhouse from hell
 such a crazy experience building in this tiny little very poor village with children and animals constantly underfoot.  i was nervous about the kids always picking up the tools and running around with them and was completely convinced that someone was going to be seriously injured from that...  little did i know that a visit to the outhouse from hell was going to be a cause of a head injury on my part.  yep, you read that correctly. i walked straight into a very low door frame and have a massive bump on my forehead to show for it. leave it to me to injure myself during a visit to the bathroom.  we did not have adequate first aid supplies for this trip (only one cold pack brought by the leaders for 14 people during a two week period and that was used by the leader herself on day 2) so it was several hours before i had something cold to press onto it and even days later i have a pretty good knot...  now when people ask about the big bump on my head i think i am going to have to have a much better story prepared than i hit my head exiting the bathroom in a tiny village in nepal. we'll keep that little tidbit between us...
yep, my floppy hat may have had something to do with why i didn't see the door

kids "helping"
taking tools from kids

the families we were building for are from the very poorest caste in nepal. we learned that their last names determine what class/caste they and their children will be a part of for the rest of their lives.  wow.  i have to say that bit of knowledge really affected me, especially going through this massive career change at this point in my life.  i cannot imagine my place in life being determined before my birth.  i am so very lucky to live in a culture where you can be rewarded well for hard work and overcome odds no matter what social class you may have been born into.  it is unlikely that any of these children will be able to rise above their current level of poverty and that is really heartbreaking.  one of the guys in our group (part of the cute l.a. married couple) really bonded with this 14 year old boy who has dreams of becoming an architect someday. i hope they are able to stay in touch because i  know that this guy could be an amazing mentor to the boy with his positive attitude and strong work ethic.  before we left he wrote the boy an inspiring letter about the importance of staying in school (his parents work very hard in order to pay the expensive 70 rupees -less than $1- per month for his education) including his contact info.  without postal service to the village and access to a computer for email it may be tricky to stay in touch but fingers crossed...
the village band
rockin our nepali style dance moves
on our last day we celebrated with the villagers and had a dedication ceremony for the 3 houses/rooms that were built (the other projects were renovations to existing homes).  it was a super cold and foggy morning but the villagers welcomed us with joyful music from their makeshift band and we were each treated to flower garlands around our necks, red tikka dots added to our foreheads, and other small tokens of their appreciation. we danced with them nepali style (lots of jumping from foot to foot while sweeping our arms and flicking our wrists) and then we walked from house to house and we thanked them for the wonderful experience and they expressed their gratitude for our hard work  (for the last two weeks we had no idea how they felt about us being there and if they thought we were helpful or a hindrance and when we would ask questions like "is this ok?" we would often get a nepali style sideways head bob in return that either meant yes, no or maybe - they don't nod yes or no like we do so the sideways bob is often a mystery).  it was such an amazing moment and i cried a little when i saw just how much they really appreciated us, felt their emotions and saw the tears in mongole's eyes.  one thing about having such a huge gap in communication with differences in language is that a lot of moments are lost in translation (especially since we were working this entire time without translators) but when you look into another person's eyes and see the emotion you can't help but understand.
my building team with mongole and his family in front of their new house
during the building process the budding interior designer in me really wanted to make the houses "pretty" and at the very least put some photo collages together on each of the homeowner's walls.  every time we took someone's photo they were so excited to see them. these people don't have any photos of themselves and i am doubtful they even have a mirror to view themselves in. so, a lot of us wanted to print our photos to give them as gifts while we were there but the u.s. habitat leaders said we were not allowed to. then my roommate had the great idea of giving each of the homeowners a framed photo of our group as a parting gift and thankfully the habitat leaders allowed us to make this small gesture. and when presented to the villagers they really seemed to like them.
my habitat team with the villagers

so i thought it would be fun to show you guys the process of building a home in nepal with photos from our build... when we signed up for the trip we were told we were building with bamboo. turns out it was cement.  yeah, i can see how the leaders might mix those materials up since they are so similar.  the running joke among the group of us was "so when does the bamboo come in?"  so, please excuse what may seem like an overuse of the word "rocks" and "cement" but let me tell you, those darn rocks and cement mixing were a part of my day every day for the last 2 weeks.....

step 1 - dig a hole. a really big and deep hole around the perimeter... note that it is dirt mixed with heavy jagged rocks that you are digging through! (photo below of my south african roommate...)

step 2 - fill it with rocks and mix some cement by hand and help the mason pick and place the rocks for the perimeter base foundation.  and yep, we were moving many of the rocks we dug out back to the place they just were!
mixing cement and mortar over and over again...
step 3 - pass the cement blocks and sift rocks from the gravel to mix the mortar for the blocks
how to sift...

step 5 - check to be sure it is level

step 6 - when you have your door frame in place add some cow poo, ribbons, and a coin for luck with a little hindu blessing

step 7 -  fill the floor with rocks and then mix some cement to cover the rocks and then smooth with a long wooden stick

step 8 - add some poles to place the tin roof on and then rocks and cement blocks on top to weigh it down
bamboo scaffolding used at one of the houses

taking a break from lifting blocks onto the roof

step 9 - celebrate with the village and dance for joy when done (like my main man mongole!)

this is the biggest of the 3 houses we completed

i am so grateful to have had this experience but i'm not gonna lie, if i don't lift another big rock or cement block for quite a while i will be just fine with that...  and advice to anyone thinking of joining one of these habitat for humanity global village teams, be sure to really interview your team leaders before the trip.  my team and i agreed that we really lucked out that we had such an amazing team so the experience was awesome and once in a lifetime despite the very lacking leadership.  this is one unforgettable experience that i am truly glad to have been a part of! and i have met some very cool people from all over that i know i will stay in touch with including a groovy roommate that i was lucky to be matched with.  it is nuts to be living in close quarters 24/7 in a developing country with someone you have only just met.  bonus is that she lived through those crazy hotel experiences with me and knows i am in no way exaggerating just how bad they were! and she and i laughed and joked our way through it!
my shoes on the last day of the build
relaxing next to the toilet with a view
 for those of you just tuning in and wanting to know more about me you can by going here... and if you didn't already know... i created a facebook page... check it out and "like" it! and follow me on twitter and you can even follow my boards on pinterest too!

until next time...

the (formerly almost) 40 year old intern


  1. Oh Hol, you made me tear up! So very very proud of you- what a selfless 'vacation' to take!

    (and my first aid knowledge- keep holding ice on that bump- assuming you are somewhere that you can get ice. it will help with the swelling)

    Now hurry back to the States, so I can actually talk to you!! :)

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