Friday, August 13, 2010

Set in Stone: Part 1

(Why do manual labor if you can get the robots to do it?)

I don't do manual labor. I have always been of the mind that it is best to just pay a professional whenever possible....cut the grass, scrub the toilet, wash the car. I can't even bother to put my own grades into the computer. Isn't that what T.A's are for? My laziness knows no bounds, really. It's a curse.

If work is absolutely inevitable, the speed with which I can come up with an excuse is almost legendary.

Aside from my overwhelming laziness, there is one other reason why I try to steer clear of any job that is actually labor intensive. I am a huge, HUGE klutz. However, if there is one thing I have learned from traveling, logical or not, hard work or easy, klutzy help or none, local people will make 'it' work. No. Matter. What. Where as, Americans would probably call it a day and wait until the 'proper' resources/machinery arrived. 

One Memorial day in Mexico, A group of macho men in a minivan drove onto the beach to bbq carne asada with their families. About halfway to their desired munching spot they got out and scratched their heads at the fact that all four tires of their not-so four wheel drive minivan were buried up to the axle. Then, in the type of Spanish that I have only heard during fights at soccer tournaments, and when my students think I can't hear them, they wondered aloud about how on earth their plan for a fun filled family day at the beach had been foiled. Then, they just set up the bbq right where they were and got to grilling

I sat back and realized that this is precisely why we have laws and regulations about driving on the beach in America.

In Costa Rica, we rode horses to the top of a regularly active volcano and then flung our bodies across the top of the canopy, totally logical activities that would certainly be kosher in the states...or not.
(You know you are going green when your transportation freaking breathes and stops to crap at will.)

After that, I watched a group of tourists sit on a “Crocodile Tour” boat with two local Tican men. One was in possession of all four of his extremities. The other, however, seemed to be one limb short from the four that God gave him. Just as my brain was verifying what my eyes were in fact seeing, Uni-Arm hopped out to the front of the boat and slapped a headless fish on the top of the water. Theoretically, I suppose, the blood and scent would be spread throughout the water....thus attracting crocodiles (and Heaven only knows what else). Just as he went to slap the dead fish on the water one last time, a crocodile, that was fifteen feet long if it was an inch, jumped out of the water and snatched the fish carcass.....narrowly missing the single remaining arm of the fearless tour leader

I sat back and realized that this is precisely why the fine folks at OSHA have their jobs.

Then, I went to Africa. (insert dramatic and ominous music here)

I still marvel that I made it out alive.

Seriously...It's no small wonder that I didn't end up head first off a rooftop while tying rebar, buried in cement in the middle of the night, or eaten by a pair of lions disturbed mid- coitus.

At Isaac's school, where I spent the majority of my work time, we built a roof over a previously open area. Then, once we left, they continued and built a classroom on top of it. Sounds simple enough....if you have ready access to power and machinery.

Not so much the case, here. We had a motley crew of Americans, 8 year olds and boat loads of good intention.

(As a side bar, I have it on good authority that the walls are up and painted and ready for a whole new group of students. Yay for expansion! And electricity is just days away. . .it's amazing what can be accomplished when diverse groups of people come together to fight the good fight. And I can't think of a better fight than educating children so they can work their way out of the slums.)

The day started out simple enough, straighten out a couple (million) pieces of rebar....what could go wrong with that?

Well....considering we were in a narrow street, passing one end of a wobbly and sharp iron rod over our heads as it flailed about at random, while someone else stood on the 'stationary end,' there were plenty of things that could have gone wrong. Next, the lucky chump du jour would have to jump on the bend in the center, to hopefully straighten it out a bit.

Inevitably, the Fundi would swoop in with some new-fancy-fandangled tool and straighten, in two seconds, what we had spent hours trying to do.

Keep in mind that this was going on right outside the school, where children were passing through constantly, running up and down the street during recess. Cars and people would pass by at random, and sometimes a herd of baby goats would stop to check things out. (This made me particularly uncomfortable as I have a long running , and painful, history with goats. They really are horrible animals....but so dang cute when they are babies.) There were many an eye that could have been lost that day. And my colorful imagination pictured how every single one of those situations played out. Luckily, by the grace of God, Buddha, Mohammad, and Elohim, no one lost an eye or was skured on this particular watch. But that's not to say we didn't flirt with disaster with each and every piece of iron tossed. I'm fairly certain that many prayers were thrown to the heavens during this process, "Dear Sweet Jesus....." was how mine usually started.

Once the rebar was straightened out, as much as was possible for a bunch of mzungu, we had to weave it together and tie it down on the roof. To a normal person, this would probably be no big deal. But to Klutzeltina (yours truly), this was ripe with danger. Rather than catch my toe and send myself head first into the street/gutter/open sewage channel, I chose to do most of this work from a seated position.
Oddly enough, this is how I try to approach most jobs.

Occasionally we would get a piece of rebar that was too long. But with no saw, what were we to do? "Hmmmmm-I bet we can bend it..." Again, what could go wrong with this plan?



L and L and R said...

I've always found your laziness to be your most attractive feature.

Jillian said...

Well- the laziness coupled with the massive and messy bun of hair tied up on the top of my head. That's darn near irresistable!