Laying bricks

Posted: April 15, 2017 in Nepal
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Tuesday and Wednesday we spent most of our time putting 3 layers of bricks on top of the concrete layer. We’re using oil barrels to soak the bricks in water before we hand them up to the masons, but the water is running low. Not only in our oil barrels, the village water tank is also drying up.

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Usually the tank is filled from a spring up here in the hills, but as it’s the dry season there’s not much water to fill the tank with. At the construction site we’re using more than our share of water to mix the concrete, soak the bricks and the existing concrete. Due to the low water level in the tank some of the houses in the village don’t have running water at their houses anymore, which means people are having to fill buckets with water at the tank to bring back to their kitchens. Because water for cooking and drinking (the villagers drink the tap water here) also comes from the tank, there’s some tension among the villagers about the lack of remaining water and our excess consumption. Luckily, the pressure comes back up and the buffer is replenished a little while later. Once the rainy season starts this problem will be solved, though hopefully the house will be finished by then.

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Andre resting on the water tank.

In between mixing the cement and supplying the masons, we spend our time wheeling the remainder of the flint aggregate for the concrete from the place the truck dumped it to the building site itself. As it is very hot again, we take turns walking with the wheelbarrow while the other two hide in the shade.

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Madan, the father of the family that we’re building the house with shows us pictures of his workplace in Nepal: the soap factory in Kathmandu, where he is a chemist. He presents us with cakes of hand-made Neem soap and a bottle of massage oil especially made to combat stiff joints and muscles of his own making. Especially the latter is very welcome, the combination of hard work in the daytime and hard mats to sleep on at night is starting to make itself felt.

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Because of the earthquake destroying his house he’s had to quit working in the soap factory and work abroad. His family’s new house is going to cost approximately 12.000 dollars to build, and despite a lot of foreign aid money going to Nepal a lot of Nepali people are having to pay their own way while rebuilding their houses. Because of the Nepali wages being so low (according to the CIA country fact sheets the GDP per capita in Nepal was 2.500 dollars a year. Peanuts compared to The Netherlands ($ 50.800) or the USA ($ 57.300), all estimated for 2016) it’s almost impossible to raise the funds while working in Nepal. Madan has spent the past two years working in a tire factory in Malaysia to save up for this house. Knowing the way foreign labor is treated there, he definitely must have had a very tough time.

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When we get back to the house after work on Tuesday, we find out that one of the wooden poles holding up the power lines has decided to fall over, and the nearly-touching wires send a shower of sparks and the sound of popcorn popping through the area. Our house being right under the wires and being made of metal, we seek refuge at the only public establishment we’ve spotted in Tinpiple: a tiny hotel bar with a view of Kathmandu valley. (Well, of the smog cloud that covers Kathmandu valley to be more accurate).

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Apparently, some stuff actually gets fixed quickly around here, because when we make it back up the hill after a couple of beers the problem has been solved and the risk of electrocution has been lifted.

Monday in Tinpiple

Posted: April 14, 2017 in Nepal
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It’s going to be 32 degrees Celsius this week. We’re dreading working in that heat, so we’re having breakfast earlier. Hopefully we’ll get a lot done before it really heats up.

Our usual morning greetings with the road crew have come to an end, they’re nowhere to be seen. They’ve made a lot of progress in the past weekend but still have a way to go, half of the road is still blocked with big blocks of stone.

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The missing road crew. We later found them a little further down the road working on a different patch.

Up on the hill we find a new batch of sand, dumped in the exact downhill spot as the last batch. As we make our way up to the construction site we secretly hope we won’t be shoveling sand again today. Good news, today we start with shoveling flint!

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Mixing concrete.

Twenty wheelbarrows full go from where the flint was dumped to what we now call Room 1, to be mixed with sand, cement and water until we’ve made concrete. Mixing is of course done by hand, or rather, by shovel. The concrete is poured around steel rebar on top of the brick structure, to make the house more resilient in earthquakes.

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Adding the concrete layer on top of the bricks and rebar.

Frames are made with leftover wooden planks, steel bars, wire and bricks, then the concrete is handed up on plates to be poured in. Once it has hardened enough another layer of bricks will be put on top, but for now we’re just working with concrete.

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Filling and handing up the plates of concrete.

Somewhere during the day the family tells us we’ll be finished tomorrow, they won’t need any more help after then. That’s not what we were expecting, so we call the office. We speak with Dinesh, who directs us to Samira, who thinks we’re calling about changing the date of the exit interview, but directs us back to Dinesh once she figures out we’re calling about what we’ll be doing as a project for the rest of the week. Dinesh then tells us Om will come visit the construction site tomorrow and show us the place we’ll be working on Wednesday and Thursday.

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Madan and Santa’s grandchild will be one of the residents of the new house.

The next morning Deepak comes by, talks to the family, and proclaims it has been arranged. We’ll be working at this project site for the rest of the week. To our surprise Om passes by in the afternoon, to show us the new project site for the rest of the week, and the chaos is complete. It’s clear this organization has a lot of room for improvement as far as communication is concerned.

We won’t be getting woken up by the rooster anymore, this morning he was picked up to be put down by the neighbor. We feel a bit bad as vegetarians to be happy about getting a more quiet sleep with the rooster gone.

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Today we had a hosanna moment: we moved the last of the sand we had been shoveling. As the people who had brought it by truck had had the ingenious idea of dumping it on a steep incline, we had to shovel it up first before we could actually get it into a wheelbarrow. This is the kind of thing that makes you go “what on earth were they thinking?” -especially as there were flat surfaces available. Oh well, it builds up some muscle tone.

The nice thing about the sand having been dumped where it was, was that the neighboring families adopted us – we were working more or less in their yard instead of on the building site. So they offered us freshly made Lassi to combat our thirst in the heat. They also were of the opinion that it was way too hot for us to do any work at all, and especially way too hot to move tons of sand around.

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During this work, Samira showed up to tell us that we’d not be working on Thursday or Friday. The office is closed on Friday due to Nepali New Year and they want us to do an exit interview at the office before we leave. Considering that we came here to help building houses we heartily disagreed on this one, it would mean missing out on 2 days of work – they’d also forgotten a prior public holiday in their planning, cutting out another of our days of work as well. This definitely is something they need to get their act together on, it makes us wonder whether there’s even a calendar in the office. In the end it was offered that we’d head over to the office after work on Thursday, but Dinesh would have to confirm this with us.

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After we finished moving the sand we were done for the day. As we were going to go back to Kathmandu for the weekend, we said our goodbyes and headed for the bus stop. Our local translator told us about a different bus that we could take, and that this one would head straight to the part of Kathmandu where we’d be staying. It sounded like a better bus for us to take, why had no one told us about this bus before? We soon found out why… what he forgot to mention was that it was about an hour’s walk to this bus stop, which this time, was a rock on the corner of a road. In hindsight, we’d have preferred the regular one. Especially as the one we now took passed through the same bus station in Kathmandu that the regular one terminates in, so we could just have switched there and not done the hour of walking.

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First things first, in Kathmandu we had a very necessary shower (the first real one in a week), then headed down to meet with the other volunteers. Together we had a great dinner in a restaurant garden, finally trying out some Nepali wine (tastes a bit like mulled wine, not our favorite). Someone suggested we should visit a nightclub and soon we found ourselves in Purple Haze. The size of the bar and the crowd, and the quality of the cover band playing there, were quite a surprise. If you ever want to see some 500 Nepali going stark raving, screaming mad at a tight cover of AC/DC’s “TNT”, head over to “Purple Haze” in Kathmandu.

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The evening out turned into a night out and that made itself known the next morning. As we’ve been getting up around dawn to go to work, we woke up really early with the feeling that maybe we should have called it a night slightly earlier -but that’s nothing a couple of cups of coffee, lots of water and a solid breakfast can’t cure. We spent the morning uploading the backlog of this blog and getting up to date with our correspondence. In the afternoon we explored parts of Kathmandu we hadn’t seen yet, and had some trouble finding an ATM that had not decided to call it quits. We ended up having to change part of our “emergency valuta”, because finding a working ATM turned out harder than expected.

After an early night -we’re doing that a lot while at work, so it was good to stay in the rhythm- Sunday was a day to visit some tourist sites. The famous Monkey Temple was first on the list, and while we drove there we noticed that for once, the sky was so clear we could actually see snowcapped mountains. That was a first for us (the dust and smog here are terrible), and when we realized that we could see more of them from the top of the Monkey Temple hill, we kind of forgot about the attraction we were walking around in itself. Those peaks sure are impressive, even from a distance.

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From the Monkey Temple we went to Patan Durbar Square to have a look at the temple complexes there. On the way, the AC in the car decided it couldn’t cope anymore and gave up with a screaming mechanical sound. So “open the windows” was the only option besides suffocating, which meant that we were all covered in a layer of dust within a minute. Patan Durbar turned out to be mostly shrouded in scaffolding where repairs were being made to the 2015 earthquake damage. Luckily for us, it also happened to be the site of one of the few working ATMs, so we got cash and went for a rooftop bar to get a cold drink and a top view of the square.

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Then it was a rush to the bus stop to get the bus back to Tinpiple, and home to our guest family.

Happy 2074!!

Posted: April 13, 2017 in Nepal

It’s Nepali new year, which we celebrated in the (very busy) city. More posts coming soon!

Image  —  Posted: April 8, 2017 in Nepal
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Visible damage

Posted: April 8, 2017 in Nepal
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We’re off to a late start because the water filter is getting clogged, it takes around 20 minutes to fill a bottle, and we’re taking two bottles a person. At the construction site we start our day with moving a pile of rocks from close to the house to further away from the house. Because of the language barrier it’s hard to figure out why we’re doing certain jobs, we just have to trust there’s a reason why it’s necessary.

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When we finish we take a break. We’d like to start work again, but it’s not clear whether there’s anything we can do. We wait around some more, then figure we might as well have lunch. Then wait some more. Just when we decide that if there’s nothing for us to do here today we’d rather wait around at the shack it turns out we can start moving the sand and gravel from the place the truck dumped them to the construction site.

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We meet Pouspa, who lives in the village and tells us about the earthquake. She shows us where her house used to be, there’s not much left now besides the outer walls. When the quake hit she was the only one inside. She got pummeled by rubble from the collapsing roof and the exit was blocked. It took her a while to get outside, but she was lucky to escape with only cuts, bruises and a broken arm. Because her family’s house was destroyed in the earthquake they’re living with her cousin now. Building a temporary shelter costs money they don’t have, they prefer to build a permanent house instead when they have the funds.

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Dinner will be late tonight, Sakina has an ear infection and has to go see a doctor. The appointment is at 4 o’ clock, but as Jyoti says “4 means maybe 5, 6 or 7”. We head into Tinpiple to buy something to eat while we wait for their return. We were thinking of banana’s, unfortunately there are none to be found. Lots of cakes, cookies, chips, chocolates and other sweets, apparently it’s not only the staple foods here that are mostly carbs. We end up buying some carrots, madeleines and something we hope is very small cucumbers. We also get some water, the water filter is in the family’s shack, if they’re not home we have no access to clean water.

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We end up picnicking at the edge of town, with a view of Kathmandu in the distance. The mystery vegetable turns out to be less baby cucumber and more baby courgette. On the way back up the hill we run into Shyam’s uncle. His family is also living with relatives after losing their house in the earthquake. They’re busy collecting building materials and saving up money to build a new home on the hill.

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While it might have seemed like it in the media, KTM was not the epicenter of the quake. Just looking at the damage still visible after two years, and the amount of families here in this region that lost their houses and are unable to rebuild, makes us wonder what it’s like in other area’s.

Second day at work

Posted: April 8, 2017 in Nepal
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Good news, there’s an easier way to get to work! Besides the strenuous climb up the steep and muddy hill we can take a shortcut that’s a bit less steep. This also explains how the trucks with bricks and other building material got up the hill, it’s unimaginable that they took the other route.

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Last night Shyam came home with a bag of bread. ‘You like bread, right?’, He beamed at us. “I got you bread for lunch tomorrow!” And we do like bread, though it was a bit of a surprise he meant it so literally. We didn’t have the heart to tell him we usually also have something on the bread, which is the story of how it came to be that we left with lunch boxes with dry bread in them.

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It might be that there’s been some confusion about the holidays. Yesterday we were off, today when we reach the construction site the men are nowhere to be found. Only Santa and her daughter are there. Neither speak English, and our Nepali is useless, but with some pointing and gesturing we figure out that the path along the new house has to be widened. Our job for today is moving a whole lot of rocks out of the way, to make this happen.

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Luckily it’s still hot when we get back from work, so the cold shower is rather enjoyable.

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One more thing to be solved before dinner, the cooking gas is finished. Shyam’s down the hill at the pink house and the shops in Tinpiple close in an hour. We can buy more cooking gas, but how does the empty canister get down in the village, and the full one get up here? J carries the empty canister down the hill, Devie and Shyam bring it to the village on the moped and buy a full canister. And bringing it up the hill? Shyam carries it up on his shoulders. When asked how they get bigger stuff up here, like the fridge for instance, he replies “Same same, everything has to be carried up the hill”. It’s the unfortunate reality of living to high above the road.