Archive for January, 2011

Final Day at Work

Posted: January 15, 2011 in Cambodia, Cambodia 2011
Tags: , ,

So this is it. After two weeks of building, the volunteer part of our trip is finished. We’ve had a great time working on this project, and are happy with the progress we have made in 9 days of building.

The floor’s all done, including planing it so it’s nice and even. The wall between the inside part (the sleeping room) and the outside part (the living space) is mostly up, including a set of shutters in a window-opening. All the beams along the outside, that the bamboo outer walls will be fastened onto, have been put in place. The stairs have been finished and put in position, complete with banisters and carvings. Eight extra truckloads of soil have been dumped around the little mound we were already building on, as it was kinda small for the size of the house. The quintessential Cambodian hammock has been strung up between two standing beams under the house. It is really starting to come together now.

 

 

In an earlier post we mentioned that wood got sent back to the sawmill because it was of a too low quality, and the replacement wood has arrived -looking mighty fine. As it will be used for the all-important roof structure, that’s a Very Good Thing. Alas, we won’t be here to see that part go up, but our co-volunteers have promised us pictures.

At the end of a job like this one always gets to wondering (well, we did that before, but it is more concrete now) how this whole thing must be for the beneficiaries. Imagine living in the worst house in your community, and a lot of weird, gigantically big people show up, pick up and move your old house, and start building you a new one. Though the house we are building might seem like a tree house by our standards, it’s a mighty fine house over here. All that is asked from the family is that they participate in the building process (if possible).

Working on this project has been a great experience, which has given us the opportunity to see the way Cambodian people are living nowadays and interact with the local people, while helping them to improve their situation. Usually when visiting a country you’d get to see some sights, perhaps talk to some locals and at the very best stay in their house for a few days. The experience we’ve had here is quite different from that. We worked with local people on a daily basis, got to co-operate with them in their -albeit slightly disrupted- daily life and (we think) got a very good impression of what life at the bottom of the ladder is like in Cambodia. What it feels like we’ll never know, but we sure know what it looks and smells like.

All in all it has been a rewarding two weeks: spending our free time doing something which we can actually tell is worthwhile.

We’re sad to be leaving already, but also excited about seeing more of the country. Tomorrow morning we’ll be taking the 7 AM boat to Battambang, where we’ll spend a few days before traveling on to Phnom Phen and ultimately to Ho Chi Minh City. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our volunteering adventures!

Devie & Jasper

Advertisements

Making progress

Posted: January 11, 2011 in Cambodia, Cambodia 2011
Tags: , ,

Whoops, we’ve been bad little bloggers! As we were so busy doing other things we’ve managed to neglect the blog a bit. But not to worry, we’ve got a lot of pics to make it up to you.

As last Friday was ‘Victory over genocide-day’ (when Vietnam stepped in to help get rid of Pol Pot and his murderous madmen in 1979), and therefore a public holiday. We were expecting parades, streetparties and the like, but apparently the only celebration going on would be steady drinking. So on Thursday night we went out in search of a real Khmer hangout, which is supposedly quite difficult as most Khmer will drink at home (though the bars here are ridiculously cheap for us, they are quite expensive for the locals). We managed to find a Khmer bar, and luckily for us we also found some Khmer acquaintances of one of our colleagues. They invited us to join them, which resulted in a long night of local food, endless ‘jil mai’ (cheers) and lots of fun.

 

On Friday we explored the outskirts of the city, and into the more rural areas. It’s quite fun to walk about there, as the people aren’t too used to foreigners. Especially the children are very excited to see us, and our tattoos draw a lot of attention. What was really striking on this walk was the fact that you could come across a virtual, colonial style palace one step, and then see a village of shacks (much akin to the one we’re replacing) right next door to it. It seems there is no middle ground between poor and rich in Siem Reap.

 

 

 

Friday evening we headed out to Angkor Wat, to see the sunset. It was kind of hard to see as there were thousands of other tourists elbowing their way to the front, but we managed to get a couple of good pictures anyway -it helps to be tall. Climbing and descending the ludicrously steep steps of the temple ruins is quite an exercise, especially descending in the dark. Imagine an Amsterdam staircase without walls or banisters and ten times higher -with steps about 15cm wide at most, so you can just fit the front of your foot on them.

 

 

 

Saturday and Sunday we rented a tuktuk, and spent the day in the Angkor Wat park, exploring the temples. Though we were quite temple-tired by Sunday afternoon, it was a great experience. The park is so big that even after 2 full days, we still haven’t visited all the temples. The sites range from hugely busy complexes (like Angkor Wat itself) to nicely quiet ones with hardly any tourists about. Of course we took a ridiculous amount of pictures, but as it’s so difficult to choose which ones to post we’ll keep it at just one. The scale of the whole thing and the sheer number of temples is so overwhelming that even Indiana Jones would get lost.

 

 

 

Monday it was back to work. It started off with the blessing of the frame of the house after we nailed that together. Dishes of food, incense, candles, water and rice-wine were brought out, and we all had to hold incense sticks while a mantra was being said. Part of the blessing is to ensure that there would be no accidents during the building -as we get to go up and climb around a lot.

 

 

 

 

After the blessing we set up the structure, now it’s really starting to look like a house! Because a lot of lifting had to be done, the whole village came to help -and stayed on because they were much more dexterious at climbing the structure than us lumbering Europeans. They seem to make no difference between horizontal or vertical movements, all is done with the same ease. After we finished for the day we shared the food and drink from the blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have an army of little people (as our foreman calls them) following us around the building site. Some of them try to play and talk with us, but most of the littler ones are really shy (much to the joy of the local adults, who have great giggling fits while teasing the kids about this). The other day we bought a bubble blower (bellenblaas) and brought it out with us to the building site.

 

 

 

After we started blowing bubbles even the shyest kids came out to see what was going on and to join in in the fun. We were a bit afraid the kids might fight over the bubble blower, but luckily we found them playing together sweetly with an almost empty bottle of bubbles yesterday. As we had brought a bottle of liquid soap we were quick to refill it, and the fun started all over again.

 

 

 

 

Today more work, looking even better: we spent most of the day climbing up and down the frame, got the crossbeams for the floor in, started putting the floorboards on them and even got started on the stairs leading into the building. Once again we have moved ahead of schedule, even though we’ve had a forced day off on Friday.

As mentioned before, one of the problems we run into is that the wood we get is far from straight, and even worse is that it’s fresh. This means that once it gets dry, it will bend and distort. So anything we put up straight now has to have enough solidity to stop the wood from wringing and pulling loose, yet enough flexibility to allow it to bend a little -or else it will start ripping and splitting. The reason we don’t use dry wood is simple: there is none. Some of the wood delivered was in such a bad state that we actually had to send it back to the sawmill. It will not do to build a house that tears itself apart or collapses with the first tropical storm.

 

 

 

In the coming days we will be putting up the cross-beams for the roof, the outer and inner walls and get boarding the floor  finished. Then we’ll  sink the nails into the floor so they don’t hurt little feet and plane flat the biggest uneven spots. After that, lots of bamboo-weaving for the walls, but we won’t be here to help with that as our stint runs out. People say we’re lucky to miss out on that, apparently it’s horribly itchy and frustrating work. But it does seem a shame not to be able to see this house being finished.

Schedule and party

Posted: January 5, 2011 in Cambodia, Cambodia 2011
Tags: , ,

In case you were wondering what our days are like here, we’ll share our program:

At 6.15 AM we wake up, get ready for work and have breakfast before the tuktuk picks us up at 7.30 AM. We then head over to the building site, where we work until it gets too hot, which is usually between 12.30 and 1 PM. Then it’s back to the guesthouse for much needed showers and lunch. We have the afternoons and evenings off, which at first seemed a bit weird to us, as we were expecting to be working a lot more. But after a few days of doing construction work in 35 degrees, we’ve come to realize that it does get way too hot in the afternoons for us to be productive. As we’ve been doing more work than planned (we just finished carving the wood today, which was supposed to be finished tomorrow) we have stopped feeling guilty, and started to enjoy our afternoons.

 

Today was quite an interesting day. As we drove up to the building site, we couldn’t help but notice that it was awfully quiet. The father of the family was waiting for us, but the usual hustle and bustle of people wasn’t. Normally the locals come out to see these weird, big, white people, plus the kids are always very curious to see what we are doing. But today everybody was gone. Also, we could hear quite loud music coming from somewhere.

 

Turns out there was a village party going on! Sorn (one of the local workmen working with us) at first told us it was a marriage, so I (Devie) decided to check it out, as it sounded like a great opportunity. I mean, how often do you get to see a real Khmer wedding? Unfortunately I forgot what I read in the guidebook, so when I got there and the people starting waving at me, I thought they wanted me to leave (turns out the ‘come here’-wave for Khmer people is the ‘go away’-wave in Holland), so I left.  Josh (our foreman who, luckily for us, is into psychobilly music, which means we’ve spent the day hammering away listening to his iPod) had understood it was a party to celebrate the birth of a new community member. Whatever it was, after a few hours of working, the mother of our family came back from the party. Apparently she had been told that I had been there, but left again, so now she and two of her daughters came to take me back. The Khmer women spent some time trying to teach me traditional dancing, while the kids had a blast laughing at my attempts. I wasn’t any good, but it was loads of fun!

 

In the meantime, work was being done to prepare the beams that will make the framework of the house. Because all the wood available here is far from straight everything needs to be measured, adapted, measured again, re-measured, checked and finally sawed and chiseled to size. Today, we spent the day making notches in the nine beams that will form the “stilts” that carry the house. Anywhere in the West this would be a “line ’em all up and pass the powersaw through them” job, but here every single notch is different from the last, making handwork the only option (plus, we don’t have any power tools, except for a cordless drill). Every beam has 8 notches, so you can imagine the work.

 

Usually it takes two to three days to do this for one house, but apparently having a party going on down the road sped our work up a little, and we managed to get it done in a day (and there was much rejoicing). This means that we’re ahead of schedule, which is a good thing as coming Friday is a national holiday and no-one will be working here.

On Thursday we’ll be placing the concrete feet the posts stand on and leveling them out, and hopefully on Monday we’ll be able to raise the basic framework of the house.

 

Yesterday we certainly did not think this was going to happen, as when we arrived at the site on Tuesday morning the soil that had not arrived on Monday had been brought -and dumped 5 meters from it’s target. This meant we had to shovel about 3 tons of soil in the blistering heat, level it out and stomp it down to make it solid. The reaction of our foreman was “welcome to Cambodia”. Many jokes were cracked about the chain-gang experience of the most diligent shovelers.

Luckily, everybody involved chips in when it comes to working: not only is the father of the household for whom the house is being built actively involved in the building process, his wife does water and ice (to cool the water) runs and the kids came out with spoons to help out when we were digging holes for our improvised workbench.

First day of work

Posted: January 3, 2011 in Cambodia, Cambodia 2011
Tags: , ,

Waking up at 6 AM is never going to be something we enjoy, though the hot temperatures and the excitement of our first day at the project do help. After a quick breakfast we headed off to the Atvea project, where Sally showed us around. The project is run on and around the land of a monastery and includes, amongst other things, a nursery, a primary school, an orphanage and a clinic.

At both the nursery and the school the children get free education, focusing on teaching them English. Classes start at 8 AM, when the kids first have to wash up and brush their teeth. To reach as many kids as possible the school offers morning, afternoon and evening classes. Though the Khmer people are used to primary school, nurseries are new to them. The nursery allows the older kids (6 years old and up) to go to school, instead of having to watch their younger siblings, while their parents work.

 

After our tour we went off to the building site. Today we were starting on a new project, building a house for a family with five kids.  The shack they’re living in at the moment is falling apart. Furthermore it’s situated on a piece of land that floods during the rainy season, which causes the wood to rot.

 

 

 

We started out with cutting down the pillars, so as to move the shack to a different part of this family’s patch of land. As the family needs somewhere to stay during the building process, just demolishing the shack is not an option. The building of a house takes about 5-6 weeks. Sadly we won’t be able to see this house finished.

 

 

Apart from the volunteers the project employs local carpenters, plus the family who will live in the house is expected to help with the building process. As the father of this family is a construction worker by trade, his skills come in handy. When the time came to move the shack the neighbors helped out, and amazingly we managed to move it in one piece. Once the shack was out of the way the trucks with soil could start driving up. To raise the ground level so the house won’t be standing in the floodwater we’re going to need about 10 truckloads of soil. Today we got 6 truckloads in. After we’ve raised the ground we’ll start with the concrete blocks for the new pillars.

 

Here’s a picture of the last house that was built by the Atvea volunteers, to give you an idea of  what we’re aiming for.

We’ve arrived

Posted: January 1, 2011 in Cambodia, Cambodia 2011
Tags: , ,

Hello everybody,

Just a short message to let you know that we’ve made it to Siem Reap in one piece. It was a long journey with a few small bumps (vegetarian food order didn’t come through, a fellow passenger had to be taken off the plane in Amsterdam by paramedics) but we’re here! It’s very hot and we’re quite tired, but we’re off to a New Years pool party to meet our fellow volunteers and to hold off the jetlag. Our guesthouse is nice, cozy and clean, with free internet acces for the volunteers, so we will be able to upload pictures soon.

Tomorrow we’re off to the building site, where we will meet the family who we will be building a house for. And Monday we start building!