Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Daily Grind: An International Volunteer's Work Schedule

I must confess that I'm not finding as much time to write about Vanuatu as I thought I would, mainly because my life has been consumed with laying on the beach every day, interspersed with frolicking in the ocean.

My mom requested that I should start off my explaining what exactly I did every day in Vanuatu, so here's a start:

On my first day at work, sitting in the trench, tying wire to rebar. Note the fact that my left arm is absolutely covered in dirt.

Out of the 3 Vanuatu projects that happened in the last month, ours was possibly the most physically and mentally demanding. We were limited by daylight hours, since we didn't have electricity. (It raised a lot of interesting questions for me about how human's biological ciracadian clocks are affected by the use of electric light, but that's a rant for another time.)

For some reason, I always got about 5 degrees more dirty than everyone else. On the day that I had to paint pieces of metal for the roof trusses black, I had more than one foreman comment that I must be trying to become ni-Van because I was covered in so much black.

Our daily schedule generally speaking went as follows:

6:00 am Dave would wake us all up, since the roosters crow incessantly all night long, as opposed to just in the morning. We would eat breakfast (which would often be leftover rice or cereal), dress, drink our tea, and mentally prepare ourselves for the day ahead.

7:00 am To the worksite. Daily tasks involved anything from princessy tasks such as painting and sanding, to heavier labour like mixing cement by hand with a shovel, moving roof trusses, carrying trees for scaffolding, shovelling and seperating sand from coral, moving bricks, and motaring. On our first day on the worksite, we were asked to move nearly 1000 concrete bricks in the +35 degree sun. 

The EU guys later admitted that they really didn't think we would return after the first day. The job I did most often, and my personal speciality was wheelbarrowing cement and concrete and pouring it into the foundation.

11:30 am Lunch time! Lunch would likely be rice, although we bought bread sometimes. After eating, we would pass out on the concrete floor for a nap. (Skills obtained in Vanuatu- the ability to fall asleep on the hardest surface possible within a manner of minutes.)

1:00 pm Back to work, same tasks as before. 

5:00 pm End of the work day. But instead of going home to relax, it was a rush to beat the setting sun to get all our chores done, which left us a window of about 45 minutes to be productive. One group would begin cooking dinner, there were laterns to be filled, water to be collected (we had to store water since it only ran for an hour a day), showers to be had, clothes to be washed and firewood to be collected. Some days the water would shut off before everyone showered, and going to bed encrusted in concrete was entirely possible. 

7:00 pm Dinner time, which would be, you guess it- rice! We would cook over kerosene stoves, but in the last two weeks we just cooked over our fire, ni-Van style. 

8:30 pm After cleaning, doing dishes, singing along with Dave, Iven or Morsen's guitar playing, and maybe playing a game of Scrabble or Lock 7 (a Vanuatu card game) we would all go.  

On weekends we also essentially had no free time, because we'd get up at 7 in the morning to walk an hour through the jungle to the neighbouring village to visit our host families for the day. The host families were easily my favourite part of my experience in Lambubu (hopefully I'll write more abotu them later) but by the end of the second week I was going a little mental from having absolutely zero time to just sit down and read a book.

In addition to our core project, which was the school construction, we were also involved in a small-team project. One day a week were excused from work at the construction site to research and plan for educational workshops. I was involved in the Agroforestry/Environmental project with Tara and Iven, which involved talking to every class in the school about the environment, organizing a clean-up day, and collecting information from the local people to be submitted in a report to the government for an environmental action plan. Other projects included the construction of bush toys for the local kindergarten, and the health and hygiene team gave the grade 6 students a reproductive health talk.

The mental and physical strain was worth it though, because when we left the school was two weeks ahead of schedule in being constructed. All that was left to be done was the painting and the installation of furniture. Even on days when there was little for us to do on the construction site (the days when we did the limbo with rebar, had mini-water fights, and put wood glue on our fingers to have the pleasure of picking it off) or not enough tools for everyone to use, we were told that our mere presence was motivation for the other construction workers to move forward and effectively. 

We even got two of the local teenage girls out shoveling sand with us, which was a huge step forward in partriachial society. As a result, the European Union (which is building 28 schools throughout Vanuatu) wants YCI to participate on all the school projects. Now that I've got the particulars out of the way, the next update will definitely be an interesting story. More pictures are also to come.

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea that you could measure dirtiness in degrees. This sounds like an amazingly hard and worth it work.
    Wood glue? Seriously?


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