Thursday, November 09, 2006

Construction Pictures: Building a school in Vanuatu

Oh, right, remember that one time I was actually in Vanuatu for a reason other than to chill with my awesome ni-Van family, eat some strange food, and play endless games of Scrabble?

I was going to write about being female on a construction site in a patriarchal country, but maybe I've decided to save that for another time. Instead, here's some pictures. This is Tara and I on Day 1. Tara doesn't know it yet, but about two minutes after this picture is snapped, the side of the trench is going to cave in, and she's going to fall down the hole. The men on the construction site are about to be horrified, and the looks on their faces after the incident will clearly read, "We're letting these women work with us for a month?"

Keep in mind that only four or five days earlier, Tara and I had been chilling at a beach in Port Vila, and the greatest of my concerns was stepping on sea cucumbers. Then the next thing I know, I'm standing in the blistering heat, being told to lift a huge rebar structure into a trench using another piece of rebar. It's actually amazing that I'm not the one who fell in the trench.

Also on Day One. We stacked all those bricks, yo.

And because these pictures are quite randomly in order, here's Tara and weather-proofing the metal for the roof. Painting at this point in the process wasn't considered a girly job. The trusses for the roof were going on, and none of the challengers were allowed on the scaffolding, so we were left to do the grunt work, regardless of our gender.

After the window frames were put in. You'll see the giant sift in front where the guys are separating sand from coral, which was about my least favourite job ever, however I did like that the job entailed taking lots of breaks where I got to play with the crabs in the sand.

Rose with a wheelbarrow full of cement. Also worth noting: her thong sandals on the construction site. Worksite safety, anyone? (Worker's compensation is a foreign concept in Vanuatu. Most of the men did construction in their bare feet.)

Morsen (in the green shirt), Tara (looking like a bandit) and Nicole.

Dave and Jo in the workshed.

Flashback, again. The day after the floor was laid. (The day the floor was laid was known as the token day I actually hurt myself. It involved me wheelbarrowing a broken wheelbarrow across a narrow wooden plank and wire, while it was filled to the brim with cement.)

Tara, Morsen and Nicole listening to instructions.

This is how you mix cement, developing-country style. Somehow we managed to get the most eglatarian worksite in the world, so even I mixed cement like this.

Jo and Becca sanding window frames.

This is what it looks like when you've got two girls who are 5 feet tall working construction.

Jo rolling. [A number of jokes could be inserted here, but I'm resisting the huge, since this is a family forum.]

I think Jo took this picture of the guy she was lusting after, her island crush. He was married with kids. I also think he was like 20.

Nicole, Becs, Rose mo mi.

It might not look like much, but scroll back up to the top of this post, and then tell me what you think. We built this. Ridiculous. I still can't wrap my mind around it.

Again, ridiculous.

Okay, okay. I admit that we didn't always mix cement just by hand. Here's the deal: on the days when we were pouring cement (which was pretty much every day, but the days when we were pouring the floor were the most intense) there's be two shovel and cement pits, a group of guys mixing cement in a tarp, and this little generator-powered cement mixer. I was nearly always on wheelbarrow duty, and would run back and forth carting heavy loads of wet cement, it slopping over the edges, all over the construction site.

The guys would fill up my wheelbarrow half-full, and I could read what they were thinking when I started. "This would be so much more efficient if a guy were doing it."

I was dead set on proving them wrong.

"Moa," I said when they would stop pouring.


"Moa! Evriwan!" I would insist. The guy would laugh at me. "Yu strong woman tumas!" he would said in appreciation, and I would run away with my ridiculous amount of cement, only to come running back for more.

One day, a guy I hadn't seen before on the site (I think he was just a community member who was volunteering) was working the cement mixer.

"Moa," I said to him with a smile, trying to establish a rapporte.

"No, i tumas," he told me.

"No, moa, evriwan," I insisted, telling him that I could handle carrying all of it. He refused, and waited until a guy came with a wheelbarrow.

I took a break, went to the bathrooms, and exhaled. We were lucky. It could have been like that the entire time.

Before the roof went on.

The EU construction crew.

The entire YCI construction crew.

Becca, thinking about all the different things she could do to bird-eating spiders with a bushknife.

Jo, thinking about all the different ways she can slice a pineapple with a bushknife.

And mi, thinking about how many guys I could attract with a bushknife. (It brings all the boys to the yard.) Also worth noting: the condition of my t-shirt.

And of course, a movie-montage classic, the limbo. (Check out how Becca is using her newly rock-hard abs to hold the rebar up for Dave. Haha. Love it!)

1 comment:

  1. Where should we submit to get a such nice moment far from home. It sounds very top your volunteer tasks.


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