Monday, July 18, 2016

Chicken Coop Construction: Day One

After over a year of planning, Construction Week has arrived. Although I have been out of site for the last week, Bo-‘M’e and I planned everything before I left. Yesterday a youth club was scheduled to gather the first 400L of water for us. Everything should be ready to go this morning…

In our prior conversations, my friend-and lead on design and construction-has assured me that it will take only three to four days to complete the simple 4m by 8m cement brick structure. We could be done as early as Wednesday…

I arrive anticipating a day full of people and construction, children pouring out to help fetch water and bricks. In my head, the sides will be nearing completion by sunset.

With over two years adapting to Basotho culture, I should know better than to create such visions. I should know there are normal aspects of culture I have not yet encountered. I should anticipate that my careful planning and exhaustive questions have not made me an expert in local construction.

Instead, my arrival is welcomed with the news that our volunteer labor insists on being paid half the going rate for a building this size. The price seems astronomical to me, but in my absence, Bo-‘M’e have already agreed to pay it out of their income from Achaar and our future egg earnings.

My friend hears the frustration in my voice and gently reminds me that paying for labor is culturally normal here. He was the exception in January when his friends joined him in building for free. Although I have been blindsided, I gradually accept the news and move on.

Although Bo-‘M’e, who are almost never on time, and I arrive between 9 and 10, work does not actually begin until nearly noon.

The guys begin by measuring and marking the corners of the foundation. Measuring and marking again, measuring and correcting marks again. As time moves and they continue measuring and re-measuring, I realize how foolish my visualizations for the day were. Walls simply cannot go up today. While I stewed through the morning awaiting the onset of work, the builders all knew that their only labor for today would be the foundation. A well measured and precise foundation is far more important than my off-base dreams.

Abuti Sama and Abuti Thabo measuring for
the foundation.
By lunch, the guys have finished digging the foundation. Immediately following our meal, six bags of cement are mixed and poured. Despite my very American impatience at starting so late, clean-up is completed by 3:30 and the foundation is left to set overnight.

The guys digging the foundation.
It was a stressful morning with more internal frustration than was warranted. At the same time, it serves as an important reminder that two years in a culture does not erase thirty-three years learning and living in a different one. Every one of my irritations stemmed from an American mindset in a place dramatically different from America.
Mixing and loading cement




Pouring the foundation

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