Then passed the first two weeks of my construction project in a blink of an eye. The next 9 weeks proved to be much more about the people and the stories of people as opposed to the work itself. When I arrived to my new host home about 20 minutes away from my previous home with the Shresthas, I was greeted by Ram, the host father, and his wife. Most other volunteers were on a flight to view Everest from the clouds. That weekend, Ram and his family had to move out because of some family emergencies, and on Monday they were placed by a distant relative, Susmita, and her two children.
My first day of work on the school, Friday March 23rd. It took one hour to commute by van to the job site. On the way, another volunteer was picked up. Sabrina, from Austria. That day it was just her and I on the job site, along with the local engineer named Asis, an old mason named Nandai, and the organization coordinator. We worked on the top of a brick wall of a classroom and I learned the proper way to mix mortar and build up the layers.
That Monday I met the rest of the crew: Marco from Greece (who worked on a different project), James from England, Marilyn from France, and Harpreet from England. I had finally met my match in terms of sarcasm, lame jokes, and telling good stories, as my first dinner with everyone was hilarious and promising. The next morning we went straight to work. If you haven’t learned by now, however, Nepal’s work culture is much different. Businesses do not open until 10am, and the commute does not begin until 8am, as opposed to those 6-8am traffic jams where the scent of Starbucks wafts from every car window——you might be familiar with this. Instead, the commute is a much more gradual and consistent flow of millions on bikes and cars and buses. There are no traffic rules, no crazy maneuver is out of the question. And I would soon learn, even quadrupedal vehicles might be seen in traffic, and I’m not talking about bikes with four pedals.
The work on this more official-feeling first day with the whole crew was much more satisfying. I was put on the duty of finishing the top layers of that brick wall with Sabrina, and I started to find a groove, literally. Mixing mortar and concrete can be back-breaking when you’re doing it in large amounts, because in Nepal it’s all mixed directly on the ground by hand. In the case of mortar for bricklaying, about 3 wheelbarrows of sand is sifted through a sieve, and combined with a half bag of PPC cement. Then a small volcano caldera is shaped out of the pile and water is poured into the hole. The sides of the caldera are then built up until all the water is covered and soaked into the mix. It’s entirely different than throwing the ingredients into a gas-powered cement mixer, and much more rewarding.
By the end of week eleven, that brick wall was finished and we were instructed by Asis to start leveling out one of the classroom floors by compaction, after which we’d be filling it in with concrete. This new project was going to be hard work, but I was more than ready for the change of scenery from teaching children to building children’s floors.