Thursday, September 5, 2013

July 25 & 26: Septic.

Also not written in my journal; written from home in the name of chronology and linear story-telling.

After bamboo sticks and time with Onalina, I go back to the mission house for lunch and change out of my skirt. It's time for the overalls, the famous overalls!


I got these at the semi-annual clothing swap. My friend Beth eyed them, and a couple other things I was thrilled to try on and take from the swap in early June, and said, "Um, Emmy, I don't think those are really your style."

"Oh! No! For Africa!" I laughed, and she was very relieved that I didn't suddenly decide to wear weathered and stretched and too-big fashions as my new look.

After the disaster of the classroom punishment, Meggie pulled it together to teach Zumba in the afternoon when I went to the septic project. But no one remembered to tell her that practice exams - sort of like the PSAT - were taking place, so alas, there was no Zumba on Thursday.

At dinner later on Thursday night, Edward says, "Emily and Meggie, you need a good day. Tomorrow, to the construction site." We are beyond relieved. The next day, July 26, is Friday - we will work all morning on the septic and then we will leave the village for the weekend. Stay tuned for where and what!

On Friday: we are ready for a good day, indeed:



The largest project that Global Volunteers is undertaking in Pommern right now - and thus, the project that our program fee (and our fundraising!) - is paying for is the primary school bathroom.

Currently, the primary school bathroom is a squat brick hut with four holes in the ground on each side. There is no boys side or girls side; there is no toilet paper and to dream of running water is just that - a dream. There are hand water pumps nearby but no one washes after using the toilet. And there is no soap to be found.

Standing relatively near, or anywhere downwind, of this current latrine is like standing in a vault toilet at your local campground. The holes in the ground are foul; I stepped in to see what we're replacing, but didn't stay long enough to take a picture. Before this current and aromatic brick hut latrine, they used what Edward called "banana holes" in the field beyond the school - dig a hole, use it till it fills up, then dig a new hole. Repeat and repeat.

So... Global Volunteers is providing the money and support labor for real flush toilets for the primary school. It will be a gravity flow system like the mission house has; there will be two boys' and two girls' toilets. But before the building that will house these thrones is built, the giant septic tank must be built.

It took a week for another set of volunteers to dig the septic hole, with Thomas and Moses, the village mason and lead construction worker. When we arrived, the brick bottom of the septic had been built, and the walls were started - 11 bricks high, all the way around. Here I am working in the tank, handing bricks to Thomas, Moses watching over us both form above and lowering in buckets of mortar - and in this photo we're already about 50 bricks high, our volunteers having put in about 15 hours so far this week, starting on the corners!


There is a brick-making machine in the village - purchased and maintained by the Roman Catholic Church - but the bricks are made of the crumbly red dirt that surrounds us. They're brought in by the truckload and the school children help move them close to the edge of the pit. Then we toss them into the pit, thudding and rarely breaking on the bottom. Then, we stack them to each side. Then I move along behind Thomas as he puts the mortar down, and I lay the bricks in alternating patterns, always the missing chunk or imbalanced side facing toward the strongest part of the structure.


There is no measuring. Thomas knows by feel how much sand we have to shovel from this pile (that's the primary school behind it) to the worksite, and how much cement mix to stir in. Then we carry buckets of water - by hand like men, not on our heads like good Tanzanian women - and stir that in. Again, Thomas feels when it is right. And then we construct. No words required here.


We work until the mortar is gone; that signals the end of the day. Thomas and Moses don't break for water, they don't break for food. In fact, I doubt they have any; they're unmarried men. Who is going to be starting a fire and cooking while they work? It's not like Clif bars are for sale on the corner. It's not like you can pop into a bakery or a deli for a wrap. 

On Friday, here's Meggie learning from Thomas and Moses about how to make mortar:


Meggie and Thomas stirring sand and cement:



Thomas, as you can see, was clearly malnourished as a child, and is likely malnourished now. He has the sweetest disposition; he spoke as many words of English as I spoke of Swahili but we worked in a nice rhythm in the pit - he'd give me a little "nuh-uh" or "other" when I messed up the brick pattern. He'd be gossiping away with Moses and then say sweetly, in a singsong voice, "Hello!" when he needed my attention - to move out of the way of incoming bricks, usually, to replenish our in-the-pit pile.

He was also a very exacting worker - his long yardstick and level came out after every row of bricks, to both gently tap errant ones into place, and to ensure the bubbles show a plumb line. You don't want to build a septic tank that's about 6 feet by 14 feet by 26 feet only to have the walls cave in because it's not truly level!

The work was deeply satisfying on Thursday and Friday for me - the restorative soulcraft of physical work I needed after the pain of the classroom. My fears of not being able to keep pace were soon put to complete rest. Part of Global Volunteers' explicit mission is to work alongside - not on behalf of - local people. We were directed to work as hard, but no harder, than villagers. We didn't come here to build a septic FOR them; we came to build it WITH them. And it turns out, the pace of working in Tanzania is nothing like the pace in America, and I was more than capable of keeping up. If you're not getting enough to eat, if you're not on an hourly timetable or have a boss breathing down your neck, sure, you work - but you don't race. Also, G.V. does not allow more volunteers than villagers to work on a project; there was Thomas and Moses, and so there was Meggie and me, matching them arm for arm but not exceeding.

When the breeze picked up, or when you were down in the pit, the putrid latrine smell went away. It was bearable, honestly.  And it was meditative. I worked on Thursday all afternoon, and on Friday Meggie and I worked until about 12:30 PM, when Edward came to get us, saying,

"It's time for lunch and it's OK for you to take a break. Come eat. Two Kilimanjaro plates for each of you! Fill up, fill up!" Always trying to feed us, that Edward, to take care of us when he could.

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