Thursday, November 27, 2014


I hadn't expected that the build experience would cause my heart to swell with such amounts of joy and hope.  It felt akin to seeing Norway for the first time.  I was so full mentally and emotionally from the build portion alone, I would have been completely satisfied with going home without needing the extra days of bonus touring.

I hadn't expected to learn that a successful team build for Habitat meant a funded and eventually completed project.  Without it, a build does not move ahead.  In other words, you are not just going there to participate on a build that is happening anyways.  It will not happen without a team showing up.  Each build means a new house/renovation gets to exist.  That fact struck me so strongly, I recommended that they ought to consider publishing it because it has potential to be a game changer.

I hadn't expected to do so well with communal living and group travel.  My earlier experiences in Morocco definitely prepared me for the group aspect.  We were 17 people with segregated sleeping areas, sleeping on thin mattresses in a house that wasn't heated (we could see our breath), with moderately severe water restrictions, one western toilet, 2 showers and a hot water tank the size of a duffel bag.  Water is stored in a container on the roof.  Should you run out, it can take weeks before more can be delivered.  To say we were all cautious and paranoid of that happening would be an understatement.

I hadn't expected to be so thoroughly immersed in the local culture and community to the point where we were invited into peoples' homes everyday for tea, for dinner.  We were literally embraced from day 1.  Feedback from other team members much more experienced than I told me that this level of interaction was unusual.  Felt very blessed I decided to chose this location at this time.  For better or worse, this serves as my high water mark.

I hadn't expected to feel so weak physically.  If I had to support my family by mixing concrete, they would starve.  It was embarrassing just how ineffective I felt as I hadn't considered myself to be a really weak person physically.  Sure, the equipment was not great but I never felt like I got adequate leverage to do that job properly.  Had no issues with all the other aspects of the build i.e. moving block, bending re-bar,  carrying buckets of mortar, laying block etc. but mixing concrete?  Forget it.  Even the new home owner, who was 4 months pregnant showed me up.  Time for a new workout routine.

I hadn't expected to discover that the Women in the build community to be so very strong and powerful.  Apparently that is the case as well in places like Nepal and Kenya.  The newer generations are educated and taking leadership roles in their villages.  They were the ones organizing all the details of our experiences.  We had volunteer drivers take us everywhere, though most of the available vehicles would not be considered road worthy here.  It was a cool experience to be in a van decked out in shag and fringe, driven by a chain smoking Grandfather (windows closed) with hip hop blasting from the speakers.  That's just how things work there.  Don't even think about inquiring about seat belts.  Just go with it.

I hadn't expected to fall in love with masonry.  It appealed to me visually, spatially and physically.  Sure, after a while I could only build up so high before I could not lift the blocks over anymore but I wasn't intimidated by the height nor the antiquated scaffolding.  I followed the head mason around like a puppy dog.  Watching him work was like viewing art in the making.  And was he ever strong.  He could lift a block (3/4 solid concrete) with 2 fingers.  Would apprentice with him in a heartbeat.

I hadn't expected to end the year on such a high note.  To be honest, I hadn't been looking forward to this experience.  After Cambodia, I felt I could be of more use there.  Looking back now, I can see how each new step I took this year has prepared me for what's next, even though I still cannot say what that will be or if there necessarily will be a "final' destination, or rather a continued series of openings.  The only thing I know for sure is that I will continue to move towards what resonates and revel in the discovery of what comes out of it.  


  1. Bravo! this put a smile on my face :-)

  2. "In other words, you are not just going there to participate on a build that is happening anyways. It will not happen without a team showing up."

    This is one of the really nice things about a lot of volunteer work. In my corporate job, they often try to tell people they are indispensable to make them feel good. But the reality is that if I am sick for 3 days, really nothing much will happen. And if I leave the company, they'll soon just get someone else to do the work.

    Not always so with much of the volunteer work I've done. For example, I used to work for a food pantry, and one of my jobs was to pick up the donated food from a local grocery store every Saturday. One week when I was feeling busy, I asked what would happen if I didn't make it on Saturday. The response? "If you don't pick it up by 9am, they will throw it all in the dumpster. I don't have anyone else for pickup. Actually, before you came along, it was thrown out most of the time." Wow. I made the difference each week whether $500 - $1,000 worth of groceries went to those in need or went into the trash. And this is not an atypical experience with volunteer work.

    1. Sorry for the delay in replying S.B.: Just getting back into the swing of things having been away.

      I guess my volunteer experiences have been heavily admin based. With it we just trusted that down the line, something worthy will be done with the money raised or increased attendance etc. as we believed in what the organization stood for.

      Even the more "hands on" positions I've done (medical/surgical ICU) haven't satisfied me (not that it necessarily has to, I was still helping) to the same extent as what you've described nor came close to what I recently experienced. It's something I would like more of in my life.

      My high water mark for affecting people is still through my work and previously through teaching. I seem to be strongest one on one.