Almost every day I experience a moment that highlights just how different the East is from the West. Whether it’s the disregard for capacity limits on buses, taxi drivers hailing you instead of the opposite, or the daily power outages, the key is to just sit back, smile, and take it for what it is.
There came a point a couple days ago, however, where this was easier said than done. We were told the third floor of the Kindergarten was finally ready to be built using the bottle building technique – an activity that every volunteer that comes here is eager to do.
Before we could start the building though, we had to get all of the supplies up there. This required moving at least 20 bags of dirt from across the farm and up to the third floor, where it would then be mixed in with sand, clay, and shredded paper, which, when dry, resembles an adobe material.
To accomplish this, we were given a crash course in the Nepali way of carrying: using a simple rope contraption that wraps around the bag, making it appear like a backpack…however, unlike a backpack, the rope is then assembled around your forehead, allowing for the heavy bag to balance on your back as you walk.
I think you can all imagine how sad my attempt at this was. As I crouched down, one of the ladies that primarily works in KREMF’s garden, helped place the rope around my forehead and back. While doing this, she kept giggling at the sight of me having to practically sit on the ground, since I am so much taller than all of the other Nepali women (and men for that matter!). She tapped me on the shoulder to signal that I was ready to stand. At this point, I was the one laughing, because I discovered very quickly that trying to stand with this 50lb bag of dirt balancing precariously on my forehead looked and felt incredibly comical. Eventually, with the help of a few Nepali’s, I managed to be vertical, albeit hunched.
A journey that normally takes under 5 minutes took me almost 10. Meanwhile, a Nepali woman who had to be in her early 70’s, went whizzing right past me, carrying a bag that looked heavier than mine, while wearing flip flops.
Eventually, all of the bags were brought up by the volunteers and hired workers. One of the men went to creating the mix, a process that ended with him stomping on the mix, an act that resembled grape crushing for wine making.
As this was happening, another man signaled for us to stand around him as he took a brick and drew a line in the floor. Now…it wasn’t as though I was expecting a full building blue print…but were we really building this structure based off of a loosely drawn line? My question was quickly answered, when the man then went to taking some of the mixture and began laying it down along the line.
Watching him, I realized that his line did not include a space for the door, even though this was clearly where the entrance was intended to be. Because we did not share a common language, I tried my best to ask my question by performing a charades version of opening a door. Although he found my act entertaining, he did not seem to understand what I was asking. Eventually, we managed to get Krishna to translate my question. “Yes, the door will go here,” he said, pointing to a vague part of the line.
“Okay. So, do we have the door’s exact measurements?” I asked. Not having the answer, Krishna called for the carpenter to come up and draw the dimensions.
At this point, all of the Western volunteers just looked at each other, mutually wondering how two floors of this building managed to be built already. Simon put his hand on his forehead and whispered, “I’ve honestly never felt more German in my life.”
This statement applied to all of our Western home countries. I felt quite guilty, honestly. Here I am, never having built a house, let alone a bottle building, telling the people who have, how to do so, based on what I thought were obvious provisions. Walking to an unoccupied part of the third floor, away from what I perceived as chaos, I looked out onto the foundation. From my aerial view, I could see the café – a huge bottle building structure – the bamboo playground, the garden, and the guesthouse. Was I right in questioning the builder’s capabilities? I felt like a typical Westerner, coming in to “save the day.” But did they need saving?
With the outline of the door drawn out, I decided to just go with the flow and follow the builder’s instructions on how to pat the mix down and place the glass bottle on top. Getting into the rhythm, the atmosphere seemed to relax and those from both the West and East appeared to be having a good time.
Looking back, I suppose the only saying that is applicable to all of Nepal’s quirks is: “It’s not good. It’s not bad. It’s just different.”